Start With STAR: How to Avoid Saying Things That Kill Employee Motivation

We’ve all worked for a manager who frequently says the wrong thing at the wrong time, killing your motivation for a project or even for your entire job. How can you avoid being that manager?

Remember the opening to Aretha Franklin’s song Think.

You better think (think) think
about what you’re trying to do to me…

As you work through what you are going to say, use the STAR feedback model, developed by Development Dimensions International, to guide how you word your feedback. STAR stands for:

ST: Situation/Task

The situation or task you are discussing—Provides context for his actions and helps explain their importance.

A: Action

Details of what he said or did to handle the situation or task.

R: Result

Describes what was achieved by the action and why it was or was not effective.

This gives you a framework for praise or criticism, but you’ll have to be specific. The more specific your words the less room for interpretation you leave. For example:

“Adele, thank you for handling that customer while I was out. I heard he was really upset when he came into the office. (situation/task) You greeted him calmly, listened and then helped him fill out the forms he needed to solve his problem. (action) He called me later to say how impressed he was with your responsiveness and plans to send us more business.” (result)

STAR also works when an employee has behaved inappropriately. Focus on the specific behavior or situation, not the person. For instance, if an employee is late most mornings, explain how this behavior affects their team and the business. Discuss ways to correct the tardiness, and address consequences if the problem continues.

In addition to using STAR to shape your conversations, keep these best practices in mind:

Set clear expectations

We all know a job description is just a basic outline for what any given job requires. What it doesn’t cover is what ‘good’ looks like. How will your employees know what ‘good’ is if you don’t set clear expectations?

For example: If you tell your child to clean their room, you need to explain that ‘clean’ means the bed is made, toys are placed in the toy box and clothes are hung in the closet. Without those details, your child may think toys and clothes shoved under the bed is okay.

Your employees aren’t children, but they still need to know the specifics of what is considered a job well done.

Convey expectations with details that are SMART, which stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely.

Examples include specific objectives, such as the number of cold calls employees should make per week, the number of client contacts they should make, in person or by phone, per week, or response time to customer emails. If you don’t set the expectation that customer emails will get a response within six hours, your employees may think two days is okay.

Vague, changing or unspoken expectations can leave employees feeling confused, frustrated or that you play favorites.

Focus on outcomes more than process

Before you criticize how an employee accomplished a task, consider whether the standard method really is the only way, or best way, to get a task done. Maybe the new employee found a new option.

Then again, maybe their process worked this time, but in your experience, the older process has advantages.

Begin your feedback with what your employees did right. Then walk them through another customer scenario and explain how the standard process works better. You’ll preserve your employees’ self-esteem and leave them with something new to apply and learn. It can also prepare them for a situation they may not have encountered yet. Such a conversation may look like this:

“Ben, great job talking the customer through how to access their data. (situation/task) You really connected with them and hit the most important points. (action) One thing I noticed, though, is that you skipped explaining why they need a back-up person authorized to access the account. We’ve learned over the years that the back-up person is essential should something happen to the main account holder, and it occurs more often than you’d think. (result) Be sure to call the client tomorrow to get that set up and explain why it protects them. (action) Keep up the good work.”

Provide constant feedback

Employees need regular, frequent feedback, not just during official review times every six to 12 months. No one likes to find out they’ve been doing the wrong thing for six months when they could have been doing it properly for want of proper feedback.

Another motivation killer is the boss who stays holed up in her office, coming out only to offer negative feedback because something has gone wrong.

Give praise and feedback in both face-to-face meetings and email. This means critiques should almost always be given in person, and in private, unless the entire group needs correction. Small successes are okay to address in a team email, but big successes deserve mention in a meeting, or even better, a team lunch paid for by you or the company. A sample team meeting might start like this:

“We have missed our team goal two weeks in a row and we need to figure out why. How can we correct this? I’m going to start with a couple of things I’m seeing that we need to do better, and then I want to hear your thoughts on what’s keeping you from contributing to the team goal.”

Remember, by offering thoughtful, consistent feedback you help your team deliver their best to the company.

Looking for more ways to ensure you’re being best leader you can be? Get your free copy of our eBook, How to Develop a Top-notch Workforce That Will Accelerate Your Business.