Supervising Child Protective Services Caseworkers
Office on Child Abuse and Neglect, Children's Bureau., Caliber Associates. Salus, Marsha K.|
|Year Published: 2004|
Supervisory Feedback and Performance Recognition
Supervisors have the critical role of evaluating and providing feedback on caseworkers' performance. Feedback is the principle means of maintaining good performance and improving unsatisfactory staff performance. It confirms desired results, identifies gaps between what the caseworkers are doing and what supervisors expect, and provides information about how to improve results. Without feedback, caseworkers are left to wonder about how supervisors view them and their performance.
Recognition of good work and feedback meet several underlying personal needs for caseworkers. They affect feelings of self-worth and respond to needs for growth. Furthermore, to the extent that feedback is more positive than negative, caseworkers have enhanced feelings of security in their capabilities and in their position in the unit. When there is an absence of recognition and positive feedback, staff may experience the environment as cold or punishing. As discussed in Chapter 9, "Recruitment and Retention," recognition and positive feedback increase a sense of job satisfaction and personal accomplishment.
Types of Feedback
There are several types of feedback—positive, negative, evaluative, and developmental. Positive feedback recognizes the specific aspects of the caseworker's performance. When giving negative feedback, the supervisor comments on those aspects of performance that the caseworker is not doing, or not doing adequately, sufficiently, or appropriately. The intent is to facilitate change in the caseworker's behavior.
Evaluative feedback compares performance results with standards and expectations. It offers an appraisal of the extent to which desired results were achieved. The appraisal may involve objective facts or judgment. For example, telling a caseworker that he or she interviewed all known collateral contacts is objective. On the other hand, telling a caseworker that he or she conducted a thorough evaluation is a statement involving judgment. Both forms of evaluative feedback are appropriate, although feedback that involves judgment may be questioned more if it is negative. For this reason, it is important for supervisors to set standards for expectations with clear evaluation criteria. Supervisors also should remember that regularly providing feedback significantly reduces or eliminates the chance of any surprises for caseworkers during formal performance evaluations.
Developmental feedback incorporates evaluative feedback, but goes a step further by identifying what the caseworker did that contributed to or detracted from achieving the expected result. Sometimes a caseworker may attain a result, but not clearly recognize how or why. Developmental feedback confirms behavior that should be retained and identifies behavior that should be changed. Evaluative feedback alone does not provide this information. For example, following the observation of an interview, a supervisor may tell a caseworker that rapid-fire, close-ended questions caused the parent to feel defensive and become uncooperative. The uncooperative posture of the parent is the observed result. The rapid-fire questioning explains the reason the parent became uncooperative.
Criteria for Effective Feedback
The following qualities determine the effectiveness of feedback. Feedback is helpful if it is:
- Useful—It provides information that clearly confirms desired behavior, identifies what behavior needs to be changed, or specifies the extent to which results were achieved.
- Specific—It focuses on objective measures of results or clearly identifies behaviors.
- Frequent—It is provided at least weekly about some aspect of performance expectations. Supervisors that are more effective tend to offer three to five times more positive feedback than negative feedback.
- Well-timed—It is given at a time when the receiver is able to respond openly to the feedback, and it is given in a reasonable time frame following the performance.
- Direct—It is stated specifically and not obscured by irrelevant praise, qualifications, or lengthy explanations justifying the judgment or conclusion.
- Helpful—The receiver perceives that the supervisor is intending to help rather than to harm.
- Behavioral—It focuses on behavior rather than personality or personal characteristics, and does not "label" the individual caseworker.
- Clearly understood—The supervisor confirms the message of the feedback by asking the receiver how he or she interprets what has just been said.33
Conditions for Effective Feedback
The receiver's acceptance of feedback, particularly if it is negative, is enhanced when the feedback is:
- Clearly tied to established expectations;
- Derived from credible means of monitoring performance;
- Based on observable and verifiable information;
- Constructed to exhibit the qualities of effective feedback identified above;
- Given in the context of a trusting relationship;
- Given in the context of a clear agency or unit purpose (e.g., meeting time frames, benefiting clients, or improving relationships).34
Supervisory Effectiveness in Providing Feedback
Effectiveness in giving staff feedback is based on a supervisor's level of competence (whether it meets the above criteria); past experiences, beliefs, and attitudes about feedback; and comfort level in dealing with conflict.
Past Experiences with Feedback
A supervisor's previous experience in giving and receiving all types of feedback has an impact on his or her ease in providing it. For example, not all individuals are comfortable with praise or positive feedback. When uncomfortable with a situation, the same individuals may avoid it or become anxious in handling it. Therefore, if a supervisor is not comfortable with praise, he or she may not give it, may not give it effectively, or may not appear genuine in giving it.
Attitudes and Beliefs about Feedback
Certain attitudes and beliefs influence how much feedback a supervisor gives to his or her staff. For example, if a supervisor believes that "completing a task should be reward enough" or "only outstanding performance deserves recognition," it is likely the supervisor is not giving enough positive feedback to staff. If a supervisor does not care if others like him or her or believes that staff should not bring their personal issues to work, the supervisor may not be giving enough positive feedback because they may not want others to "connect" with them.
Supervisors who have a high need to be liked often find that giving negative feedback is difficult. Negative feedback is perceived as a potential threat to their relationships with staff. Therefore, these supervisors may avoid or postpone giving negative feedback, or they may temper feedback by making it general, rather than specific, and thus detract from its usefulness.
Comfort with Managing Conflict
Many people feel uncomfortable in situations involving conflict. Because giving negative feedback is likely to result in some form of conflict, the supervisor may postpone or delay giving negative feedback as a way to avoid discomfort or may combine negative feedback with false praise. By preparing for a situation involving negative feedback, the supervisor can feel more comfortable. For instance, the content of feedback should be developed in advance to ensure that the qualities of effective feedback are present. The feedback techniques should be thought out and rehearsed. Possible caseworker reactions should be anticipated and supervisory responses prepared.
How the supervisor attends to the caseworker's actual reactions also is important. Reflections of the caseworker's thoughts and summarizations of the caseworker's responses should precede the supervisor's explanations. Such statements communicate that the supervisor is listening, rather than just forcing information on the caseworker. If the interaction becomes defensive, it may be preferable to stop and regroup. The purpose of feedback is to enhance performance. Defensive statements or reactions rarely produce positive change. Rather, they tend to intensify each person's position and undermine the very intent of feedback.
Positive feedback and recognition are two very important management tools. It is important for the supervisor to remember the purpose of and distinctions between the two. Positive feedback reinforces those specific aspects of performance that the supervisor wants a caseworker to continue doing, whereas recognition is a general appraisal of someone's efforts or accomplishments. Examples of recognition include: "Great job." "Keep up the good work." "Good assessment." An example of positive feedback is "When I read your assessment, I got a clear picture of how the family functions and the strengths we can tap into to facilitate behavior change."
The purpose of recognition is to validate performance, improve self-esteem, help staff feel valued, and improve morale and staff retention. Research has supported that recognition for a job well done is the top motivator of staff performance. Most managers and supervisors do not understand or use the potential power of recognition and rewards. When managers are told of the importance of this, the typical reaction is to insist that employees would appreciate only rewards and forms of recognition that directly translate to their pocketbook—raises, bonuses, or promotions.35
Informal recognition (i.e., spontaneous rewards and forms of recognition) can be implemented by any supervisor with minimal planning and effort. Some of the most effective forms of recognition cost nothing or very little. Part of the power of these rewards is that someone took the time to notice the achievement, seek out the employee responsible, and personally deliver the praise in a timely manner. Research has revealed that the type of reward employees most preferred was personalized, spontaneous recognition from their direct supervisors.36
|Informal Rewards and Recognition|
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