This is a guest blog by Pamela A. Scott
Is it time to change the way leaders give feedback to employees? Feedback is tough to give (or receive) in the best of times. Doubly so during troubling times, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a high-stress environment, emotions are high. Sensitivities are raised. Feedback is tricky.
However, giving feedback is part of a leader’s job. Feedback helps employees grow and adapt their behavior. It adds to their knowledge — if the feedback is given properly.
When fall arrives, managers and employees realize it’s time to prepare for performance feedback sessions. While some companies do reviews at other times, the tips in this article can help you improve how you give feedback any time of year.
So how should effective leaders give feedback, especially during sensitive times? Below are four strategies to make feedback more effective in any climate. The content in this article has been adapted from the “MentorLoft Leadership Feedback Assessment.”
1. Ask, Don’t Tell
Do not start by focusing on what an employee did wrong. That is demoralizing. The sandwich method isn’t much better. That’s when you start with good feedback, followed by negative feedback, and end up with more positive feedback.
People remember what they hear first and last. Everything else in between (negative feedback) is quickly forgotten.
Instead of telling an employee they need to improve, guide an employee down a path of realization. You can do this by asking probing questions.
If there is an area where an employee is underperforming, start by asking how they think they are doing in that area. Even people who are not very self-aware still might be able to see that a project did not go well.
From there you can probe the issue and provide support as needed to help the employee uncover reality. Probing questions include:
- How do you think the project went?
- I’d like to hear how you tackled X problem.
- Help me understand how you approached the problem. (NOT: What were you thinking?)
- What have you learned from that experience?
- What type of support or resources would help increase your success in the future?
- If you’re in the same situation again, what would you do differently?
- What do you need to learn in order to improve outcomes in the future? Who can advise/teach you that?
2. Give Feedback in a Neutral Environment
There are few situations more nerve-wracking than sitting down for a performance review with a boss. This is especially true for employees who have had little to no feedback throughout the year. Instead of limiting feedback to an annual review, meet with employees regularly.
Avoid sitting behind your desk, which reinforces your stature as the boss. Choose a neutral environment, such as a conference room. Select a round table if available. This ensures no one is sitting at the head of the table — the power position.
By regularly checking in with your employees, you can help them improve performance along the way. Provide corrective guidance as needed. This approach leads to better communication and more timely growth for the employee. Don’t ask employees to make a hard shift under pressure once a year.
Ask an Employee:
- What are you working on?
- How is it going?
- What metrics are you using to measure success?
- Are there any roadblocks threatening success?
- Where might you need additional support to stay on track with your goals?
- What do you need to be successful?
3. Take One Topic at a Time
An employee might need improvement in multiple areas. Don’t tackle all of the areas in one conversation. Limit feedback to one topic at a time. When feedback is given in focused, smaller chunks, employees can absorb the information and act on it.
Let the employee know the purpose of the meeting. The meeting is a chance for the employee to update you on progress. It is also an opportunity for you to coach the employee around specific problem areas impacting growth.
If an employee asks for feedback, have them think through their issue ahead of time and bring notes. By thinking through the problem in advance, they can focus their message and not get distracted by miscellaneous details.
Ask the Employee To Address These Points:
- Why this issue is important to them
- Relevant background information
- Challenges they’re facing
- Options they’re considering
- What help they want from their manager
4. Focus on Growth
The focus of feedback should be on growth, not punishment. Tie feedback to an employee’s goals.
Going over goals once a year leads to goals being forgotten. Instead, structure frequent goal check-ins that also include feedback.
Write out all of the feedback that you want to give an employee before your meeting. Get all your thoughts out in a brain dump. Then go back and review. Edit your thoughts. What is constructive? What is overly critical? Help someone understand where they made mistakes so they can grow.
Questions To Facilitate Growth Include:
- How can I help you? (Builds a positive relationship with the employee.)
- Where will you learn that and by when? Let’s set a specific goal around that.
- Which of your personal goals does this situation fit under?
Restate the Outcome:
I’ve heard . . . and this is what you’ve committed to do. (Paraphrase or summarize your discussion.) Is that what you heard too? Have I missed anything?
Let’s plan to meet again on date and time. Keep up the good work.
Feedback Is Necessary
Feedback is critical to employee success, but it has to be given in a productive manner. Frequent, constructive feedback allows employees to adjust their performance before small mistakes turn into major problems. Don’t let employees stumble in the dark. You owe it to your direct reports to lead them on the path of success.
About the Author
Pamela A. Scott is an executive coach and founder of MentorLoft, a coaching firm that works with CEOs and execs to prepare their Next Gen leaders to run their company. Pamela specializes in coaching engineers and CEOs of professional service firms. For more information, visit www.mentorloft.com.
We would love to hear any questions you might have or stories you might share on how you think effective leaders should provide feedback.
Please leave your comments, feedback or questions in the section below.
To your success,
Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success