Build Your Feedback Skills
In most organizations, teamwork provides the foundation for getting things done. A strong team can multiply individual strengths and talents, creating a powerful force for moving a company forward. Of course, the opposite is also true: A poorly led team can waste time without achieving anything positive.
Successful leaders are masters at the art of giving feedback. It’s true that feedback is an art, not a science, because what works in one situation may be counterproductive in another case. Let’s say there is a crisis and a team member has made a key decision before you arrived on the scene. Your immediate feedback might be as simple as, “Good call,” or “Did you think about contacting our lawyer?” At the opposite end of the spectrum is the annual review or assessment, where you comment in detail on a subordinate’s skills, attitudes, accomplishments and areas for improvement.
Although giving feedback is one of the most important communication skills, it receives little attention from the training and development departments in many organizations. If you want to learn how to give better feedback, think of it as a process to be honed, with a beginning, a middle and an end.
The first consideration is when to provide your feedback. Should you comment right away or wait for a while? In an emotional or tense situation, it’s usually best to wait until things settle down and your subordinate or team member will be able to “hear” what you have to say. However, if you wait too long, an incident or issue may be forgotten, and the feedback won’t really matter. Also, if your feedback involves a serious employment-related issue, you should talk to HR or the company attorney before providing your comments.
The second question is what to say to the other person and how to say it. Positive feedback is usually best given succinctly without adding other comments. Saying, “You did a good job on this project,” has a solid emotional impact. But the good feelings from the praise are lost if you qualify your feedback, such as, “You did a good job on this project, but if you had done A, B or C you would have done much better.”
Many executives find it harder to give negative feedback, and tend to delay those conversations. Others just hammer away at the other person without providing constructive comments. It’s best to think about the desired outcome of the conversation before you begin, particularly if you want to see an improvement in performance. One common technique is called the “sandwich” approach: two slices of positive comments that surround a negative message. This approach could go something like this: “You have made significant contributions to our team this year, and have identified some great growth opportunities. However, you need to improve your expense management skills. I’ll coach you in that area and I’m sure these improvements will compliment your eye for growth and be a real asset to our team in the coming year.”
In many cases, giving your feedback brings the process to an end. But sometimes you need to follow up afterwards to be sure the other person understands your feedback and has made any necessary changes. Knowing when to keep those interactions going is a skill that contributes to the art of effective leadership.