How To Increase Employee Productivity Through Feedback and Fairness

By: Stephan Miller - Guest Contributor on November 17, 2023

HR leaders in small to mid-sized businesses are constantly juggling multiple responsibilities, from recruiting and onboarding new talent to managing employee benefits and ensuring compliance with labor laws. Among these many diverse tasks is the responsibility of tracking and improving employee performance to foster a more productive work environment.

Improving employee productivity is a common goal for businesses of all sizes. A highly productive workforce can directly contribute to increased profitability, improved customer satisfaction, and a more positive work environment.

Among the drivers of enhanced employee performance are feedback and fairness. By establishing a culture of constructive feedback and ensuring fairness in the workplace, employers can unlock the full potential of their workforce and create an environment conducive to growth and success. In this article, we'll explore how to improve employee productivity by using the transformative power of feedback and fairness.

What is employee productivity?

Employee productivity is a measure of how efficiently and effectively employees use their time, skills, and resources to achieve organizational goals. It encompasses both the quantity and quality of work produced, as well as the overall contribution of employees to the company's success.

Employee productivity is not solely dependent on individual effort. It's influenced by various factors, including the work environment, management practices, employee engagement, and availability of necessary tools and resources. Businesses that prioritize and foster a culture of productivity tend to experience higher levels of innovation, profitability, and employee satisfaction.

Why is employee productivity important?

Employee productivity directly impacts your bottom line. When your staff works efficiently, they can handle a higher volume of work and generate more revenue. This allows your company to operate leanly without the excess expenses of hiring more people or paying for idle time.

Low productivity has the opposite effect and comes with real costs. Paying employees who aren't producing to their full potential eats into profits, and falling behind on client deliverables or internal goals can damage your business's reputation and ability to compete.

In the remaining sections of this article, we will provide ways to increase employee productivity through fair, constructive feedback. When employees receive guidance on improving their work, most will rise to the occasion. Clearly communicating performance expectations, providing mentoring, and recognizing achievements motivate staff.

We'll also explore how to increase the productivity of employees by treating them equitably. Workers who feel management decisions are biased or political often disengage. Promoting transparency around rewards and promotions will drive greater effort.

Step 1: Encourage employees to request feedback

Traditionally, managers have been seen as solely responsible for initiating performance feedback. But effective feedback is a two-way street. According to Gartner's report, 3 Strategies to Improve Employee Performance Through Feedback, employees need to take ownership of seeking out feedback themselves to truly boost productivity, but only 26% of employees report receiving training, tools, or templates on how to effectively receive feedback. [1]

To initiate this shift, HR leaders can redefine the dynamics of feedback conversations, making them more employee-centric. This involves encouraging employees to view feedback as a valuable tool for their own professional growth and success, rather than solely as a means for performance evaluation. By redefining the agenda of feedback conversations and emphasizing the importance of employee participation, businesses can create a more inclusive and empowering feedback process.

To make the process less challenging, your business can gradually introduce employees to the ownership of different aspects of feedback over time. For instance, the journey toward employee-owned feedback can begin with employees scheduling monthly feedback conversations with their managers. As employees become more comfortable, you can guide them in leading conversations that focus on goals and progress. Eventually, employees can progress to seeking feedback that facilitates their development and growth, including feedback from peers, not just their managers.

Step 2: Provide guidance on how to act on feedback

While employees recognize the importance of receiving feedback, they often face challenges when it comes to using feedback effectively to enhance their performance. Another key finding in Gartner's 3 Strategies to Improve Employee Performance Through Feedback is that 54% of employees consider feedback critical, but only 46% feel they receive actionable feedback. [1]

Businesses need to make sure both that feedback is provided and that employees are equipped with the necessary skills to act on the feedback. Start by sharing tips on seeking feedback from sources beyond direct supervisors, such as peers. Increasing transparency regarding team member strengths allows employees to identify individuals who can provide relevant feedback. By broadening their feedback network, employees gain access to diverse perspectives that contribute to their personal growth.

Also, provide visibility into performance data, enabling employees to self-monitor and identify areas where feedback is needed. When employees have a clear understanding of their own strengths and areas for improvement, they can actively target feedback discussions to address specific challenges or leverage their strengths more effectively.

To facilitate productive feedback conversations, offer employees simple and memorable tools instead of relying on lengthy role-playing sessions that are easily forgotten. For example, provide them with a feedback formula or framework they can easily follow when engaging in feedback conversations. This can serve as a guide to make sure that feedback exchanges are constructive and meaningful.

By providing specific guidance on how to translate feedback into personal and professional growth, businesses empower employees to continually improve their productivity. When employees feel equipped to act on feedback, they can leverage it as a catalyst for development, leading to increased engagement, performance, and success.

Step 3: Create strategies for inclusion

Gartner's report, Retain and Improve Employee Performance Through Fairness, highlights the significant impact of fairness on employee performance, revealing that fair employee experiences can boost individual performance by up to 26%. [2] This emphasizes the importance of creating a workplace culture that embraces inclusion and ensures that all employees feel respected, valued, and empowered to contribute their best efforts.

Here are some steps you can follow to cultivate an inclusive work environment:

  1. Define inclusion: Clearly express what inclusion means within your organization, emphasizing aspects such as fair treatment, respect for diverse perspectives, collaborative decision-making, psychological safety, trust, belonging, and diversity.

  2. Establish an inclusion index: Develop a measurable inclusion index to track employee perceptions of inclusion at the departmental level. This index should capture various dimensions of inclusion, such as equal opportunities, access to resources, and a sense of belonging. A DEI tool can help with this process.

  3. Monitor and address gaps: Regularly monitor the inclusion index and generate reports to help managers and executives identify areas where inclusion efforts need to be strengthened. Address any identified gaps through targeted interventions and training programs.

  4. Integrate inclusion into performance assessments: As the reliability of the inclusion index improves, consider incorporating it into performance assessments for managers and leaders. This will help reinforce the importance of fostering an inclusive work environment and hold leaders accountable for their role in promoting inclusion.

  5. Prioritize inclusion in promotion decisions: When evaluating candidates for promotion, prioritize those who demonstrate a strong commitment to inclusion and have a track record of creating inclusive teams. This sends a clear message that inclusion is a core value within the organization.

Step 4: Give rewards based on merit

To build a truly fair and protective culture, your recognition and rewards processes must be grounded in merit-based decisions. However, many businesses think they are objective even though unconscious bias still skews outcomes. Gartner's report, Retain and Improve Employee Performance Through Fairness, outlines four common power structures [2]:

  • Justice for all: This structure is the ideal, where advantages, awards, and recognitions are perceived as fair and/or earned.

  • Veil of inclusion: In this structure, organizations promote diversity, equity, and inclusion but often fall short when it comes to the objective assessment of merit.

  • Autocracy: Autocratic structures rely on the choice of a single authority figure, favoring an in-group while the majority of employees are relegated to an out-group.

  • Meritocratic paradox: This structure may seem merit-based, but it often results in bias and inequity.

Your goal is to provide justice for all, and the first step is to determine what power structure you have and then determine the best action for ensuring your business rewards employees based on their merit.

If your current power structure fits the veil of inclusion definition, here are some steps you can take toward a merit-based structure:

1. Refine and promote the definition of "merit" and how it is measured, encouraging open discussions.

2. Continuously audit expectation gaps with a digital feedback system.

3. Establish an equity committee reporting to the executive committee to measure and address perceptions of fairness.

If your power structure is autocratic, these steps will help transform it into a justice for all structure:

1. Run audits to capture daily settlements of unfairness and build a case for change.

2. Promote recurring conversations to address and resolve issues.

3. Transition from a centralized governance to a federated model with cross-functional leadership accountability.

Finally, if the power structure isn't quite merit-based, but seems like it, use these steps to ensure it is:

1. Conduct a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) audit on diversity representation and an inclusive culture.

2. Create a cross-functional committee to oversee actions aimed at increasing fairness.

3. Establish a safe learning lab for leaders to practice and improve their inclusion indexes, fostering empathetic and goal-oriented management.

Empowering your workforce for enhanced productivity

Incorporating the strategies outlined in this article can help your SMB effectively address the challenge of enhancing employee productivity and engagement through feedback, fairness, and merit-based rewards. By empowering employees to seek and act on feedback, fostering an inclusive workplace, and implementing a truly meritocratic reward system, you can create a work environment where employees feel valued, motivated, and empowered to contribute to your business's success.

You can get started by:

  • Reviewing your current feedback practices for opportunities to encourage employee-driven feedback.

  • Evaluating your business's inclusion initiatives and addressing any inequalities.

  • Auditing your meritocracy and reward systems to ensure they truly reward individuals based on their performance and contributions.