Nearly four in ten everywomanNetwork members are comfortable giving a wide spectrum of feedback to their colleagues and direct reports. A slightly less confident 13% find the prospect of offering developmental feedback daunting, while 50% simply avoid the issue of feedback altogether. (Source: Giving great feedback webinar poll, October 2015)
There’s a multitude of reasons why line managers shy from delivering candid feedback. If you fall into this camp you might be mindful of hurting feelings. You might be unsure of the right time to bring up an employee’s mistakes. Perhaps you struggle to find the right tone. It could be that you want to avoid a particularly difficult situation with a confrontational direct report. Or maybe you’ve failed to understand the value of well-delivered feedback to a person’s development; Giving great feedback webinar presenter Sara Parsons recalls being told by a past boss that “the pay cheque at the end of the month” should be feedback enough.
Nevertheless, giving feedback – good and bad – is an essential part of leadership and more than two-thirds of employees wish their managers did it more often. Cut your teeth as a great deliverer of developmental feedback by using one of these focus-enabling models.
1. The ‘better next time’ review
Let’s say a team project has been completed successfully. Your employee hit their deadlines and the quality of their work was good. But they lacked enthusiasm and this impacted team morale.
Let your employee know that you want to conduct a 1-2-1 wash-up and invite them to reflect on what worked well from their own point of view, and what could be even better next time.
Get the team involved in a ‘better next time’ brainstorm. Ask everyone to come with one example of how a project went exceptionally well, and one thing they’d like to see managed differently next time. This framework gives people permission to be constructive, though discussing individual contributions should be avoided.
Their own frustrations may come out through this exercise, allowing you to tackle the issue of negativity. Present your own assessment of how their personal contributions enabled a successful outcome, as well as the negatives you observed which you’d prefer not to see next time.
This is useful for getting individuals or groups to feed back on their performance or to gather feedback. This works well, for example, at the end of a training course or after a client pitch.
everywoman expert Sara Parsons
2. The traffic light system
By focusing on what you want someone to stop doing, continue doing and start doing, you focus your feedback into something more closely resembling an action plan – something studies have shown is more likely to be well received and acted on by a direct report.
An example might look like this:
Stop: saying yes to every non-urgent request from outside the department. I can see the added burden is causing you stress and you’ve occasionally been reluctant to take on more important work because you’ve been bogged down in other tasks.
Continue: being a helpful colleague to whom colleagues flock for support. If you feel you should be doing something to help out, consider delegating or negotiating different terms which mean you can do the task in a way that works for you.
Start: having the confidence to occasionally say no. Develop assertiveness techniques to explain why you can’t help on this occasion.
READ MORE: Learning to say no: the four Ds
3. The DISC model
Describe the situation in observable terms. List the impacts. Specify what needs to change. Explain the consequences – positive and negative - of both doing so and failing to.
This is a great tool to help you stay focused on the issue at hand and avoid being sidetracked or waffling because you are uncomfortable.
An example might look like this:
D: You have plenty of good ideas and perform well in regular team meetings, but when you’re put in front of senior figures, you contribute very little and seldom speak up.
I: Senior figures within our organisation aren’t getting to know you and therefore aren’t recognising the contribution I know you are capable of making.
S: Commit to preparing some ideas and thoughts before the next senior management meeting, and make sure you get these across during the session. We can discuss these together beforehand if that would be helpful.
C: If you do this, I think the room will soon start to see you as a valued contributor to this meeting. If you don’t, I worry you’ll be passed over for stretch assignments or opportunities that come along.
As you become more adept at handling tricky conversations, you will better adapt the various models to your own specific needs or situation. Sara Parsons has more quick tips to keep you focused.
- Start the discussion by encouraging the person into the mindset that feedback will help them grow in their role.
- Remind yourself of this mindset when you find yourself thinking “This feedback isn’t such a big deal”. Avoid watering down the message in order to make yourself or the other person feel better about a mistake they’ve made.
- Ensure your feedback is built on solid observations rather than something you might have inferred about someone’s behaviour. Don’t rush into delivering feedback until you’re sure what you have to say is factual rather than judgemental, and based on behaviours rather than personality traits. Sleep on it if necessary.
- Consider the emotions of the other person but not to the point of avoiding the conversation altogether. There might be times when feedback should be temporarily delayed (if the person is about to present, or there’s a looming deadline or client meeting, for example), but don’t sweep it under the carpet: find the right time.
- Think ‘develop’ not ‘download’. In other words, don’t store it all up for the annual review; if there’s something you can tell someone that will help them improve, tell them now.
- Be specific. Ground the feedback in real examples, related to business outcomes and KPIs as far as possible.
- Strike the right balance. That doesn’t mean you have to deliver glowing feedback to offset criticism, but do ensure you notice when someone’s done something well – particularly if that’s in response to earlier developmental feedback they’ve actioned.
- Make it actionable. Suggest ways they can improve and act on your feedback, as well as putting together a plan for how you’ll monitor performance.
For more tips on how to deliver and receive feedback, download the everywoman workbook on an Introduction to Tough Conversations.