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Feedback is crucial for positive learning environments.  The person providing the feedback is providing a precious gift to the recipient, although understandably feedback is not always wanted or asked for.  When leaders provide feedback in the spirit of helping their team member to gain awareness and to move towards the best version of themselves, it is undoubtedly the best gift of all.

It is extremely important that leaders are skilled in providing feedback in the right way. Feedback is a powerful tool that can create a strong shift in behaviour or performance, but if it is not done correctly it can lower self-esteem, disengage or hurt employees and make them feel like their contribution or efforts are not valued. 

The following are some tips and techniques for leaders to enhance their success in the art of providing effective performance feedback:

Avoid blaming or judging 

Highlight the employee’s strengths and what is going well first.  Avoid making judgement statements or blaming the employee such as below:

  • “I don’t think you were even trying”
  • “You shouldn’t have said that to the customer – you have just lost us the sale!”
  • “If you were better at your job, maybe we would have met the deadline”

Judging or blaming just puts the employee on the defensive and does not lead to a productive conversation.

Be specific 

Statements like "You did a great job" or "You didn't take care of the clients' concerns very well" are too vague and don't give enough insight into the behaviour that the leader would like to see repeated or changed.

The employees should know exactly what aspect of their performance that needs improving if there is any chance of success. 

Be timely

The ‘hot stove’ principle of leadership calls for feedback to be timely as the stove does not ‘burn’ people three weeks after an issue or concern.  

Consistent and timely feedback creates trust. Feedback should occur as soon as practical after the interaction, completion of the deliverable, or when an observation is made.

Be aware of bias

Every manager has bias – whether they are aware of it or not. “Like Me” bias is where a manager is drawn to employees that are like themselves and who they share interests with.  

For example, when an employee supports the same football team as their manager it helps to build a bond. This bond can create unconscious bias where the manager is less likely to see performance issues.  

It is important that performance is separated from the person. Feedback should be focused on the job and the performance, irrespective of the person performing it. 

Focus on the “what” and the “how” - not the “why”

Avoid making the feedback seem as if it is a judgment. Begin with "I have observed..." or "I have noticed..." This provides the foundation to refer to the behaviour and not the person.  

Describe to the employee what you heard and saw and how those behaviours impact the customer, product, team, outcome, etc.

The ‘how’ provides the leader with an opportunity to ask some questions that will provide insight into the performance.  Asking questions like below will assist the leader to better understand what will help create stronger performance:

  • “what do you feel went well?”
  • “did you feel the results reflected your work on X?”
  • “do you feel that there are any steps that would get you a better outcome?”
  • “how could I have better guided you?”
  • “is there something that you need from me to help you?”

Most importantly, these questions highlight an interest in what happened and what the leader can do to better support the employee to achieve their best. 

Solve the problem together

It is tempting when providing feedback for leaders to provide all of the answers. Consider holding back the solution long enough to hear the employee’s insights, perspectives and point of view as they may just have the right approach in mind.

Check for understanding

Providing the initial feedback is just the first step. It is not uncommon for employees to sit through a feedback session and be unclear about the performance gap or what needs to happen to bridge it.

It is recommended that leaders asks some open-ended questions at the end to check for understanding.

Not just once a year!

There are daily opportunities for feedback and not just at the annual performance review. When it is done well, feedback enriches self-awareness as well as competencies. Feedback might be a quick ‘check in’ to see how things are tracking or started by asking a direct question about a project. 

Summary 

Consider the last time that you received feedback that encouraged or inspired you to make a change.  What was it about ‘how’ it was delivered that made the difference? A leader has the unenviable task of sharing insights and suggestions that employees simply do not want to hear, so it is important that the appropriate preparation is taken to ensure that it is delivered and received in the right spirit.  

Whilst praise is easy to give, constructive feedback is significantly more challenging for leaders and a necessary part of the job. The art of providing effective feedback may come with great risk, but there is also significant reward in knowing that your courage to raise a performance gap has been instrumental in the employee making a positive change.

Further information

Ai Group Members are encouraged to contact us or call the Workplace Advice Line on 1300 55 66 77 for assistance with their workplace matters. 

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Download our brochure to see why you should join and call us on 1300 55 66 77 or visit our Why join page to sign up for a consultation with one of our member representatives.

 

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