Feedback is such a crucial part of the work environment and so effective at improving performance culture when done right, that it seems downright crazy that people are so darned scared of it!
Managers are afraid to give it.
Employees are afraid to receive it.
Employers are afraid to get it back from their employees.
Team members are hesitant to give it to their superiors.
We’re so afraid of feedback (particularly constructive feedback) that we avoid it at all costs. That, or we come up with myriad ways to give feedback, so it won’t “hurt” so much. You’ve probably tried the “OREO approach”, where you say something kind before giving constructive criticism and then follow it up by saying another kind thing. Others prefer to only send feedback via email or conversely face-to-face. All of these feedback methods have their pros and cons and avoid the real issue.
So here’s the bottom line: Feedback is excellent for the workplace. In companies that implement regular employee feedback, there is a 14.9% lower turnover rate. When done correctly, it creates more transparency in the workplace, defines goals for individuals, builds new leaders in the organization and makes better managers of those who are already in leadership. It has positive impacts on compensation, performance culture and engagement. It’s as close to a silver bullet as we’ve got.
And we CANNOT ignore it anymore. So let’s learn how to give (and receive) feedback:
Before giving performance feedback in any case (face-to-face, email, etc) it’s crucial to find out how the person thinks they did. Chances are, they know they’re not doing as well as they’d hoped. You should be spending about 70% of the feedback time listening to the employee. By asking the employee in question what they think of the situation, you can get a grasp on:
- Their reality and a perspective other than your own
- Any extenuating circumstances you may not have known
- Their own analysis of their behavior, which could be even more critical than your own
By asking for their thoughts, you open the conversation and get a bigger picture of the issue. In some cases, you can also get a bead on blaming behaviors, excuses or flat-out lack of accountability. Either way, letting them lead the conversation in the beginning will give you what you need to continue the conversation fully informed.
When giving feedback, always focus on performance, not personality
Feedback is not the same as payback. You don’t have to personally like or dislike someone to give them excellent feedback that will help them be a better team member. It’s not about THEM, but about THEIR ACTIONS. If someone constantly interrupts during meetings, don’t say “You are always interrupting and it’s annoying,” instead say something like, “Some team members need more time to formulate their thoughts. Your ability to hear them might improve if you were to let them finish their sentences before starting your own.” Notice the latter focuses on the effect on the team and not the person who is behaving badly. It also forces the issue out of your own subjective perspective, at least a little bit and can make it easier to deliver a difficult message, since 43% of managers find this to be a stressful situation.
Get granular with your feedback.
If all your feedback sounds like it might as well be on a bumper sticker or a motivational card, then you likely are NOT being as specific or as granular as needed for the feedback to truly land with your employees. If you say “Good job hitting deadlines!” then you’re not really showing them what they did right (because deadlines are sort of a baseline in and of themselves). Instead, try saying “I like how you managed your time with your teammates and were able to delegate the administrative tasks so you could hit your deadline this week.”
This accomplishes two things: First, it shows them that they aren’t just “good at something” but in fact, they (knowingly or not) planned to ensure they were good at that things. Second, it gives them a blueprint to follow up with next time they are faced with that same challenge. This also works conversely with constructive feedback, which 92% of respondents to a survey find effective when delivered correctly. Consider how “You’re too slow and missing deadlines” sounds compared to “It seems like you are overloaded and I want to help you learn to manage your time better. Let’s look at your schedule and see where we can delegate and where you might need to find a more efficient process.”
Accept that it’s not about you. Whether you are giving or receiving feedback, it’s NOT about you. Feedback is built to make the team and the workforce stronger, not weaker. Only the pettiest of managers use feedback to settle personal scores and while many leaders may have felt like they left the days of performance reviews behind them, coachable managers know that they should get as well as give. So when your employee decided to return the favor and give you some constructive feedback, remember… it’s not personal, it’s for the betterment of the workforce and feedback is only effective if you find real, practical ways to incorporate it into your daily routines.
As the head of a department in the midst of a sustained period of rapid growth, Sara has spent hundreds of hours interviewing, hiring, onboarding and assessing employees and candidates. She is passionate about sharing the best practices she has learned from both successes and failures in talent acquisition and management.