I hope you are well.
True Development has grown dramatically since I last wrote and we find ourselves happily engaged in many challenging and rewarding projects. It’s a blessing to be busy doing work we enjoy so much.
Skillfully Delivered Feedback is a Gift
Many of our leadership programs include modules on giving feedback to employees. It is also a frequent topic in my executive coaching work. When I think about what makes feedback effective, I think of a time many years ago when the owner of a training company I worked for gave me this feedback:
“True, you are one of our best trainers. The clients like working with you and you get solid results. But you are the worst employee we have. Your course reports are always late. You don’t turn in expense reports on time. You don’t follow the rules like everyone else and you cause a great deal of stress for the office staff. Someone with your kind of talent shouldn’t be causing these kinds of issues. It negates the good things you do.”
It was the perfect thing to say to me. It was honest. It wasn’t delivered with an angry, frustrated tone of voice.It sounded objective. It acknowledged the good things about me while asking me to correct the bad behavior.It was delivered after trust existed between us and it displayed an understanding of my personality and style,i.e.I don’t like to be the best at one thing in my job and the worst in another, and I REALLY don’t like to cause stress for other people.
This feedback was a gift, and I took immediate action to make sure I improved in the areas he highlighted.I’ll never be the best paperwork guy and I admit that I’m poor at following most rules, but after this friend and mentor showed me the negative effects of my behavior, I permanently changed my approach to such things.
The Feedback Challenge
The concept of giving feedback is not difficult to understand. There are many effective methodsof giving feedback that are easy to learn. The challenge is overcoming the obstacles to giving effective feedback.
The first obstaclefor many managers is focus. Giving effective feedback means you’ve got to slow down and have a short, focused meeting. This can be difficult to do when you are busy driving results.
I personally believe feedback is best delivered in short, 5-10 minute increments. Once you exceed a 10 minute conversation, you’d better be using the time to coach the person on how to do things more effectively, or you’re probably wasting time.
The key to overcoming the focus challenge is to set up a mechanism so that you are delivering feedback regularly rather than waiting until you have lost patience. Giving feedback when you are frustrated is usually counterproductive, and you’ll make the employee feel that you only give feedback when something is wrong and you’re upset.
The second obstacle is emotional management. Many managers fear giving feedback because they imagine all kinds of negative responses from the employee. So they avoid giving feedback when feedback would actually be helpful to the employee. Other managers have nearly the opposite problem. They are not afraid to give feedback, but they tend to bring too much negative emotion or too little empathy to the process and end up killing employee morale instead of using the feedback to help the employee improve.
The secret to overcoming the emotional management issues around feedback is to go through this checklistbefore you give feedback:
● Does the employee trust me?
● Is the feedback honest and intended to help?
● Is the feedback balanced, i.e. does it acknowledge the positive AND
clarify the negative?
● Am I prepared to offer my time to coach the employee if he/she is unclear on HOW to change the negative behavior?
If you answer NO to any of these, then your feedback will likely fail to do any good.
The third obstacle is lack of awareness. Many managers believe their feedback is effective when in fact it is not.
Managers who fear upsetting employees will give feedback that is overly positive and deliver negative feedback without conviction, or not at all. When the year-end review comes, you may find that the employee is surprised by your “balanced” review because it doesn’t match the feedback you gave during the year.
Managers who deliver feedback when they are upset or only focus on problems in their feedback will give feedback that is overly negative and harms morale rather than teaching anything useful.
Managers who are not prepared to explain what happened, the effect it had (positive or negative), and what should happen going forward will deliver vague feedback that is nearly useless.
The way to overcome our own lack of awareness about the problems with the way we give feedback is to ask for feedback from others. Ask your manager or a peer to sit in on a feedback session sometime and help you identify what is working and what is not. Next time you have the chance to attend a leadership training workshop, ask for the chance to deliver feedback in a role play practice so that you can get feedback from the trainer and your peers. You might even consider asking some of your more senior employees or former team members for some tips on how you can improve your feedback effectiveness.
Mastery is a Process
I’ve never encountered a leader who delivers feedback perfectly every time. We are all learning to be experts in this area. Don’t let your lack of experience or your weaknesses stop you from giving feedback. You’ll likely deliver something of value to the employee, and you will have practiced a valuable management skill.
Yours in learning,
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