November 9, 2017 • 7 minute read • by Saeed
“I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” ~ Thomas Edison
Learning to provide productive feedback is one of the most important skills you can acquire as a supervisor and a leader (just as important is the ability to receive it, but let’s save that for another post).
To be effective, feedback should concentrate on the behavior, not the person. It should be specific and not generalized and it should be actionable and solution oriented. Feedback should also be part of the ongoing culture, not a one-time event. Creating a feedback culture – where everyone gives and receives feedback – can help both providers and recipients of feedback become better at using it to increase productivity.
Feedback can be provided explicitly (through oral or written language) or implicitly (through gestures or tone of voice). So when providing feedback, remember that the employee is also reading your body language. Make sure you are explicitly and implicitly congruent.
But have you ever wondered why your feedback doesn’t stick or have the intended effect?
Feedback is not a one-time event…
Feedback, done well, provides an opportunity to grow and motivates people to perform. Feedback, done poorly, will deflate the recipient and is ultimately counter-productive. Feedback is a process, not a one-time event.
But novice supervisors view feedback as a negative conversation because they fall back on it when performance is not up to snuff. That’s the first mistake.
To mitigate the potential impact of their negative impact, many supervisors have learned to provide feedback using the so called ‘feedback sandwich’ method. The feedback sandwich begins with a slice of positive feedback (top slice of bread), places a piece of negative feedback in the middle (the meat), and ends with another piece of positive feedback (bottom slice of bread). The feedback sandwich is supposed to minimize any detrimental effect the negative feedback may have on the individual. However, this method is so overused, that people see right through it. As soon as they hear the positive opening, they think: ‘here it comes’ and prepare themselves for the negative, never really hearing the positive. There is a better way.
Instead of the Feedback Sandwich…
This is the wrong approach. Instead of this outdated and one-dimensional method, you have to think about feedback as an ongoing process of performance improvement. The right approach is to create a ‘feedback program’ that actually will help people grow and bring more productivity to your work environment. This will help both providers and recipients of feedback become better at incorporating feedback into performance improvement.
To create a ‘constant feedback workplace,’ there are six criteria you must follow, that if used together, will create an environment where learning is valued and supported and where productivity and people have only one direction in which to grow:
- Credible – the feedback provider must be credible in the eyes of the recipient. Unless you have the respect of those you supervise, your feedback will not be well received or acted upon. Your credibility is everything. If you don’t follow through on what you say you’re going to do, you will erode your credibility with your team. Your credibility is build up over time and as a result of the history of your words and actions. Be credible before you’re visible.
- Trustworthy – the feedback provider must be trusted by the recipient. Arguable, the most essential quality of leadership is trustworthiness. Trust is the cornerstone of all relationships. The feedback conversation is an opportunity to develop a relationship with the employee in which you are viewed as a helpful resource who is committed to the employee’s success. This is fundamental to building trust.
- Well-intentioned – the intentions of the feedback provider must be genuine. The job of feedback is to meet the employee where they are and give them what they need to take their next steps. If you can link the employee’s performance to real impact on the business, both positive and constructive feedback will be seen as sincere. If you are trying to catch the employee out, this will also be known to the employee and the feedback will be seen as a tool for discipline rather than improving on performance. This will erode your credibility and set you on an inevitable collision course. For feedback to be effective, the right emotional environment must be created. Before you provide your feedback, make sure you have checked in with yourself about your intentions. The main message should be that you care and want to help the person grow and develop.
- Timed – the timing of the feedback should be immediate and/or appropriate. It must come at a time when the employee can immediately act on the feedback, not at the end of the year during the performance review when there is no opportunity to incorporate the feedback into daily performance or projects. You must build in time during the trajectory of the work to give feedback that employees can immediately use to move them forward in their goals and objectives.
- Interactive – the feedback must be provided in a conversational context. If you don’t know what motivates your employee or where they’re going, then feedback is just another set of instructions to follow, which may or may be related to anything other than the delegated task. Ongoing conversations with the employee provide a basis to provide feedback about the goals and objectives, both short term and long, that employee is trying to attain. Employees want to learn and want feedback to help them improve, but they also want to know why it matters. Research suggests, this is especially important for the millennial generation. When you are able to connect the feedback to an important future skill employees have a reason to incorporate it and can incorporate the feedback more effectively. You can’t effective develop employees with one round of feedback that captures all the correction he or she needs to make to be a star performer. Feedback has to be iterative.
- Specific – the feedback must be clear in order to be useful to the recipient. That means the employee is able to walk away knowing exactly what they need to improve on. It is helpful to prepare your comments ahead of time and stick to the facts. To keep your feedback specific, limit it to a couple of key focus areas. When you bombard employees, you risk them feeling overwhelmed and attacked. Do not come in carrying the kitchen sink. Instead, come with descriptive feedback and specific action steps that focus on building strengths rather than picking apart weaknesses.
A final word…
Giving feedback is a skill and like all skills, it takes practice to improve it. The more practice you get, the less daunting it becomes. In both giving and receiving feedback, there are rules and tips you can follow to make it more effective. But in order for feedback to be truly effective, it must be incorporated into the daily work culture and should happen on a regular basis. This way, it becomes a powerful means of developing employees instead of an agonizing process that leaves both managers and employees demoralized.
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©2017 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.