Managers who ignore their responsibility to give good, constructive employee feedback are on a pathway to damaging relationships and ruin team chemistry. Stepping up to the responsibility of delivering feedback when it is appropriate is the best way to build your reputation as a solid, respected, objective manager and leader.
Giving unbiased, constructive feedback requires preparation, work and careful consideration on the manager’s part. It means charting the progress for every individual and team of employees and the projects they are working on, making judgment calls daily, sometimes even more often about whether a circumstance or situation requires immediate feedback. It means holding people accountable on a regular, timely and ongoing basis, and leaving your ego behind and looking at the feedback from an organisational standpoint. Consequently, if a situation does demand feedback, it means making time in your already tight schedule to study the circumstances so that you are thoroughly versed on events that prompted the feedback session and it means that you will have to prepare for potential positive and negative communication during the feedback session and for a follow up to the feedback meeting.
It is wise to use the word feedback only for providing constructive input. When employees hear the word ‘feedback’ we want them to be able to begin to prepare themselves to hear feedback objectively. The actual word ‘feedback’ allows them to use this as a trigger to get into the appropriate mindset to ready themselves to hear the feedback in an objective, non-emotional state.
If you use the word ‘feedback’ for delivering praise, this triggering mechanism loses some of its power and effectiveness. If you don’t differentiate in this manner, the employee might expect to hear praise when you say you want to give them feedback, when in fact, you are less than happy with their performance. This does not mean that you should never use strengths and positive examples of behaviour during the feedback session. Information or observation given by one person to another with the sincere objective of helping that person perform a job or a task better.
The Advantages of Employee Feedback
Why encourage feedback? It’s simply that you don’t want unimportant issues to fester until they become major issues that will affect productivity and results. If the issues between and among team members are addressed objectively, with an open mind, and in a timely manner, the team can move along at a quicker pace and be more productive.
Firstly, consistently delivering feedback throughout an organisation allows teams and departments to develop a trusting environment. Secondly, it focuses management on having employees who understand the company’s goals, values, morals, and objectives are everyone’s responsibility. The feedback and accountability process provides a tool by which employees can measure their progress.
Next, as feedback becomes part of the culture it can motivate an individual or team towards a higher standard. Delivering feedback helps employees and teams work through obstacles that are blocking achievement. After you deliver feedback, the person should process the feedback and come up with an action plan to address the feedback provided.
As a manager, you certainly understand that individual or group momentum will slow and perhaps if left to fester even stall in the face of an unresolved issue that has been allowed to manifest and grow into a bigger problem. By encouraging feedback in a timely fashion, you give people the opportunity to settle issues, resolve conflict, and address problematic behaviour before it infects the entire group. An unchecked conflict within a team is like an insidious virus and will affect everyone. If you allow it, intra-team communications will breakdown and the group dynamic that you so carefully built, will disappear and progress will grind to a halt.
The History of Feedback
In the old model, managers were miserly with feedback, doing it out once or twice a year, if at all. Some organisations still do it that way. It’s called…. THE ANNUAL REVIEW, the yearly event where a manager compiles the corporate version of an employee’s best and worst list.
That may have worked as the most effective methods of giving feedback once-upon-a-time. But the business world has undergone a dynamic transformation in the past 30 to 40 years, as has the very nature of work. Since the dawning of the global marketplace, instant communication, and the 24-hour business cycle, organisation’s that refuse to streamline their methods or thinking are being left behind.
To be successful today a company’s management team and leaders must be smart and agile, ready to react quickly to the ever-changing landscape of events in their industry and the world.
Anxiety and Feedback
If you want people to be able receive and react to the feedback that you give, it is critical that you understand the anxiety people feel when they get feedback. We’ve all, at one time or another, been overcome by that nervous tension, sick feeling rising up in our stomachs, the churning nausea that somehow makes your legs simultaneously wobbly and heavy, but it’s not a virus; This malaise is usually caused by some combination of these words:
“Can I see you in my office?”
“We need to talk.”
“I want to discuss your presentation.”
Even if you have done nothing wrong – ‘at least nothing that you can think of’ – you just know this is going to be bad. Your brain, frantically racing through every work-related incident in the past week, automatically shifts into the fight or flight mode. Full power is averted to the deflector shields. You’re ready to defend yourself from outside attacks. You put yourself in an aggressive mode to take on the aggressor i.e., the person giving you the feedback.
Rules for Effective Employee Feedback
- Specific, descriptive and accurate
- Timely (no surprises)
- Start with the positive
- Balanced (positive and negative)
- Discuss performance not personality!
- Constructive (offer options / alternatives / way forward)
- Invite input!
If you would like advice and support managing feedback in the workplace, please get in touch with our HR and Employment Law team.