Dread giving feedback? You're not alone!

Providing feedback is one of the most dreaded and most important things managers do.  It can generate stress in both the manager and the employee receiving the feedback.  Preparing and delivering feedback takes time, if done well.  But feedback is a critical mechanism to help employees continuously learn, grow, and stay on track, and to help organizations meet their goals.  According to a 2012 article in Harvard Business Review titled Creating Sustainable Performance, receiving performance feedback enables employees to “thrive”, meaning they are satisfied, productive, and committed to their organization and its future.​As difficult as it might be, providing effective feedback is critical to employee and team success.  There are a number of things managers can do to increase the effectiveness of their feedback. Provide it frequently.  This accomplishes a number of things:

  • Practice, practice, practice.  It makes feedback a norm and gives everyone more practice: managers at delivering and employees at receiving.  As with most things, with practice, feedback becomes easier to deliver and to receive.
  • Timeliness.  It increases the odds that time will not lag between the need for feedback and the delivery of feedback.  This goes for reinforcing great performance and finding an opportunity for learning and change when the feedback is constructive.  When too much constructive feedback accumulates in a manager’s head without being discussed openly, the manager can become exasperated, resulting in a feedback session that is overwhelming to the receiver.
  • It decreases the "weight" of the formal performance review and minimizes major surprises.  While an important tool, the performance review should not serve as the sole mechanism to deliver feedback.  If employees are receiving feedback throughout the year, the performance review is less opaque, and anxiety-inducing, as it should simply be a summary of the feedback that has already been delivered.

Focus on the specific behaviors and the impact of the person’s behaviors and/or performance.  Don’t focus on the person’s character or personality.  Focus on and describe the observable behaviors.  You should be able to articulate why it is important for the person to hear the feedback: it will help them develop professionally, it will improve their relationships with co-workers or clients, it will improve their ability to communicate or influence, it will help them reach their goals, increase sales, etc.  You being frustrated or the employee “doing great” aren’t good enough explanations.  Find the words that explain the behavior and the impact.Build trusting relationships with your team so they don’t question your motives, and therefore don’t hear you.  It’s important that they know you care about them and about their growth and development.  Keeping this in mind as you prepare for and deliver feedback will keep you words and actions in check.  One of my greatest take-aways from Crucial Conversations is, in a difficult conversation to ask yourself if you are “acting in a way that gets what you want”.  If you want the person to hear you and respond to your feedback, act in a way that helps them hear you.  Do you have a clear message you are going to send, have you prepared examples or data to support the feedback, are you ready to focus on the discussion at hand without distraction?Frame your feedback in terms of what the person should Stop, Start, and Continue doing.  Provide clarity in each of these categories so the person knows what specific actions to take as a result of the feedback:

  • What should they stop doing that is negatively impacting their performance?
  • What should they start doing that will have a positive impact on their performance?
  • What are they doing well that they should continue doing?

Provide positive feedback too.  Researchers Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer (authors of The Progress Principle) found that a sense of progress is the most powerful motivator at work.  According to a 2015 survey by SHRM and Globoforce, efforts to provide positive recognition was shown to increase engagement, job satisfaction, retention, and business results.  Too much focus on negative feedback can be demoralizing and decreases employee engagement.  If you are taking someone’s positive contributions for granted, push yourself to identify opportunities for recognition.If someone gets angry or emotional during a feedback discussion, address it and move on, or end the meeting until you can have a more productive discussion.  If the person is overly emotional, they aren’t hearing you anyway, and it might be best to schedule a second meeting to finish the discussion.  This will help you get your message across, allow him/her to share personal perspective in a constructive way, and for you to come to a shared agreement on next steps. Look for opportunities to drive greater learning by engaging them in the discussion and jointly solving the problem. 

 Ask for their perspective on their performance, what they did well, and didn’t do well.  Take the opportunity to ask them what they might do differently next time for greater effectiveness.  This will lead to deeper learning for the person.  It will also shed light on the employee’s level of self-awareness, and where the two of you align (or don’t align) in your perspective of their performance and contributions.​The ability to provide effective feedback is an essential skill for any leader.  Improving your ability to provide effective feedback will take commitment and practice.  As you work on it, ask for feedback from your team and others on what you’re doing well and what you can improve upon.  None of us are perfect and none should be immune to feedback.  Showing you, too, are open to feedback will go a long way in building trust and credibility with your team.Need help improving this skill set for yourself or your organization? Let’s talk.

you might also like