Are You Giving Employees Useful Feedback?
Don’t make them guess if they’re on the right track
It’s the six words many of us dread: “Can I give you some feedback?” But there’s value in getting constructive criticism on identifying ways to improve; there’s even more value in getting help with solutions.
Feedback has gotten a bad rep. This is often because we perceive the person giving the feedback as superior to us—we go on the defense. Everything constructive about the process goes right out the window. However, you are able to reverse this process and see the helpfulness in the situation.
Make it timely
Useful feedback must happen as soon as possible (once there’s a reason to give it). Otherwise, time passes and your recollection will fade. The employee needing feedback may not even remember the situation.
There’s nothing to be gained by waiting. It won’t get easier over time. A “back burner” approach steals your bandwidth, too. You’ll continue to think about it. The time for constructive employee feedback is sooner, not later.
Do it often
Is your feedback frequency with employees about as rare as the appearance of Halley’s Comet? Make it a habit to give regular feedback. It’s an essential part of performance management. A coach talks to his team before every game. What’s your frequency?
We won’t see Halley’s Comet again until 2062.
Create comfort and safety
No one likes to be made to feel uncomfortable. The less comfortable we feel, the more likely we will be unreceptive to feedback.
Your mother was right. If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. What she failed to add is that improvement cannot occur unless you tell an employee what it is they can do to improve. It’s all in your delivery—and that must always be constructive.
This doesn’t mean going overboard with civility. Feedback is even less effective when the person receiving it thinks you’re insincere. Feedback is not a time for emotion, but is the time for transparency and truthfulness. Pick a neutral location for the feedback session. Say what you mean and say it constructively.
Sure, that’s a no-brainer—but there’s more to this than you might think.
Positive feedback stimulates the reward centers in the brain. When you get positive feedback, you’re more open to taking new directions.
How can you be positive about something negative?
Focus on the outcome, outline the entire situation, and frame it in a cause/effect scenario. Offer a solution that provides a better result. You’ll help the employee move past a negative association with your feedback. They concentrate instead on the opportunity to put the positive suggestion in action.
“You’re a bad driver.”
“I noticed that you tend to change lanes without signaling.”
One of these pieces of feedback contains specific information; the other is rather ambiguous and could be interpreted the wrong way. People respond better to feedback with specifics–both in terms of what’s wrong and how they can improve it.
Successful feedback must include providing an employee with the opportunity to respond. But you’re not finished with listening yet.
It’s your responsibility to make sure your feedback is received and translated into a positive result. That depends on how well your employee feels you’re listening when you stop talking.
- Pause: Allow an employee the time they may need to collect their thoughts after you give feedback.
- Don’t interrupt: Your employee may need time to talk through a conclusion. Stay silent, but give them visual cues that you’re paying attention.
- Repeat: Tell them in your own words what you hear them say; it’s their confirmation that you understand their take on the situation
Begin and end on a high note
Following constructive feedback, you can help an employee get back to a good emotional state by providing balance. Begin feedback with a positive observation. Stay away from anything that might seem like an insincere compliment. End the feedback session on a positive note, too. Make it a specific suggestion for improvement, followed by the better outcome it produces.
You’re setting the stage for a deeper and more constructive relationship. It's based on prompt, honest feedback. There's no way to make it a 100 percent pleasant experience. But remember something else both your mother and Mary Poppins told you—a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.