The New Leader’s Series here at Management Excellence, is dedicated to the proposition that one of the most valuable things we can do is support the development of the next generation of leaders on our teams and in our organizations.
I write about delivering feedback fairly frequently in this series for three important reasons:
1. Feedback (positive and constructive) effectively delivered is a leader’s best friend. It supports behavior change or strengthening, it helps you build rapport around the right performance issues and good professionals truly appreciate it.
2. Too many of us in roles responsible for others either avoid delivering it, save it up for an inopportune time like the annual performance evaluation or, just plain stink at delivering it.
3. Most of us haven’t been trained on how to get this right, and it’s a gross minority of us that are actually evaluated on our command of this powerful leadership tool.
A Checklist for Delivering Effective Feedback Discussions:
1. Remember that effective feedback is behavioral in nature. Instead of focusing on something intangible like a perceived attitude, it emphasizes specific behaviors that you’ve observed in the workplace. A simple example: “You really messed that presentation up today,” might be true, but it’s not behavioral. Describing the areas where the presentation went awry is essential to gaining any future performance improvement from this discussion. In order to do a good job linking feedback to behaviors, you’ve got to be out there observing your team in action.
2. Know that effective feedback is timely. For most situations, the closer to the observed behavior you can deliver the feedback, the better the opportunity to promote improvement. An exception to the sooner is better rule might be made for an emotionally charged situation where one or both parties are fired up.
3. Always anchor your feedback in a business rationale. It’s essential for you to connect the behavior back to business results in some form or fashion. This helps depersonalize the dialogue…you aren’t perceived as attacking someone, you are striving to improve or strengthen something about your business.
4. Be candid and specific. Don’t sugarcoat the issue, don’t sandwich it between praise comments (that’s for your benefit, not the receivers), and limit the number of behaviors you cover at one time to one. I overheard a discussion recently where a manager hit an individual with 5 different feedback points in one conversation. The receiver was dizzy from the input and not certain what to do next.
5. The best feedback discussions are just that…two-way discussions. These aren’t opportunities for you to verbally machine-gun your employee or show someone who’s boss…they are opportunities to strengthen a relationship and find a way forward to improve performance in support of the business.
6. Deliver positive feedback using all of the above items with at least a 2:1 ratio to constructive feedback. It’s good form and it makes your constructive feedback all the more credible.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
The best leaders recognize the power of feedback effectively delivered and constantly strive to strengthen their skills with this important leadership tool. Don’t worry about making mistakes…you will make more than you can possibly imagine as you develop your skills around this discipline. Practice over time is the one and only way to achieve feedback mastery.
Suggested Management Excellence Resources:
My always controversial post (90% agree with me, 10% seem to hate me on this one): “Why I Hate the Sandwich Technique for Delivering Feedback”
My first book (with Rich Petro), Practical Lessons in Leadership includes a chapter dedicated to Feedback.
My on-line, self-guided course: Learning to Master Feedback
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An ideal book for anyone starting our in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.
Need help with Feedback? Art’s new online program: Learning to Master Feedback