Among the many skills an MD or business owner should possess is the ability to provide constructive, meaningful feedback. Employees at every level of an organization want to do the best job possible, a goal that can’t be fully achieved without input from those in charge.
Try this exercise with your team.
At your next team or staff meeting ask everyone to do a quick introduction, covering:
- Who they are,
- Their role in the business,
- The greatest strength they bring to the organisation, and
- Their biggest developmental area to help them to contribute even more.
But ask them to do this for the person that happens to be sitting on their right. Your team will find this exercise relatively straight forward, one or two may hesitate over question 3. But on question 4, where they need to articulate honest developmental feedback, many will struggle and find it very hard, if not impossible, to share this feedback.
Take part your self to send a positive signal to the team and monitor your how easy or difficult it is for you to give real feedback. Could this very common anxiety be stopping these important conversations in your business?
This exercise will tell you how much your team really know each other. And how common developmental conversations are likely to be.
If developmental feedback is critical to staff developing to their full potential, which it is, you will need to work hard to make this common place across your organisation.
Providing the right type of feedback, within the context of job expectations and responsibilities, not only dramatically improves an individual’s work performance, but helps build trusting relationships and a willingness to excel—crucial elements in job satisfaction and enduring employee retention.
Millennial employees, for example, “thrive on feedback,” particular when it’s offered frequently and in a proactive, constructive way. It’s important to them that their supervisors feel they’re doing a good job and they’re open to developmental feedback that enables them to grow in their jobs.
Here are tips to keep in mind as you hone your feedback skills:
Communication is the Response it Gets
Giving developmental feedback is an important leadership trait. It’s up to you to make it work. No one enjoys hearing about all the ways in which their job performance falls short. Therefore, it’s up to the person providing feedback to recognize the challenges of the conversation, and help the employee get what they need out of the interaction. If, when the conversation ends, the employee leaves “without having gained any self-knowledge or insight, and therefore their response is not to change – that’s your mistake, not theirs.” Go back to the beginning and communicate it again.
Your aim must be to give clarity about where they fall short in a way which motivates them to close the gap! Contradictory as this may seem, skilfully given feedback can achieve this.
- Make sure you highlight what they are doing well first.
- Make your feedback constructive and positive. Do not stray into personal language and it can be helpful to focus on their performance against the requirements of their role. It is what their “role requires” or “what the business needs”, that means they need to stretch themselves.
- If you believe they have the potential to be successful, let them know, simply sharing this belief can have a tremendously positive effect.
- Always offer support and ask them what support will help them most. Always keep your end of this bargain, but don’t shy away from recognising that it is they who are responsible for their development, not you. You can train, support and coach them every step of the way, but they must find the drive to make the changes necessary.
- Motivate them by describing their future success, the benefits they will experience and the impact this will have on the company, colleagues and customers. Make sure they can see their part in achieving the company’s vision, if you have one.
- Be as objective and factual as possible. Focus on what happened, what behaviours you observed and their impact. Give specific examples if possible.
- Always give developmental feedback in private, somewhere where the recipient is comfortable and feels safe, otherwise they will not take in the message and are more likely to react negatively or defensively
- Give feedback in a timely manner as close as possible to the issues themselves. In leadership terms we call this “finding your voice”. I’ve worked with many business owners that find this difficult, even impossible, and have moved staff sideways into “non-jobs” rather than confront their non-performance. However, never give feedback when you are emotional or angry about an issue.
- However, it is inevitable that as you introduce more developmental feedback it will cover a longer period, for example a 6 month or annual ‘Performance Appraisal.’ I like to call these “Performance Appraisal and Personal Development Plans”. A mouth full I know, but I think this gives the right balance of accountability for the employee and support from the employer.
- Reflect on how often you give your staff positive feedback for a job well done, as well as how often you give developmental feedback. Every workplace should have a mix of both.
Start With the End in Mind
Preparing before undertaking a “feedback conversation” can significantly increase the chances of success. This preparation should focus on feedback that can directly influence the outcome you desire on the employee’s part.
Make sure you enter into the conversation armed with specific feedback. Use language the other person will understand and find relevant. This way, your feedback is likely to have the desired effect.
Offer objective feedback. One of the issues associated with feedback in the workplace is that a leader’s preconceptions or emotions can get tangled up with what he or she wants to get across. A different approach, known as “pure feedback,” seeks to eliminate any inherent bias in the conversation.
Pure feedback is the “descriptive, non-judgmental delivery of objective, verifiable information,” says Business2Community. This type of feedback addresses behaviour or performance in a “just the facts” manner, enabling “the receiver to process personal feelings that come from judgment or evaluation,” rather than getting stuck on what seems like a derogatory view from the person offering the feedback.
Make it a conversation, not a monologue. Feedback is more readily absorbed if the recipient doesn’t feel like he or she is being subjected to a monologue or sermon. During the conversation, invite the employee to share their thoughts or reactions, and to raise any operational issues they’re experiencing that might contribute to an unsatisfactory performance. This approach makes the experience feel more collaborative and less punitive.
Forget the “feedback sandwich.” For a long time, it was believed that “sandwiching” the critique of an individual’s performance between “slices” of praise was an effective feedback approach. More recently, leadership experts like Alicia Cohn contend that this approach is “a cop-out designed to make the feedback-giver feel more comfortable rather than to enlighten the feedback receiver.”
Instead, work on offering praise on an ongoing basis—not just during a quarterly feedback conversation. This makes it far easier to set aside part of that conversation for a look at where performance is falling short, coupled with concrete advice on how to improve the situation.
In conclusion I would say giving developmental feedback is an essential element of your leadership and your employee engagement strategy. People really are your number one asset so, as uncomfortable as it may seem at times, having real conversations is critical to your future success in so many ways.
By Andy Hartley, TAB Bradford West