All organizations try to increase their productivity and gain market leadership. To help achieve this, the value of employees is great and many organizations are focused on ensuring that their employees perform optimally. To help measure performance, regular performance reviews are utilized. Evaluations can only be deemed as effective if they do result in an improvement in the productivity of the individual. The only way through which effectiveness of evaluation can be guaranteed is by providing feedback to the employees. Moss and Sanchez (2004) declare that the manner in which feedback is delivered is very important since it determines if the feedback will aid or hinder improvement. It can therefore be seen that the feedback process is very important for the improvement of an organization’s performance. Feedback practices that are grounded in sound theoretical basis are more effective than those that are not. With this in mind, I will in this paper set out to examine how my performance feedback skills can be enhanced by using Kolb’s Model. I will discuss relevant workplace scenarios and show how I can demonstrate enhanced feedback skills by following Kolb’s model.
Kolb’s Model: An Overview
Kolb’s theory of learning styles is arguably the most influential and widely used model of experiential learning. Kolb’s model argues for a “dialectical relationship between learner and environment in which two diametrically opposed modes of knowing provide the means through which we appropriate our experience and transform it” (Thorpe, Edwards & Hanson, 1993, p.7). According to this model, learning styles can be visualized as a cyclic continuum which has distinctive stages. These stages are: Concrete experience, Reflective observation, Abstract conceptualization, and Active experimentation. Effective learning incorporates all this stages and the learner goes through the stages in a progressive manner (MacKeracher 2004). The core of Kolb’s model is “a simple description of how experience is translated into concepts that can be used to guide the choice of new experiences” (Sugarman 1985, p.264). All four learning modes depicted in Kolb’s model result in one being effective at giving feedback. This is because Kolb’s learning model offers a good conceptual framework to enhance the feedback process.
The Concrete Experience (CE) element in Kolb’s learning cycle is described as “feeling and sensing”. This stage deals with the actual perception of the information presented in the real life situation. In this stage, the individual benefits the most from taking action. In my performance feedback task, this stage would involve finding out the specific details about an employee in the review. I would utilize observation since real life observation assists a person to deal with what they can see or hear about an individual’s behavior rather than make assumptions. Heathfield and Woods (2009) state that failure to focus on observation will lead to a manager to make inferences which are assumptions and interpretations made from what is observed. Inferences result in bad situations being blown out of proportion which reduces the efficiency of the feedback process. For example, in the case of Kevin, I will observe that he is 10 to 20 minutes late for work in most mornings. If I decide to make inferences, I may interpret this to mean that the employee is unreliable and lazy. This may be far from the truth since the employee is diligent despite his lateness.
Another development at this stage is that the manager comes up with a clear assessment of the employee’s capabilities and major responsibilities. Issues concerning the employee’s capacity and role in the organization that may not have been known to the manager are clarified at this stage (Shields 2007). This will result in both the manager and the subordinate developing a unified idea of what is required of the subordinate. The things that the employee can accomplish by virtue of their capabilities are also highlighted in this stage. This will help my feedback skills since I will have specific expectations of the employee. I will therefore be able to tell if the employee exceeded his abilities or performed way below his capacity.
In CE, there is a high likelihood that I will become involved with the experience of the experience of the employee. Sugarman (1985) states that in the concrete experience stage, the manager should remain separate from the experience. This will enable him to effectively observe and reflect on the activity. Burke and Cooper (2008) note that in this stage, the reactions to the experience greatly influence the learning process. For this reason, it is more productive to give feedback to the recipient in privacy. The presence of other people in the evaluation results in increased apprehension by the recipient. This is especially true when the feedback being given is of a negative nature (Guerin 1989). This is because employees want to maintain their public image and self-esteem and negative feedback which is given in front of their colleagues decreases this.
In the CE stage, failures are bound to be observed. Moss and Sanchez (2004) declare that every failure should be considered an opportunity to learn and as such, the manager should aim to capture the lesson behind any failure by an employee. The feedback should be offered to assist in the personal and professional development of the employee. Bringing to attention areas of potential opportunity for employees and providing constructive steps that can result in the achievement of these goals can motivate an employee to perform even better. The Johari window reveals that there is a blind area which contains information that the individual does not know but other people can see. Through feedback, I can bring information from this “blind area” to the attention of the employee. He can then make positive changes based on my feedback
The next stage in the model is Reflective Observation (RO) and this entails in-depth reflection on the actual experiences. This stage is based on the premise that experiences need to be transformed into meaningful ideas if any progress is to be made. With regard to performance feedback, RO entails a reflection on the feedback that is to be given to the employees. Performance evaluations are based on the assumption that there are some standards that the employee is supposed to maintain or even exceed. Moss and Sanchez (2004) declare that employee performance should be compared by a set performance standard and not by the performance of other employees. With this in mind, I could offer constructive feedback to Judy Thomas who is unhappy about not being promoted since she compares her performance to that of other workers.
Through RO I will be able to figure the reasons behind the particular performance by the employee. This is especially relevant when the employee’s performance fails to meet expectations. By engaging in this stage, I will be able to understand all the potential causes of poor performance by the employee. Taking time to investigate the potential causes of poor performance will help overcome any biases that may hamper my feedback behavior. London (2003, p.16) notes when managers give poor performance feedback, “they tend to be more specific than when they give positive performance feedback in order to be as helpful as possible to the poor performer”. This may have a negative effect on the recipient since they may not be able to interpret the feedback appropriately. With this in mind, good feedback should encourage openness from both parties involved in the process. As such, it is important to give the other party a chance to respond to the feedback they have been provided with. This will require the employee to reflect on the information they have been provided with and give their views on the situation.
London (2003) states that in organizations, there exists a class of employees who lack the ability or motivation needed to perform well. This “marginal performers” include people who under utilize their potential and those who misdirect their efforts. Feedback can assist a manager to deal with these underachievers (Shields 2007). Observation will assist me to recognize that Judy Thomas is an efficient and accurate worker who is committed to the organization. London (2003) suggests that the manager can make use of honest and direct feedback about the employee’s marginal performance and propose solutions to the issue. The Skill-Will matrix states that ensuring that employees have the skills necessary to perform their work is essential. By utilizing counseling, better insight into the skills and interests of the employee can be obtained and from this, appropriate opportunities in the organization can be given.
This stage will also enable me to offer my feedback in a timely manner. Effective feedback is timely in nature since it is easier to reinforce or correct an employee’s behavior when the experience is fresh (Buron & McDonald-Mann 2011). Timely feedback allows a person to observe more of the employee’s behavior instead of only noticing extreme behavior. Doing this will help to provide a link between the feedback and the desired organizational performance.
Abstract conceptualization is where the individual tries to make sense of the events that have occurred. This process includes trying to understand events and see how they are relevant to one’s life. In this stage, it will be important to classify employees according to their performance. An important issue to consider is that the classification should be understandable and the reasoning behind it should be provided to the employee. Even if an employee is given positive feedback, a lack of explanations will result in the employee failing to make sense of the performance review received. This is evident in the case of Christian Simmons who fails to understand his evaluation since the Dr. Lee does not elaborate on the performances. Giving explanations will ensure that the employee learns from evaluation and improve their job performance.
In this stage, the employee will take the time to ponder on the reasons for discrepancy between current and expected performance. This may be followed by discussions between the manager and the employee on the causes of such discrepancies. The case involving the high performing employee who offends other employees would require me to intervene. This employee lacks tact and he does not seem to realize the effect that his behavior has on other employees. By bringing this to his attention, he will analyze the issue and develop an understanding. Plans can then be developed to help enhance employee performance.
Kolb’s model emphasizes that in AC, a tentative and impartial stance to learning is taken. What this means to feedback is that a descriptive rather than judgmental approach should be taken. Shields (2007) differentiates describing from judging by stating that in describing behavior, one accurately reports what has happened while in judging behavior, one seeks to evaluate what has occurred by labeling it as either good or bad. Judgment is detrimental to the feedback process since it makes an individual respond defensively to the allegations being made against them. It also encourages growth in the employee since instead of generalizing their performance as “good” or “right”, specific descriptions of the actions that they carried out impressively are given.
Previous performance by the employee should not be looked at in a judgmental way but rather, they should be reviewed so as to aid the current work process. Baron (1988, p.203) asserts that “when employee receive destructive criticism about their performance, they experience negative emotional reactions and will avoid that source of feedback in the future”. Concerning Kevin who is always late and has not yet learnt the computer program for retrieving information on customer account, I would focus on his current behavior and take care not to blame him personally.
Effective communication is important and therefore, comments made during feedback should be clear and understood to the employee. Moss and Sanchez (2004) suggest that managers should engage in active listening when providing feedback to the employee. As it currently stands, I do not know much about Kevin and can therefore not provide effective feedback. Engaging in effective listening will enable me to better understand him and from this understanding, I will be better placed to offer constructive feedback. By listening to the employee, I will acquire information on the “Hidden Area” described by Johari’s window as the part containing information that an individual knows about themselves but others do not. Actions such as verbal summarization of employees’ perception on the issue will ensure that there is a common understanding on the issue being discussed.
Reflection will also act as a tool to reduce the likelihood of the manager making a hasty and emotional response during feedback. In the case involving Kevin, if I do not take the time to reflect on the issue, I may end up breaking into an angry outburst which will decrease the effectiveness of the feedback process. Burke and Cooper (2008) assert that a candid and in-depth analysis of a person’s behavior based on the observations and reflections made in the Concrete experience and Reflective observation stages of the cycle can result in patterns of behavior being identified. If the patterns identified are unproductive, then steps can be undertaken to correct them.
The final stage is Active experimentation (AE) and this stage involves testing the concepts that have been identified. Active experimentation requires that something be done with the information that has been obtained. It is therefore necessary to suggest something practical that the employee can do with the information contained in the feedback.
Feedback should help subordinates to diagnose performance difficulties and overcome them. London (2003) declares that whenever possible, the person providing feedback on performance should give specific and useful suggestions to assist the employee improve their performance. These suggestions should be both practical and doable in the particular work environment. In the case of Judy Thomas who has been a good employee of the bank for 19years without any significant promotion, I would offer solid steps which could assist her get a promotion. For example, I would encourage her to engage in trainings and seminars which would she could take to make her promotion a reality. Heathfield and Woods (2011) reiterate that training and development of employees is essential for the increased productivity of the business. If the evaluation reveals that the employee suffers from a low self esteem, I would recommend that he/she undertakes assertive training. This is in line with the Skill-Will model which requires the manager to pay attention to both the technical capabilities of the employee as well his motivation and empowerment.
Kolb’s process assists the manager to involve the subordinate in every step of the feedback process therefore leading to an establishment and reinforcement of the employee’s commitment to improve. This will result in the employee having a clear understanding of what is required of him/her. Lack of clarity and giving specific examples can result in dissatisfaction even among employees whose performance is high. In this stage, tests can be made on the implications of the insights that have been made in the previous stages. The employee will experiment with the newly found understanding to see if it holds up.
London (2003, p.23) states that the feedback should not be so far removed from the behavior that the “connection is lost and the learning opportunity foregone”. AC is action oriented and it involves taking actions which are aimed at increasing the efficiency of the employee. A key endeavor of all feedback efforts is therefore to link negative feedback to actions that the recipient can engage in for improvement. In the case of Kevin, I would given him feedback on his negative behavior and show him how it is affecting other employees. The learning opportunity here will be great since the feedback is not far removed from the behavior.
An important point to note is that experimenting at times leads to failure. Even so, employees develop more if they are given the opportunity to experiment with different approaches. This stage will therefore help in determining whether the feedback given has been effectively transferred to the every day tasks of the individual. Shields (2007) emphasizes that it is important to assess if performance reviews translate to improved effectiveness at work. If the new practices result in poor performance, further feedback should be given and necessary changes made. The employee will therefore be engaged in such a manner that they demonstrate the desired behavior.
Kolb’s model is cyclic in nature which means that it keeps repeating itself over and over until desired goals are achieved. This is the same for any effective feedback since feedback should occur as part of an ongoing process and not a once off event (Buron & McDonald-Mann, 2011). Reinforcing a learning-oriented reaction to failure by employees can make employees become innovative which is good for the organization. The employees will also be motivated to achieve the desired organizational goals.
Proper feedback is of great importance in the work environment. Moss and Sanchez (2004, p.32) assert that the most basic premise of learning in an organizational setting is the “detection and correction of error”. For this to happen, feedback has to be by employees to managers and the other way round. The feedback provided to employees should be constructive and it should assist them to improve their performance. Burke and Cooper (2008) reveal that feedback from a superior helps employees to make positive changes following an evaluation. This revelation is corroborated by Buron and McDonald-Mann (2011) whose studies indicate that a lack of superior support impede on organizational effectiveness.
Using Kolb’s model helps a person to make use of effective learning and therefore provide effective feedback. This is because use of the model assists the manager to avoid negative behavior such as judging and making inferences. London (2003) reiterates that performance appraisal and feedback should be “a systematic and continuous process of improving employee performance”. Kolb’s model assists in making the feedback process systematic and progressive which results in feedback offered being even more effective.
The effectiveness of performance evaluations is greatly dependent on the ability of the manager to provide feedback of the evaluation results to the employee. If the feedback process is flawed, then the efficiency of the evaluation is diminished since there will be little or no improvement in the employee’s productivity. This paper set out to reflect how the use of Kolb’s model can help to improve my feedback skills. The paper begins by showing that an effective learner has to make use of the four learning modes depicted in Kolb’s model. A detailed discussion of each of the learning modes and how they relate to the feedback process has then been given. The paper has demonstrated how the four modes can lead to an enhancement of my feedback skills. Through this reflection, I have shown how my feedback skills are enhanced by applying Kolb’s experiential learning model.
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