In Part I of this topic, I noted how one woman business leader, taking part in a recent panel discussion, described her leadership style as, “Coaching, I coach constantly, giving feedback at every turn, both positive and constructive”. And while coaching is more than just giving feedback, providing feedback — both positive and constructive — on a consistent basis is the most one of the most important competencies of an excellent leader. Many of the executives I work with tell me they either do not have the time to give feedback or they do not want to deal with the potential conflict or defensiveness that may arise from the conversation. As I stressed in Part I of this post, one of the most important responsibilities of your role as a leader — if not THE most important — is developing people. That requires consistent, constructive feedback at every turn, which does take time.
What are other things a manager can do to improve feedback?
Focus on the outcomes
An excellent starting point when giving feedback is to focus on business results. When you focus on a business result, increased sales, increased service, developing talent, it becomes an opportunity to solve a problem rather than to criticize. This approach also helps lessen a defensive reaction from the recipient because you are hanging your feedback on a business result, not on their character or personal traits. Focus on your positive intent of the conversation. “Julie, I’d like to give you some feedback to help mirror for you a behavior I’m seeing that you might not be aware of”. You’ve set a positive intent for the conversation by telling Julie you want to “help her” see something that you’re not sure she’s aware of. That’s very different than saying, “Julie, I need to talk about your behavior at the meeting. I didn’t like it at all”. That approach sets a very different tone to your conversation and most likely will illicit a defensive reaction from Julie.
Describe your observations and the impact of the behavior
Describe specifically only what you have observed and the impact of the behavior. “Julie, I’ve noticed in the past couple of staff meetings, you haven’t participated or contributed to the conversation. In fact, your body language and facial expressions have appeared to look angry. It’s off-putting to the other members of the team and I’d like to have a conversation concerning that issue to see if there’s something we need to air between us, or if there’s something else going on that I should k now about.” In this example, you’ve told Julie specifically what you’ve observed, not attacked her personally, but relayed your positive intent on trying to get to the bottom of the anger. You even suggested perhaps you are the target of the anger and would like to try and resolve it if that is the issue. You’ve also stated the impact of her behavior. This is crucial step when giving feedback, it provides the connection between the behavior and how it effects the team, another employee, performance etc. This gives the person on the receiving end of the feedback to understand how their behavior is impacting a situation, person or performance and with that comes a much greater chance of the employee to change or modify that behavior.
Focus the discussion on solution
If the employee has not responded to your observations and feedback, ask for a response. There must be a dialogue between the manager and employee for there to be a change in the behavior. By creating an atmosphere where the two of you can have a discussion on solutions is also vital to impacting change. While as the manager, you most certainly have some suggestions for solutions, let the employee initiate the list of possible solutions to the issue. When a possible solution can come from the person who needs it, it is far more likely to get integrated and you will get the desired outcome on a lasting basis.
Reinforcement is most effective form of feedback
While often times an employee is able to integrate your feedback immediately and change happens quickly, many times it takes several feedback sessions of follow-up. As a leader, it is very important to acknowledge when you observe a positive change with the employee. Be sure not only to acknowledge it, but do so when immediately upon observation.
So take a few minutes and ask yourself, are you a leader providing consistent, constructive feedback? Perhaps get some feedback from your direct reports and ask them that question…
If you would like to learn more about improving your feedback and coaching skills, contact me today for a consultation at 207.653.6977 or e-mail me at email@example.com. I would welcome a conversation with you to see how I can help.