Whether you’re a supervisor of one employee or 100, you know that providing regular feedback to your employees is vital to the success of your organization. And if you’ve ever been on a team or work closely with others, you expect leadership to actively guide employees by providing focus and directing behavior, essentially coaching for success. Isn’t it great when everyone is clear on goals, has the ability/skills/tools/time to perform the task, and communicates effectively with one another?
Feedback can flow freely when performance is optimal, goals are met, and customers are happy. But what about when “life” happens? When things such as changing deadlines, limited resources, customer changes/demands, and personalities – even idiosyncrasies – factor into the equation and impact the job or project at hand and affect employee performance, feedback is now cast in a whole new light – one that many supervisors would rather hit the switch, close the door, and walk away from. Granted, taking the time to gather your thoughts and information together before meeting with the employee is practical and smart, but don’t wait too long or, worse yet, never do it. Members on your team might think you are ignoring the issue and simply sweeping it under the rug for another day.
Providing feedback, whether it’s positive or negative, is critical to the success of your team and ultimately your organization. Used correctly, it can be a powerful tool to shape your culture and engage your employees. Your feedback habits as a supervisor – right or wrong – set the tone for your team and may even be modeled by others beneath you in the hierarchy of your organization. So what do you do when you have to provide negative or corrective feedback with a member on your team? Worse yet, how do you prepare if you suspect the employee might be less than receptive to the conversation? You gather your facts and thoughts, take a deep breath, and have a courageous conversation in the most supportive way possible.
First, the overarching theme is that all feedback is supportive feedback and it is coming from a place of care and concern about the employee and his/her success. Keep the session results-oriented. After all, if there was something you could correct that would benefit others if you only knew about it, wouldn’t you want someone to take the time to tell you? Use this as the backdrop to setting the tone for your conversation. Think about how to frame the specific points of feedback so that you are demonstrating care and concern. A phrase such as “I want to discuss this with you because it’s important you address this issue to be successful in your job” is helpful.
Second, don’t mix your feedback – that is negative with positive. Sounds pretty basic, but most folks faced with difficult conversations or providing negative feedback end up doing this. As Paul Marciano, puts it so well in his book Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work: Build a Culture of Engagement with the Principals of RESPECT, avoid the “feedback sandwich” where supervisors layer the corrective feedback in between two slices of positive feedback. Supervisors do this because they feel the employee will be more receptive to negative feedback if he or she hears a compliment first. Once the negative feedback or point is shared, they can end the conversation on a positive note with a second bit of good feedback. Don’t fall into this trap for two reasons: 1) it dilutes any sincere positive feedback you provided in the first compliment because the employee is now focused on the negative; 2) it just sets the stage for your next conversation of positive feedback where the employee tunes you out, chalks up your positive comments as insincere, and waits to hear you get to the punch line of what the conversation is REALLY about (i.e. listening for the shoe to drop). For example, “You’ve done an excellent job handling that customer’s requests but…” and now the manager just negated the positive compliment. Next time this employee receives a compliment from this manager, he or she will probably be a little wary. Bottom line: if the point of the conversation is to reinforce good behavior, keep it positive; if it’s to address a performance issue, keep it corrective. Your feedback will come across as more sincere and ultimately be more effective in both cases.
When providing feedback, give specifics. Think of who, what, where, when, and the result. Use this as a basis for the discussion. Having the facts will help frame the issue and move toward problem-solving and ideally resolution. For example, “You have a poor attitude and you need to change it” is not clear and understandably would put someone on the defense. What does poor attitude mean in this example? Instead try this: “On Monday when you slammed the phone down after ending a conversation with our customer and then loudly talked about the situation for 15 minutes with your co-workers is disruptive to our call center operation goals and very negative to our two new employees in training sitting near you.”
Let the employee share his or her perspective on the issue. It’s perfectly fine to let him or her “rant” for a little bit or blow off steam. After all, we’re human and accepting negative feedback can be difficult for many. It’s important for the employee to be heard. You can use this to identify ways to solve the problem, even asking the employee for suggestions, and getting buy-in for resolution.
Finally, don’t be afraid of silence. In a tense situation, the manager may feel obligated to keep talking as a way to avoid the awkwardness. Stay silent. Obligate the other person to fill the void. You may be surprised at the amount of information that is shared just by being silent for several extra seconds.
A wise trainer I once worked with on this very topic said that when it comes to these types of courageous conversations you “feel the fear and face it anyways.” Kind of tough but that’s your job as a leader. They’re looking to you. Now gather your thoughts, take a deep breath, and get it done.
If you have any questions, or would like to discuss anything that was in this article, please do not hesitate to contact us.