How to Give Feedback Effectively
I had a professional "light bulb" moment just a few years ago. The "light bulb" was about feedback and the concept of effectively offering it. Not only could I offer feedback in an organized and objective way, but when I did, I supported the employee, deepened our professional trust and impacted the company's retention and employee engagement by investing in professional development. While I've managed people much longer than a few years, I have to say in retrospect that prior to this enlightening moment, I was probably just an average manager. Ever since I began offering feedback that was intentional and consistent in strategy and approach, it's made my job as a manager much easier and helped me actively retain strong performers.
According to a recent article in Talent Management magazine (May 2012), approximately 21 million Americans are planning to change jobs in 2012 and that’s despite the still high unemployment rate and an unstable economy. The article further goes on to emphasize the importance of performance management, one component of which is ongoing and effective feedback as a mechanism to offset this migration of talent.
So what does all this mean? What is this concept and how do you provide feedback effectively and constructively?
Feedback begins with a well thought out conversation to communicate information about a person’s performance and increase their awareness. It can be motivational (encourage continuation of effective performance) or developmental (raise awareness around the need to adjust behavior or performance). In progressive corporate cultures, feedback is typically encouraged among supervisors, peers, and employees (vertically and horizontally). A good place to start in your organization is to focus on the feedback exchange between employees and their managers.
Common themes in effective feedback
While there are rich models and approaches to offering effective feedback, all offering slight variations, there are some common themes:
- Specific — Feedback is most impactful when the employee is very clear on the event or situation a manager is referencing. Talk about when something happened and what, specifically, you observed. Seeks opportunities to praise effective performance and to support increased awareness of behaviors that might require change.
- Objective — This can be tricky and it is where managers can get stuck. Avoid judgments and assumptions about why an employee did what they did or behaved the way they did. Nothing shuts down a discussion more quickly than a manager inferring the reasons for an employee's behavior. The truth is only the employee knows that answer. And actually, why something happened doesn't matter as much as the impact the behavior had on another person, project or the company. Let the employee share the —why,— if it's relevant to the discussion.
- Timely and Frequent — Like most relationships, the foundation of solid workplace relationships is the trust that is built over time. An employee that recognizes a pattern of consistent, appropriate feedback (motivational and developmental) from their manager is going to recognize the manager's investment in their growth and in them as a person.
As you take this information and think about how you could apply it in your workplace, give yourself permission to be as formal or informal as you need to be. If your company is ready to implement a feedback program company-wide, fantastic. Even if this is not a company initiative or practice, make it a part of your management style. Not only will your employees recognize your investment and reward you with greater productivity, engagement and retention, but in time, you’ll be able to reward the company by improving the bottom line (Talent Management, May 2012).