5 things to remember about giving feedback

The trouble with feedback

Over the past three weeks I have been working client engagements where we were teaching and practicing techniques on giving behaviorally anchored feedback in the work environment.  There are a lot of good models out there, and at their core when done well they all have a similar cadence.

  • Focus the person’s attention to the time and place where a behavior occurred that is causing you to give feedback
  • Describe what the person did or said
  • Talk about the effect that behavior had on you or the group without passing judgment (i.e. “I was disappointed” rather than “you are always late with project deliverables, that’s unprofessional”)

When done well this type of feedback is developmental in nature, meaning it invites a conversation between the parties with the intention of creating learning.  That seems straight forward enough, but I watched very talented managers just struggle with doing it.  I asked the participants in the sessions to describe the nature of their difficulties and their responses helped me identify a few key areas of concern that I believe may help folks who also want to be good at feedback, know the techniques involved, but somehow have struggled with delivery.

5 Things to remember

  1. Am I going to manage or develop this person right now? This is a question you must answer before you give feedback and follow through on consistently to do feedback well.  Many managers reported that their jobs are to make judgements about people and their performance all of the time, so the mental shift to a coaching and development conversation is difficult.
  2. Be sure to describe the behavior rather than using a label that is your interpretation of the behavior. For many managers this was hard because their brains very quickly aggregated the behavior, and tagged it as something; rude, professional, good leadership, aggressive.   It turns out that at the pace of work folks had a hard time going back to figure out where that attribution came from.  A simple question might help, if you can ask yourself, “What evidence do I have to support that statement?” you will find yourself describing behaviors.  The rude person judgement was made because an individual, spoke over you, cut you off, and turned their back to you at the conference table, those are behaviors.
  3. Developmental feedback does not just mean constructive, or negative. This tip goes to the question of, why am I going to give this feedback?  Our motivation for taking the time to give developmental feedback is to help people become more aware of the repercussions of their actions BOTH positively and negatively.  We want to reinforce and encourage those behaviors that created positive outcomes, and help foster alternative choices for those behaviors that were negatively perceived.
  4. Any feedback is better than no feedback. Three stats from a 2011 Gallup survey on employee engagement should get our attention:
  • Managers giving little or no feedback to their workers fail to engage 98% of them and managers giving little or no feedback to employees result in 4 out of 10 workers being actively disengaged.
  • Employees receiving predominantly negative feedback from their manager are over 20 times more likely to be engaged than those receiving little or no feedback
  • Managers focusing on employee strengths are 30 times more likely to manage actively engaged workers compared with managers denying feedback.
  1. Keep feedback constant and on the top of your agenda. Poorly delivered feedback can be devastating, and if we don’t practice it we don’t get good at it.  The cadence of communication at work should include accurate, factual, complete, behaviorally anchored feedback delivered in a timely fashion.

5 Critical Behaviors for Working with Millennials

I was surprised last week at the degree to which participants in an upper management level leadership course I was training wanted to talk about their continuing difficulty in working with Millennials.  Not that we have completely cracked the code on this issue, but the depth of their angst was attention getting.  After a good discussion among the 20 or so leaders in the class it became obvious that the issue was that the leaders interpreted the Millennials pushing back on the ways of working as a miss in cultural fit; a perspective that would create a barrier for their success. We were able to shift the conversation to solution seeking and we reinforced the need for the following 5 sets of behaviors that would work to increase the likelihood of success:

  • The need to increase buy in. Connecting folks to a bigger issue and purpose to their activities is a vital success behavior in working with Millennials.  This effort may be met with critique, and that is good, it means that there is a genuine interest in applying their own judgement to the work.
  • Move from a company loyalty focus to a social group/team focus. For my group this represented a big shift in work values.  For many Millennials they know they will not have an extended career in the company they currently work in.  Their sense of connection and loyalty will more likely be with their “Team”.  Buy in and motivation then should use the team as a focus rather than the organization.
  • The need to be aware of what work/life balance means. For many of the Boomers in my class they define work life balance as a unicorn, something beautiful and rare but a fantasy in reality. There is work to do.  For Millennials work life balance may be interpreted more accurately as work-me balance.  Does my job help me grow, am I given opportunity to develop me, am I treated with respect; respect for my skills my hobbies my priorities.  
  • Tell folks what they are doing right, not just things to improve As the generation where everyone gets a trophy, Millennials expect to win. Because of this, there is a need for positive affirmation for the things they are doing well, not just the areas for improvement.  Millennials aren’t opposed to your feedback, maybe just the way you share it.
  • Help folks learn how to think as opposed to telling them what to do. Millennials realize that there is a lot to learn. At the same time, doing things because “that’s the way we’ve always done them” doesn’t resonate. Millennials recognize that work will look completely different in 10 years than it does today. One of the most valuable things you can do as a leader is instill principles to help folks think through the challenges and obstacles we face.  That will require more coaching, more development, and more trust from leaders.