Giving Feedback 1
A popular book written several years ago cited research done by the Gallup Company over many years. It reveals that people most often don’t quit jobs. They leave because they have a bad boss.

The conclusion of the research and the book was that the two primary reasons a good employee left a job was:

  1. They did not have friends at work.
  2. They did not feel that their boss cared about them or was interested in their career.

There truly is not much a manager can do about number one. However, number two represents an opportunity to do the best we can to make sure that our good employees – and especially our higher performers – know that we care about them and their career.

When I look back at my career, I realize that I made several job choices that were related to the fact that I did not feel that my boss at the time was interested in my success. In some of these cases, I suspect that both I and the company would have been better off if I had stayed the course and not left for another position.

Caring for employees involves at least two things. One is being concerned about their future and working with them to make sure that they get the right training and other opportunities to move their career forward at the proper time.

The other responsibility of an engaged and caring manager is providing your employee with feedback on a day-to-day basis. Whether it is to correct a mistake or, more importantly, to recognize an accomplishment or coach better performance, this is the arena where your staff will decide whether you care about them.

Feedback is one of your main responsibilities as a leader. You need to provide it so your employees will understand their strengths and weaknesses, and, hopefully, get better at what they do.

Giving feedback effectively is a difficult thing. When you need to give credit for a job well done, you don’t want your feedback to lead to excessive self-confidence and arrogance. On the other hand, when criticism is required, you must also take care with the way you express it. Instead of making an employee feel bad, you need to inspire them to get better.

Feedback includes the little passing comments – both positive and negative – that you should be giving daily. Most of us are inclined to be more negative than positive so I always encourage managers to “Catch People in the Act of Doing Something Good.” If you master this alone, your day-to-day ability to note the successes of your employees will make you an effective manager.

However, this article is specifically written to address giving feedback for a larger timeframe or for major projects. The idea here is to be prepared and set up the situation so that your delivery of feedback will be most effective. Here are some suggestions to improve the effectiveness of giving feedback.

First, be prepared. This means in the days before your meeting with the employee, you have made a list of the positive and negative items that you want to discuss with that person.

Second, pick the time and location for the meeting. This seems simple but it often requires some planning to make sure that you pick an appropriate location for your feedback meeting. The meeting should be held in your office, if private, or in a conference room. You should make sure that you have scheduled enough time for the meeting. You should schedule a time when there are unlikely to be any interruptions.

Why? First, your conversation needs to be private. Don’t give feedback – especially critical feedback – in front of others. When others are brought into a performance oriented discussion, your employee will likely be embarrassed and more defensive.

In addition, if your coaching meeting is interrupted, you will inadvertently tell your employee that other things are more important. If you are going to communicate to your employee that they are valuable, then you want them to know that you have dedicated the time used for the coaching session to them and them alone.

Once you have set a time and a place for the meeting, clarify your purpose. Why are you giving feedback? What is your goal?

When the employee comes to your office or meeting room, they may come with a smile on their face. The fact, though, is that they are tense. They don’t know what to expect so they are already stressed when they arrive.

Therefore, avoid a long introduction and get to the point. They know what their responsibilities were, and they know what they did. Get to the subject right away by starting with something like this:

“I called you in to talk about the job you did on this project. The point is for both of us to understand the strengths and weaknesses, and do something even better in future…”

Be clear on the goal of feedback, and always state it right from the start. It’s always about bringing changes and improvements in the worker’s behavior.

As you give feedback, make sure that you start with positive things that happened. After this, move on to the points of criticism. The notes you created when you prepared for the meeting will be helpful.

Make sure that your comments are about the facts of the project and about their performance. Be objective. Don’t criticize them personally. Don’t use insulting references. Focus on the problems and what changes can be made so things go better in the future.

One of the most important things you can do during the meeting is to give the employee time to talk. God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. He wanted us to listen more than we talk.

If your employee has something to say, hear them out. Maybe the situation was different from the way you perceive it. Maybe this person sitting in front of you wasn’t fully responsible for the mistakes. Maybe they had good intentions, but there were mitigating factors. It’s possible that you’ll both have to discover what went wrong.

If they are not talking, but you can notice the defensive attitude on their face, some inquiring questions might be appropriate. “Do you agree we can do things differently?” “Do you think my suggestions are okay?” “What do you suggest as a solution?”

Remember, feedback is not a one-way presentation of opinions. It must come in the form of a conversation.

Timing is important. Focus on what went wrong this time and don’t bring up old instances of disappointing performance. The sooner you give your feedback, the better for everyone. Untimely feedback leads to ineffective leadership.

Give feedback as frequently as possible. You don’t have to invite employees into your office each time, but you can give brief, clear statements that will serve as affirmation, criticism, or guidelines. When you value their performance on an ongoing basis, they will do a better job. Keep in mind that giving positive feedback publicly is acceptable, but critical feedback needs to be given privately.

Timely feedback leaves space for a two-way conversation. That is what is important: that you have a conversation about the problems and issues and that you agree on the remedy.

Here are some additional points to keep in mind.:

  • Provide very specific feedback and always explain why the employee needs to make changes in their behavior.
  • Clarify what is expected in the future
  • Make sure you have a two-way dialogue. You need to get their point of view.
  • If the employee doesn’t agree with your feedback, hear them out. If necessary, set up a follow-up meeting so that, perhaps, between the initial meeting and the follow-up each of you can better see the other’s point of view.
  • Your feedback should closely tie to the behavior in question. It’s more powerful when you provide it as soon as possible. Stay focused on the issue at hand.

This process will help you make the feedback procedure a positive one for both you and your employee. By the way, this same process is also helpful in non-work relationships including parenting.