Stop the Mind Reading—Give Candid Feedback

Providing feedback (positive and constructive) is Management 101.  Giving feedback to direct reports, co-workers or team members is essential to success.  Providing upward feedback, while sometimes tricky, helps contribute to a transparent environment focused on growth and development.

If feedback is essential, why do we see so many situations where employees don’t know where they stand?  Why do some employees only get feedback once a year during their performance review?

Which of the following situations sound familiar?

  • You notice that sales aren’t where they need to be so you make a sarcastic comment during a sales meeting hoping the team catches on that you aren’t happy.
  • You’re leading a project that is behind schedule and you jokingly laugh about how all of your jobs may be in jeopardy if everyone can’t get things on track.
  • You avoid giving feedback to a team member hoping they will self-correct the situation. When they don’t, you lose your cool and provide feedback that is emotionally-driven and less fact-based.

We all know that feedback is important, yet, we often fail to communicate this useful information on a regular basis. We expect people to read our mind and figure things out based on innuendoes. Managers will often tell me that they do not want to “beat people up” by providing constructive feedback. And, while Management 101, I see leaders at all levels guilty of this. Executive team members who aren’t direct with one of their senior team members. Mid-level managers or frontline supervisors who avoid confronting an issue hoping it will go away. Co-workers who talk behind someone’s back instead of giving feedback directly to the other party.

Providing clear feedback isn’t about beating people up. It’s about helping them to succeed. It’s about making sure that if they are off track they know it so they can course correct. If we don’t provide constructive feedback, we are setting people up to fail. We owe it to our employees to provide candid, constructive feedback.

We also owe it to all the other employees—the ones who are successfully performing and achieving results—to provide feedback to the individual who is struggling. They are the ones who have to pick up the slack to make sure things get done when their co-worker isn’t performing as needed.

Five tips to help in providing feedback include:

  1. Start with clear expectations.

    Clearly communicate specific goals and expectations. The more time that is invested on the front end, the more effective you will be. It is hard to hold someone accountable to a goal that isn’t clear or a standard that hasn’t been communicated.

    Years ago I was traveling on a client engagement and I stayed at a popular business hotel chain during the trip. This was not a five-star hotel. It was more of a mid-level, good price point hotel. Despite that, they created a five-star experience. Staff were friendly and courteous. Service was exemplary. Expectations were exceeded.

    This didn’t happen by accident. The hotel manager hired for customer service. S/he set expectations that clearly outlined the definition of customer service. Staff received regular feedback that reinforced positive results and quickly corrected those things that didn’t line up with expectations.

    It starts with clear expectations.

  2. Make it timely.

    Feedback that is untimely isn’t useful. Saving feedback up for the performance review is downright harmful. An employee can’t take steps to adjust their performance and/or behavior if they don’t know that it is unsatisfactory. Build regular feedback and coaching conversations into your day or week. It doesn’t always have to be a sit-down meeting. Informal, corridor conversations can be valuable as long as the feedback is specific and timely.

  3. Focus on the facts.

    Focus on the situation, not the person. Never attack. Be open to additional fact-finding and be inquisitive to explore the situation in more detail. Avoid assumptions and seek to understand.

  4. Be specific.

    Create your feedback message using specific, observable behaviors. We often use ambiguous terms in our language. Even day-to-day language (e.g., customer service, innovation) is not very specific. Common terms can mean different things to different people. If you give feedback to an employee that they need to demonstrate more teamwork, clarify what that means. Identify specific, observable behaviors that define the term.

  5. Make a habit of it.

    Create an environment where feedback is the norm—whether it is constructive feedback that identifies a behavior that needs to be addressed or positive feedback that reinforces something that went well. What useful information do people need to do their jobs? What should be shared to help them be even more successful? Make regular feedback (positive and constructive) a habit. If feedback is part of the way you conduct business, everyone has a greater chance of success.

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