"Tracey’s Takeaways" is a regular feature that focuses on employee development, management issues, leadership and organizational culture.
I attended a leadership development program some years ago
that has had a lasting impact on me. The program included a 360-performance
review—where feedback is solicited from your boss, your peers and your team.
As the facilitator prepped us to receive our reviews, she explained that we
should view feedback as gifts from people who cared enough in wanting to help us
become better leaders that they were willing to risk causing some hurt feelings.
Feedback IS a gift. We are often oblivious to some of our
faults and thus likely to repeat the same behaviors again and again. That is,
unless someone cares enough—and is skillful enough—to deliver effective
feedback that helps us to improve.
WHY You Should Be Giving Feedback
People give lots of excuses for not providing feedback, but
many of them boil down to being conflict-averse or not wanting to hurt
someone’s feelings. Studies show that most of us crave feedback, even when it's
critical. No one likes working in a vacuum in which they are not sure their
work is being recognized or is satisfactory. Most people welcome praise for
their hard work and good results.
If you are avoiding giving feedback because you don’t want
to upset the other person, or fear they may become angry or defensive, know
that providing regular feedback can help avoid conflict. You can resolve small
problems before they become large ones, align perspectives before they diverge
too widely and course-correct before a project goes off the rails.
Further, isn’t it the job of managers and supervisors to
help their organizations achieve their objectives? That requires employees to
perform, and if they are not performing well, they need to know not only how
they are falling short but how they can improve. That’s where effective
feedback comes in.
Real-time is preferable. Ideally, feedback should be
delivered as close in time to the actual performance or situation as possible. Storing
up a lot of feedback to then unload on someone later, say at a year-end review,
is more likely to result in defensiveness and hurt feelings. And you may have
missed several opportunities to keep the problem areas from getting worse.
Ask first. Ask if now is a good time, which can be as
simple as, “Bob, do you have a minute? I’d like to give you some feedback on
that report you gave this morning.” If
the person says now isn’t good, then agree on a time soon. The purpose of
asking is to make sure the person is in a frame of mind to be open to the
feedback you need to deliver.
Set your intention. Check in with your own emotions
first. If you are angry or frustrated, you are more likely to deliver the
feedback in a way that is not constructive. It also never hurts to remind the
feedback recipient that your intention is to help them improve. This sounds
like, “Bob, I appreciate the effort you put into creating this new report. I
have suggestions for some changes that I believe would make it even more
Deliver it in private. Feedback is usually best
delivered one-on-one. The recipient will be more likely to acknowledge
responsibility instead of making excuses. They can also ask for help or
clarification without being embarrassed.
Be specific, tactful and factual. Whether the
feedback is positive or constructive, it’s important to clearly state the facts
about the performance, such as: “Sarah, you have arrived late to work by more
than 20 minutes on four days out of the past two weeks.” Note that the
tardiness is described in detail and there is no speculation as to why she is
Don’t dilute your message. You may have heard of the
“feedback sandwich”—where the feedback provider gives constructive/critical
feedback between two pieces of positive feedback. It’s an approach that’s not without its
critics. If you have critical feedback to deliver, make that your focus.
Clarify or reinforce expectations and goals. To
continue the above example with Sarah, this looks like, “It is important that
you arrive on time every day to open the office, so we don’t keep members
waiting who are coming to the service desk. Your designated working hours are
from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.”
Offer your support. In our example with Sarah, this
could look like, “You have always been punctual in the past. If there is a
temporary situation impacting your morning schedule, let’s talk about how we
can work through that.”
I hope you found this article to be a “gift” for improving
your future feedback conversations. Want to learn more? Here are some
additional resources on giving effective feedback:
Tracey Steiner is NRECA's senior vice president for education and training. Her 29-year career at NRECA has spanned a variety of roles starting in communications and marketing positions, then 15 years as an attorney focusing on cooperative governance and public policy issues before moving to Education, Training & Events in 2012.