As my kids revel in the freedom that comes with summer vacation, reflecting on my daughter’s end-of-year report card got me thinking about how we offer feedback to our employees. As was the case in previous years, she once again earned grades well above the class average. Of course, that’s not to say that there’s no room for improvement as her social studies mark was just barely higher than the class average.
In most cases, this is where a parent is supposed to ask the child why they’re not doing as well in this subject as they are in others. In fact, I recall from my own childhood that such differences in my grades would spur on comments of how I wasn’t ‘applying myself enough’ in this particular class. Indeed, sometimes these lower marks can move the focus from how well our children are doing in other classes to worrying about why they are having difficulties in this one particular subject.
I think this is why we all dread feedback from our leaders or other superiors – since our childhood days, we’ve become accustomed to getting ‘reviews’ telling us about our weak spots and being told what we need to do to ‘apply ourselves to do better’. Compare this to the number of times we were cheered on for those areas we accomplished in, or being asked what exactly allows us to succeed in these fields that we could perhaps use to address those areas that we’re not so good in.
Granted, there has to be an understanding that even if we try our hardest, there will always be skills or abilities that remain outside of our grasp. And yet, here is where the real role of leadership kicks in – where these feedback sessions are used to learn more about your employees. Specifically, the goal should be to understand what are their motivations and passions so that you can better direct the course your employees are taking to match both their aptitude and abilities. Employing such measures will reap benefits not only for the organization, but for the employee as well.
But how can leaders provide such feedback when most employees have developed an aversion to these conversations? Here are three tactics leaders can employ in order to make the process of giving feedback feel less challenging and more beneficial for their employees.
1. Focus more on leveraging your employee’s strengths than trying to fix their weaknesses
When offering feedback to your employee, it’s only natural to want to mention elements of your employee’s performance that is in need of some improvement. Clearly, this has some merit, as the goal is to help them become more proficient in their role within the team. Where problems arise, though, is when we focus solely on their weaknesses and not on their overall contribution to the organization.
As such, a better approach is to look at the areas where they are excelling to find out why they are performing so well in that particular task, and figuring out how that can be applied to the part of their work they are having difficulty with. This will allow you to help your employee to learn to use their strengths across different areas, while gaining a better appreciation for what aspects of their work will require the help of their team mates for them to complete the task.
It’s important to remember that the opportunity for growth for your employee and your organization lies not in addressing your employee’s weaknesses, but on building their ability to contribute their existing strengths to your shared goal.
2. Listen more than you talk when offering feedback
On the surface, this might sound counter-intuitive. After all, in order to give feedback, one needs to tell the individual in question what actions of theirs have caught your attention. However, this tactic becomes more understandable if we remember that the whole point of these exchanges is to provide insight and information to the recipient in order to help them sustain or improve their performance.
In order to make sure this is what we obtain as the outcome of our feedback, it’s important that we take time to listen and observe what their reaction is to our comments in order to see if the message is being properly received. By maintaining a focus on how they are responding to our feedback, leaders can adjust their approach accordingly to ensure that these conversations empower their employees to excel, as opposed to feeling unappreciated or worse, being viewed as incompetent by the organization’s management.
3. Allow employees to respond to feedback after conversation is over
I remember one of the bosses I worked for several years ago used to ask at the end of our biannual reviews if I had any questions about his feedback. If I replied during our meeting that I didn’t have any, he would respond by simply treating the whole feedback process as completed and expecting that I’d just return to work to start implementing whatever points he brought up.
Undoubtedly, this is a fairly common attitude among leaders to view any lack of reaction after giving feedback as being a sign that the situation has been dealt with or resolved. However, it’s important that we remember that while we’ve been considering the issues behind our feedback for some time, this might all come as either a surprise or news to our employee. We should also understand that in these moments of providing feedback – whether good or bad – that the employee will feel a little vulnerable and need some time to reflect and digest the information they were just given before they can offer their response to it.
As such, to make these feedback sessions truly beneficial for the recipient, encourage them to seek you out after the conversation is over to discuss any thoughts or concerns they might have. Again, as with the first tactic, this is an important approach to take as it will not only ensure that your employee has perceived the message you were trying to impart correctly, but it will also foster a sense of open communication between your team members and yourself.
Unquestionably, offering feedback to employees is one of the responsibilities many leaders struggle with, possibly a reason why this vital communication tool is only used on a yearly basis and in a formalized structure in most organizations. Applying the above three tactics to your feedback approach will not only help this process become easier to do on a more frequent basis, it will also help it serve the role it’s meant to perform in your organization – of helping your employees to succeed to the fullest of their abilities.