Did you know that current research shows that nearly 50% of executives fear confronting employees with constructive feedback? If these research reports are accurate it’s no wonder so many of our companies are dealing with issues of low productivity, low morale, high turnover rates amongst high performing employees, and lower profits.
And not only do managers not like giving feedback, those on the receiving end say they don’t get enough feedback they can actually use. Or many times managers wait so long before addressing a situation, when they finally confront a direct report or colleague, they blow it because at that point the exchange is counterproductive. Many reasons account for these disconnects: strong emotions on both sides, a focus on the employee’s character rather than on the behavior, or a lack of clarity around what needs to change and why.
So what can managers do to improve their feedback skills?
1-Focus on outcomes — Make specific business outcomes the focus of the conversation. “You need to improve productivity by 20%” or “sales numbers must improve by 15% before the end of the quarter.” Focusing on business results like productivity, sales, service, and turnover makes it an opportunity to solve a problem rather than to criticize. Focusing the feedback on an employee’s development makes it a lot more helpful. It may then be seen as a “gift” from a manager who is investing in the employee’s career.
2-Give feedback often — Giving feedback on a regular basis is a much better strategy than offering it only once or twice a year in a formal setting. Waiting to give tough feedback during the annual performance appraisal is not only unfair to the employee, it also rarely changes the behavior. Practice giving feedback often. Praise good performance right away; deal with poor performance within 24 hours.
Before a feedback session, find concrete data that support your conclusions. As best you can, focus on behaviors you have observed, preferably not those that you have heard about from others.
- State observation/situation “I want to talk to you about…
- State Outcome “I noticed that…” or “I felt that…”
- Make your request “What I would really like is…”
3-Be open to feedback and don’t assume you’re always right — Even after collecting all your data, there may still be several sides of the story. When you are finished stating what want to talk about, what you noticed or observed and what you would like in terms of behavior change, the employee will most likely have his or her side of the story. You may have to admit that you don’t have the complete picture. Just as you want your employee to listen and be influenced by what you say, you need to be willing to be influenced by what you hear.
4-Ask questions —To make this a two-way conversation between you and your employee and a worthwhile learning experience, ask questions to get the employee thinking:
How do you see the situation?
How might you do things differently next time?
What do you think worked, and what could have gone better?
Questions like these establish a supportive atmosphere in which the employee can explore alternative approaches that might produce better results. The more individuals think about improving their performance, the more committed they are to make it happen.
5-Follow through — Many managers are so relieved to be through with the initial conversation with the employee, they assume they are done. Cross that one off the list. But there’s a big difference between an employee understanding the situation and actually changing his or her behavior. Your employee’s ability to make that transition requires your ongoing support and follow-up. At the end of the feedback session, be sure to ask, “now what are the next steps you intend to take and how can I support you?” It’s a great idea to plan a follow-up meeting in about a month. And while you might suggest some specific steps employees might take, it’s also beneficial to ask them to gather their own data by asking peers or their own direct reports for feedback.
Finally, in the spirit of continuous improvement it is always an excellent idea to ask the employee how he or she felt the conversation went and how you can be more helpful in the future. Don’t be afraid constructive feedback — embrace it and be a better manager.
Please remember: Bea Fields and I will be offering our TOUGH COACHING program starting March 6 with a client who is both a CEO and an attorney (has dual careers) on the topic of someone who has been coached and has now slipped back into old habits. This is going to be a fabulous 6-week program including online classes (telephone only), presenting guidelines, resources, assessments and coaching demonstrations to show you how to address tough issues with your clients.