Feedback is the information by which a person can know how he is doing in his efforts to reach a goal. Extensive research has clearly indicated that significant feedback and opportunities to use that feedback, enhances performance and achievement. For managers, it’s an important tool for shaping behaviors and fostering learning that will drive better performance. For their direct reports, it’s an opportunity for development and career growth. According to a study conducted by Workboard, “72% of employees think their performance would improve with more feedback.” Therefore, it is important for managers to provide feedback more often than the nearly extinct annual performance review.
Now, one can either gain feedback either by self-observation or by feedback from others. Say, you hit a tennis ball with the goal of keeping it in the court, you can carefully observe where it lands and then modify your effort to move towards your goal. But a coach may tell you “Each time you swung and missed, you raised your head as you swung, so you didn’t really have your eye on the ball. On the one you hit hard, you had your head down and saw the ball”.
Very often, when we go to provide feedback in a work setting, we move into advice mode, or we put judgment on the performance without providing detailed observations to assist the person in learning. This makes feedback an often difficult management task, where the outcome is not learning, but defensiveness and/or conflict, leading to an avoidance of an important tool for building individual and team performance. As explained by the example the information provided by the coach was not advice or recommendations on how to improve, nor was the performance evaluated (there was no judging of the performance in how good or bad the performance was in their view). The information provided was a careful observation in light of the desired goal.
The primary reason for a manager to give feedback is when there has been a gap between the activities undertaken by an employee to achieve a result and the ultimate result achieved by him/her. As managers, it is very important to develop a greater capacity to notice the difference between feedback and judgment, which can impact the ability to give quality feedback. Helpful feedback is goal-referenced, tangible, actionable, specific and personalized, timely, ongoing and consistent. However, the problem in most cases is that feedback is often misunderstood by managers and employees as well which results in the feedback to be frequently avoided or having a very little or no impact on the employees receiving it. Let’s look at these key strategies of providing quality feedback and how we can enhance our observation and communication skills to help individuals learn and apply the feedback to their work.
1. Feedback should be time specific
The time to give feedback is as soon as possible after a situation or event has occurred. As time passes, memory fades, and people are more likely to interpret the situation differently. Giving critical feedback may be difficult, but it won’t get any easier over time. Keeping the task on the back-burner will take up energy and occupy space in our minds that could be better used. The sooner you jump in and get it over with, the quicker you can move forward.
2. Make your points very clear
When you’re giving feedback, be as clear as possible. This may sound basic, but it’s amazing how often feedback goes aslant. Whether your feedback is on someone’s behavior, their conceptual project, or a detailed piece of work, it should be clear and actionable. You should know exactly what you’re trying to achieve with your feedback and what the desired outcome is and if you don’t know that, don’t give the feedback until you do.
3. Ask for the employee’s preference
Remember, you are dealing with a human being when you are giving the feedback. This makes it very important for you to give enough time for the employee who is going to receive the feedback to be in the right mental frame to prepare and reflect on how well he/she has done. Prepare him/her by asking them about the best time to discuss the feedback. This way you will be giving them enough time to deliberate on preparing for the situation. If you do not give them intimation it can result in negative fallout which may be very difficult to manage in case any delicate issues are involved. The best way to deal with the situation is by asking them a simple question like,
- How was your task overall?
- Anything tricky you had to deal with?
- Any great moments?
- How’s your workload?
- How was working with so-and-so on that project?
- Anything you’re not enjoying?
- Anything you want to do more of?
This will give them enough time to mentally prepare themselves for the feedback.
4. Ask employees for self-feedback
The most powerful and beneficial feedback will come from the recipient himself. Offer him the opportunity to tell you what he thinks and feels before you give him your viewpoint. If his response is on board with what you were intending to share with him, give him credit for his insight and ask him what he thinks he can do to change his behavior or the situation at hand. The more buy-in you glean from the recipient, the more likely the person will be motivated to change.
5. Put your direct attention on the situation at hand
Once you have listened to the opinions of the employee in question, concentrate on the reason for conducting the meeting. Evaluating someone’s performance can be a very tricky business. The reason for that is the person being evaluated can get defensive quite early if they get a sense that they are being criticized on a personal level. Never do this. Attacking an employee personally will only make the situation worse. For example; if you say something like “You are not a good team player” it directly points out flaws in the character of the employee. They are most definitely going to react negatively to it because you are being harsh and are making a general assumption about who they are and not how they work. This is too vague a way to deliver feedback. Instead, focus on a specific event. Tell them specifically how they can change their behavior or habits. You can rephrase your statement like “I observed in one of the team meetings that you were not giving enough insights. You will see a vast improvement in your performance if you start collaborating and communicating more clearly with your team.”
6. Provide actionable solutions
Once you know the problem (communication issues faced while working in team dynamics) faced by the employee it is time to provide actionable solutions (start contributing ideas in a team dynamics). Remember, people hate it when they are criticized directly for something that they have done earlier. Start by being positive and recognize what the employee is succeeding at (individual performance). This way they will never think of themselves as a failure. After all actionable solutions are all about providing positive inputs.
You need to be futuristic when you are providing the actionable solutions. One of the most important traits of a great leader is to give a professional vision to the employee (getting promoted to the position of a manager and managing a team under him/her) in the near future once they resolve the problem (communication issues faced while working in team dynamics). Be clear in terms of what are your expectations from the employee (being positive while communicating ideas during team meetings). This way you will be giving an objective for the employee to achieve and ensure that they take the feedback positively.
7. Always end on a positive note
If you are able to, begin with something positive that you have observed. This will help balance any negative or critical feelings and lower the defensiveness the recipient may feel. Similarly, end on a positive note. For example, express the belief that he is capable of improving and that you have faith he will do better and use the feedback to his benefit. Good communication always begets better relationships.
cFIRST Think Tank is the team that researches and produces content for cFirst. This team comprises of seasoned content and digital design professionals and background screening industry veterans. Together we produce insightful blogs, infographics and reports meant for HR and background screening professionals.