Five Steps to Effective Feedback

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I’m willing to bet you have had feedback of some sort in the last hour or even seconds. Feedback is simply a part of life. Obviously, not all feedback is constructive, welcome or helpful. For example, I recently emailed a comment in response to the discussion topic of the day to a nationally syndicated sports program. In my mind, the way the commentator presented the topic was unfair and inappropriate, and I shared my feelings. My feedback was met with the following on-air response, “Here’s an email from a complete idiot! Anyone who thinks that way is an absolute freak and should simply move on down the radio dial!”

It’s obvious some feedback is not well received. I am certain if you were to track the variety of feedback you receive in any given day, whether it came in the form of a comment, look, note or just an opinion about your opinion, I am sure you’d be astounded at the actual amount of feedback you receive on a daily basis. It is a rare human — actually I think a nonexistent human — who doesn’t hope for feedback. We all need it, but why do we need it? Well, to name a few reasons, we can’t learn, improve, change, correct, develop or progress without it.

The fact is, we all need and want feedback, and it’s necessary to improve. It stands to reason, if you’re a fast lube operator who is serious about improving your business, you should be asking yourself a few questions, including, “How am I providing feedback to my employees, what kind of feedback am I providing and how often am I providing feedback,” and “What are the results I hope to achieve?” In this column, we’ll discuss the important implications of these questions and how you can utilize an organized feedback system to help improve every area of your operation.

Improvement Starts With Feedback

From the look on a customer’s face as they taste the coffee in your waiting area to the expression of an employee who just received their day’s work assignment, every single day your fast lube operation is filled with feedback. The most effective managers are anxious to receive feedback and do something with the feedback they receive. As a fast lube operator, do you think your employees are any less anxious to receive feedback?

Your employees want to know how they’re doing. Managers often make the mistake of not providing adequate feedback to their employees. In one case, a longtime fast lube technician, who after receiving some helpful feedback from his manager, improved his sales of products and services by more than 150 percent over a two-month period. When asked how he felt about the improvement, the employee responded, “I’ve been working here over a year, but until Jim starting giving me feedback on how I was approaching customers, I never knew there was a problem!”

Jim had always made a habit of continually making general comments to his employees over the course of the day, especially during heavy volume periods. He would say things like, “Good hustle, gang! We’re keeping stack lines down.” Or, “Hey everyone, nice job on sales during the last hour!” Those type of comments are positive and may help create an upbeat work environment, but what if Jim were to individualize the feedback for individual employee performance?

Providing feedback to your employees would seem to be a simple act of noting and bringing to their attention what you see or hear your employees do during the course of the workday. However, there are a number of important steps to dramatically increase or minimize the effectiveness of the feedback you provide. Let’s consider the five steps Jim tried.

1.     Be Specific

Instead of making general comments to the group, Jim directed his comments to specific employees saying things like, “Albert, nice job of anticipating when Lori needed help greeting that customer. You really helped keep the service flow on pace.” Now, not only Albert, but all employees knew, being aware of what’s needed elsewhere on the service floor and then acting on it is important to efficient service.

Measureable results: Service efficiency reduced labor cost by 1 percent.

2.     Give Feedback on Things an Employee Can Control

For a long time Jim made comments like, “Guys, our service expenses are out of control! We have to do better!” But what could an employee do with that general comment? Then, Jim started to change his comments, “Phil, thanks for keeping track of the service tools and making sure they’re where they should be. We lose a lot of money on lost tools.” Lost tools are just one of the various aspects of service expense employees can do something about.

Measureable results: Actionable feedback reduced service expense by .75 percent per month.

3.     Give Immediate Feedback

Monthly or even weekly feedback is difficult to associate with improving results. Immediate feedback — especially just before the next performance — has a much better chance of improving results. Jim waited for a weekly crew meeting to give feedback on various service issues but changed that approach to real-time. Saying things like, “Bob, I noticed on the last service you were out of position to open the customer’s door. On this next service be at the customer’s door when they come to a stop. Thanks!”

Measurable results: Immediate service feedback reduced average service time by 1.5 minutes.

4.         Positive Feedback

When we hear the word feedback, most of us don’t expect a list of things we’re doing right. Jim had been in the habit of counting and graphing feedback on negatives like warranty claims, customer complaints and slow service times. Then, he discovered it was more effective to track and provide feedback on the percent of mistake-free services, percent of positive customer comments and the percent of on-pace service times.

Measurable results: All three areas improved over the 12-month measurement cycle.

5.     Goal-Oriented Feedback

We all like to know where we stand in relation to various aspects of our performance. Feedback connected to goals is always more likely to result in improvement than feedback unconnected to a goal. Jim got into the habit of posting graphs and commenting on how a specific performance related to a goal. He told Kirk, “Thanks for double checking the correct filter on that truck. Our zero defects goal is still on target!”

Measurable results: Met the zero major defects goal. No warranty claims over $25 for one year, achieved for two consecutive years.

It’s been said, “You can never expect your employees to exceed customer expectations if you don’t exceed employee expectations of management.” Exceeding your fast lube employee expectations has a lot to do with the kind of feedback you give them and the way you choose to give it. It’s also been said, “If you don’t have 100-percent customer satisfaction you still have room to improve.” I’m pretty certain Jim would tell you effective feedback gets your operation much closer to that objective.

PAUL HALOULOS is a trade-marketing manager for BP Lubricants USA, Inc. He may be reached at: paul.haloulos@bp.com. To learn more about Castrol products and programs in general, please call 888.CASTROL or visit: www.castrol.com/installers

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