Delivering Employee Feedback
Illustration by Neil Webb

Observing employee behavior


Delivering Employee Feedback

with Todd Dewett
image's PMI® Program
This course qualifies for 1.00 PDUs towards maintaining PMI® certification. Learn More

Video: Observing employee behavior

As a leader, it's natural for you to observe the performance of your team. On the difficult side, you'll need to make observations as well.

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Watch the Online Video Course Delivering Employee Feedback
1h 7m Appropriate for all Feb 20, 2014

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In this course, author Todd Dewett helps you identify ways to give both positive and negative feedback to employees. Learn how to create a culture driven by meaningful feedback and deliver coaching and suggestions to help employees stretch and grow. Discover the characteristics of helpful feedback, different feedback types, structured conversations, and strategies to refocus difficult employee reactions.

This course qualifies for 1 Category A professional development unit (PDU) through, PMI Registered Education Provider #4101.

The PMI Registered Education Provider logo is a registered mark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.

Todd Dewett

Observing employee behavior

As a leader, it's natural for you to observe the performance of your team. However, how often we observe and how systematically we observe, are worth talking about. To give your employees the feedback they need, whether that's on a random Tuesday when you see them in the break room, or during a performance review, you need to be as informed as possible That's why it's useful to occasionally reminds yourself what it is that you're trying to observe. When you're looking at performance. Your examining the person's personality and attitudes, their interpersonal skills, their technical and business skills, and their character.

That sounds like a lot, but those are the basic areas to consider. And when you remind yourself of these categories, you're more likely to notice relevant behaviors when you see them. Some managers find it helpful to organize their note taking, using the vernacular found in the competency model underlying the performance review. That way as you accumulate notes they're already organized in a fashion that makes the performance review go much faster. I want you to think about observing behavior from three perspectives. Noticing good things, noticing unproductive things, and thinking about good things you don't see.

Hopefully you'll see many good things. These are behaviors and characteristics that are value added. Things worthy of some type of praise. On the task side that might include fixing a customer problem, completing a helpful analysis, or maybe improving a work process. On the interpersonal side, this might include showing kindness or gratitude, or showing lots of helping behaviors. On the difficult side, you'll need to make observations as well. If you see flawed work products, or even work that is acceptable, but not as good as you feel it could be, take note.

If you witness unproductive interpersonal exchanges or personality problems, pay attention. One additional thing to think about is good useful behaviors you don't see. From a development perspective, if certain qualities are needed to help a person advance, they need to know. For example, what if you witness an employee who never shows gratitude towards others? They don't say thank you. They mean no ill will. They're simply blind to the fact that they don't engage this normal and expected behavior. It's your job to take note so that it can become a part of feedback you deliver when you're ready.

There are several ways to collect good data, from direct observation to examining work products, to looking at information provided from other managers or relevant outsiders such as customers. But direct observation is the best for two main reasons. First, it's first hand data. So the quality is high. Second, the more you get out from behind your desk and out among your employees to observe and help, the more you will be perceived as engaged with the group. You do have to actively interact. By observing, I'm not referring to loitering or spying.

I'm talking about making observations while interacting. It's also important to remember that you can't allow your observations to be random. Plan some of them. Ideally, once per week, you'll drop by for a five-minute check in, to say hello, see if you can help with anything and to observe. If your team is large, maybe you check in every few weeks. But the point is that you don't wait for evaluation time, and you don't wait for them to come to you. Get out there, start talking, and start observing. My last tip is about memory. Our memories aren't great.

So after each and every significant interaction with your employee, you need to take 10 or 20 seconds to jot down what you just observed. The longer you wait, the more the observation becomes fuzzy, so try to capture ideas immediately. One of the burdens of leadership is that you need to be aware of what your team is doing. It's not about constant micromanaging, but periodic observation. When you make collecting data through observation a habit, your performance reviews will be easier. Your employees will be more informed, and you will have become a more helpful and accessible manager.

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