Giving effective, critical feedback to employees is one of the most important and difficult things to do as a manager and leader. Although challenging, when performed well, critical feedback enables both individuals and their teams to achieve higher levels of performance and satisfaction.
At Koan we’re on a mission to help teams and managers work better together. Here’s some bite-sized tips we’ve gathered from our experience along the way.
Regular feedback is good
There is much literature on the need for ongoing manager <=> employee feedback. Whilst this is important and true, the perception of only critical feedback by the employee can undermine its effectiveness. Whilst “sandwich” feedback should absolutely be avoided, ensuring that good work and positive behaviors are also recognized can yield a more balanced perception and improve critical feedback impact.
Preparation precedes performance
As a professional manager, giving good, effective feedback is not easy and should be approached like any other critical conversation you’ll have in your career. Like most hard things, the adage of “preparation precedes performance” rings especially true here.
Before delivering feedback, taking quick stock of the following things may help you be more effective and reduce unintended issues.
- What’s the specific outcome you’re looking for from this interaction?
- Do you have all the facts of the matter that is causing you to provide this feedback?
- Are you in an emotional state to give good feedback?
- Is what’s driving this action? Is it emotional or rational?
- Have you tried to empathize with the employee’s position?
- Do they have what they need to be successful?
- Is the employee in a emotional state or position where they’d be receptive to this feedback?
People can’t correct what they can’t remember
Giving feedback based on behaviour or actions long ago is less useful to a employee, and can lead to resentment and potentially defeat the purpose of the entire interaction. If there’s an issue that needs to be discussed or behaviour that could be improved, address it directly sooner, rather than later.
Truly caring about your team member’s success is key to delivering hard messages
Asking for a change in someone’s behaviour involves emotional risk to both the requesting and receiving parties. Misunderstandings, perceptions of unfair treatment and persecution can lead to unproductive outcomes and potentially greater issues for all involved. Managers approaching feedback from a place of employee growth and real interest in their wellbeing can help reduce the friction and potential side effects of negative feedback. Remember, most people aren’t trying to fail. Chambering your critical feedback in a way that considers this, will massively help them in processing it. Ask questions to gain insight around how the employee interprets the situation.
Don’t use messengers
Critical feedback must be direct. Third parties delivering corrective feedback is highly toxic and recipe for failure. If there’s critical or negative feedback that needs to be shared, give it directly and privately. The saying “Congratulate publicly, criticize privately” is relevant in most cases.
Additionally critical feedback conversations should also be direct and to the point, make sure you message isn’t confused amongst a larger conversation.
Don’t communicate in generalities or analogies
Critical feedback must be specific. General statements around how someone feels, or how a complex outcome with multiple participants wasn’t successful is not directly useful. Before giving feedback ensure you understand the change in behaviour or outcome that you’re seeking. If this involves multiple steps or actions, ensure you specifically spell out what success looks like for each of them. Ensure the employee understands what you’re asking and ask them questions to confirm.
Can the employee actually affect the change you’re asking?
Feedback should be actionable. The recipient of your feedback should have a clear course of action they can take to address what you’re asking. If what you’re asking is outside of their control, it may be not something they can actually affect through direct action. If so, perhaps they are not set up for success in their current position.
Keep it simple, stupid
With the potential for emotional side effects to muddy an already stressful conversation, it is imperative you ensure that your message is simple, clear and communicated in a constructive and achievable way. Remember when it comes to critical feedback, a little goes a long way.
Circle back when issues have been resolved or addressed
Part of being a professional manager is sweating the detail. Most employees will expect you to recall every conversation they’ve had with you; especially if you’ve given them direct, specific, clear and actionable feedback! Make sure you take a note, or set a reminder to ensure you meet this reasonable expectation. Taking feedback can be very difficult, so if you’ve both been successful to eliciting a change, appropriately acknowledge and celebrate the success.