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What Is Continuous Feedback and How Can It Motivate and Retain Employees?

May 9, 2019 6 min. read
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If you’re a service business owner struggling with difficult employees, high turnover, and low morale, you’re not alone.

We conducted a Facebook poll asking service business owners their biggest pain point. The top answer wasn’t marketing, scheduling, or even getting paid on time. So what was it?

Results from our Facebook poll on business challenges

The #1 biggest pain point for service business owners is hiring and retaining great employees.

A stable, well-trained, and motivated workforce will strengthen every aspect of your business — including your bottom line. So how do you get good employees to stay?

Matt and Tracy Logan, owners of Logan Tree Experts, have dealt with their share of turnover, seasonal layoffs, and disengaged employees.

To level up their tree care business, they’ve developed a strategy based on honesty, continuous feedback, and what they call ‘keeping a short list.’

The results?

A safer, more positive work environment, and a better process for attracting, engaging, and retaining key employees.

They outline how below.

In Matt’s words, think of continuous feedback as keeping a short list of issues to bring up:

“Have you ever asked somebody across the room for a pen and they throw it at you? It’s not about the pen. It’s about accumulated factors that have added up to lead to that outburst.

Keeping a short list means you approach any issue as soon as reasonably possible in a controlled and calm way that’s to the benefit of both parties involved. You don’t wait for issues to build up.

I always keep a short list, and I recommend that my crew always does as well.”

What are the Benefits of Continuous Feedback?

You’ll nip problems in the bud

Continuous feedback allows you to address small concerns before they become costly problems.

If you wait for a monthly, quarterly, or even annual review, you’ll be faced with a long list of issues to point out, many of which could have been prevented if mentioned earlier.

You’ll improve safety

Arboriculture, like many service industries, can be extremely dangerous work. Matt and Tracy rely on open communication to protect their clients and their team:

“Communication is so important because not only does it make a more enjoyable workplace, it makes a safer workplace,” says Matt.

“If I’m upset with you, I might not talk to you even when we’re working with chainsaws. We might not communicate a minute detail that turns into a major safety issue.”

You’ll motivate, attract, and retain employees

By creating a culture of feedback, support, and respect, Matt and Tracy can run a more stable business.

“Today, we did some incredible work and the guys were able to tell each other ‘that was an awesome job, way to fell that tree,’” says Matt. “It makes it so much nicer to come to work when everyone is getting along.”

An added bonus? Company culture helps with attracting employees, too:

“We had a candidate on-site trying out for the job, saying: ‘this is how people talk to each other? They say thank you and please?’

In a competitive talent market, a positive company culture can make all the difference between hiring great employees and having to turn down work.

READ MORE: Hire better with an employee referral program

You’ll build a more positive and professional business

In many cases, a positive company culture can help you impress existing customers and win new ones.

“We’ve had clients say ‘I’m leaving this window open, so watch your language…’ And I’m able to tell them don’t worry. We don’t curse on site, we say ‘could you please pass me that rope.’ That’s professionalism. The next client is just over the fence.”

How to use continuous feedback

Giving and receiving feedback can be nerve wracking. For employees, feedback is usually associated with judgement, negativity, and complaints. Meanwhile, managers avoid giving feedback because they’re afraid of resentment or hurting others’ feelings.

Continuous feedback is different because it focuses on employees’ strengths and areas for improvement. This way, feedback is meaningful and helpful instead of just a criticism of past mistakes.

Follow these tips to develop a culture of ongoing feedback in your business:

1. Keep a short list

“If an issue arrives, bring it up immediately,” says Matt. “Don’t pack it away and wait for it to blow up.” Deliver feedback frequently and informally so it feels natural. The only exception is if tensions are high. Wait until you can speak to the employee privately in a calm, controlled manner.

2. Emphasize what’s working

The key to effective feedback is to focus on the employee’s strengths and give them tips on how to improve. Don’t only comment on what the employee is doing wrong. Tell them what they’re doing right, so they know to continue!

Christine Comaford, author and culture coach, suggests using phrases such as:“What worked/What’s working is ____” and “What I’d like to see more of is ____

3. Educate your team

“I have to teach my crew about keeping a short list,” says Matt. “If a boss walks up to a foreman, looks him straight in the eye and says ‘your job wasn’t up to par today,’ that can be really awkward. But it’s not if that foreman understands that 1) it’s an opinion; and 2) I’m not saying it to hurt you, I’m saying it to help.”

Help your employees understand that  feedback is a form mentorship, which will make them even better service providers down the line.

4. Be specific

Feedback works best when it’s task-specific and crystal clear, so employees can actually learn and take action.

Instead of saying ‘Your customer service could be better,’ try: ‘Next time you speak with Mrs Bennett, make sure to double-check her name spelling, then send her an email follow-up within 24 hours.’

5. Make sure it goes both ways

Finally, employees should feel safe enough to give you feedback, too. You’ll double-down on creating a more positive workplace, and become a better manager for it.

“We insist that our employees keep a short list with us, as well,” says Tracy. “If they have issues that fester, it poisons our relationship.”

Building Communication Into your Business

A study by Google found that more communicative and honest cultures drive productivity and employee satisfaction. Communication is at the heart of attracting, engaging, and retaining better employees.

Beyond continuous feedback, there are other ways Matt and Tracy build open, honest communication into their business.

1. Use mentorship and expertise to attract talent: 

Matt is one of only seven Board Certified Master Arborists in Ontario. He uses his expertise to attract new hires from college who want to learn business, safety, and ethics from a recognized expert in the field.

“These employees see the benefit of learning and mentoring,” says Tracy. “It’s definitely benefited our hiring this year.””

2. Improve team communications with tech:

Keeping a short list isn’t always easy, but Logan Tree Experts have found a way to build open communications right into their workflow using Jobber’s field service app.

“Yesterday, we had to modify a work order,” says Matt. “The guys got the info right on their phones. There were already pictures on the file so they knew exactly what they were getting into. It helps us keep a short list.

There are no little notes getting lost. Instead of guys saying ‘why didn’t I know about this?’ it goes right into Jobber.”

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