The 4 Types of Feedback for Performance Improvement

February 26, 2012 § 1 Comment

Everyone wants feedback and yet some employees are starved for it and it’s often because supervisors are poor at its delivery.  Human Resource managers often deal with the most challenging of employee issues which might have been avoided if feedback had been given properly and early.

The aim of this blog is to clarify the distinction between the four different types of feedback and therefore increase the probability for everyone to request it when desired and deliver it when it’s needed the most.

The typical performance review is flawed because when mistakes are made or goals are not accomplished the focus is on the improvement of the individual instead of the improvement of his or her interactions and his/her methods of interaction.

The Two Types of Interactions

There are two types of interactions that employees have in their work; interpersonal interactions and system interactions.  Interpersonal are those interactions that occur with direct communication with other employees.   These interactions are defined by specific behaviors exhibited during discussions, telephone conversations, and emails.  For example, the words, tone of voice, and body language used during a meeting when explaining a point of view is an interpersonal interaction.   If the behavior comes across as disrespectful it would require immediate feedback because disrespect damages performance.

System interactions refer to the connections an employee makes with the processes he/she works within.  Information required to complete a report or to begin research on a project are examples of system interactions.   Organizations require a constant flow of information and/or data.  Any blockage of information flow is a system issue that prevents people from accomplishing their goals.  These are hand offs of information, product, or paperwork that impact others.   System interactions are the proof of the interdependency of each job within a system, i.e. the quality of my work affects the quality of yours.

Feedback vs. Criticism

It is important to define the difference between feedback and criticism.  For 16 years I have been asking leadership classes to tell me the difference.  Rarely have I received the correct answers.

Feedback is data about a process for the purpose of learning to improve that process.  Criticism is opinion or judgment.  People always choose feedback over criticism.  Of course there are times when we do want someone’s opinion but feedback is much more valuable for learning because it can be delivered in a neutral and unemotional manner.  It is also given in the context of a specific process and that makes it more valuable.  Feedback about a process makes the delivery less about the person and more about the process. Criticism often can create the impression that there is a flaw in the person and not in the process.

For example, one of my clients is director of facilities at a school.  Last fall CT was hit by tropical storm Irene.  In preparation my client organized his team to dig ditches to move water away from the buildings (we were expecting 5 inches of rain).   He checked generators, had his entire team on call in case of emergency, he ordered a back-hoe ready in case more drainage was needed, and finally, he slept at the property on the evening the storm was expected to hit.  Two days after the storm, a board member came to the school and commented about how the grounds needed to be cleaned up.  My client was devastated from the criticism.

My client had a very specific process of preparation that he followed to avoid emergencies.  The process had worked well and, although he was open to learning more about how he could have improved the process, the board member criticized he and his team with his criticism (his own opinion) about the condition of grounds.  The criticism was not useful for learning and it damaged the hard working director’s motivation.  He told me later that he was discouraged him from making future efforts.

The Four Types of Feedback

To achieve optimum learning employees must be open to feedback about their interpersonal interactions and about their system interactions.  Imagine if every employee could fearlessly deliver feedback (data about a process for the purpose of learning).  What if employees could give freely o0ffer feedback about system interactions and interpersonal interactions to both supervisors and peers?  What would it be like to work in a place like that?

What if criticism could also be delivered but only after permission was given? What if employees could give criticism to both supervisors and to peers only after permission was given or solicitation was made for that opinion?  What would it be like to work in a place like that?


There are only four types of feedback, i.e. feedback on interpersonal and system interactions and criticism on interpersonal and system interactions.  By understanding the distinctions between these leaders can optimize learning and avoid creating fear.

Everyone giving feedback to anyone and everyone on both types of interactions optimizes learning, creates accountability, and boosts performance improvement.  Getting permission to deliver criticism first (before blurting it out without thought as the board member did) creates a safe environment that boosts innovation.


§ One Response to The 4 Types of Feedback for Performance Improvement

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