Is feedback normalized in your work culture or is it reserved for the dreaded annual performance review? The truth is, in order for a person to experience growth, they need regular feedback because it is a part of the learning and development process. A team can’t become individually or collectively excellent if they aren’t being consistently guided and inspired to reach their full potential.
Additionally, feedback is vital to retaining great team members because it keeps people feeling more cared for and engaged. Research from Gallup shows managers who gave effective feedback that created positive feelings in employees “are 3.9 times more likely to be engaged than employees who felt hurt, and only 3.6% of them are actively looking for another job.” Yet, the same research shows feedback perceived as negative has adverse effects. It resulted in a heightened number of employees looking for new jobs (50.5 passively looking and 29.1 percent actively looking).
So, how does a leader effectively give feedback? Like any leadership trait, giving great feedback is a skill that grows with more practice and time. In this article, learn how to provide instructional, yet inspirational feedback that helps the people on your team expand their strengths and minimize their weaknesses.
1. Make Frequent Communication a Team Value
An employee shouldn’t feel nervous or fearful when meeting with their boss to discuss feedback. Infrequent communication prevents relationships from forming and growing. Think about the people you usually seek feedback from in life. Whether it’s your parents, partner, best friend, or mentor, there’s a reason you go to them when you’re feeling challenged and need help. Over years of frequent communication, a trusting relationship developed, and you feel safe to receive feedback.
However, when people infrequently communicate, discussing areas for improvement can feel like a harsh critique. This is why holding weekly one-on-one meetings are so important. It’s a strategy successful companies like Facebook use. In a live interview shared by the company, Sheryl Sandberg, their COO, stressed the importance of regular meetings with CEO Mark Zuckerberg and her employees, stating: “I do one-on-ones with the people working on my team, Mark does one-on-ones, and it reverses down. I think it’s helped the company a lot.” Regular communication like this is key to establishing trust and developing a secure environment for giving and receiving feedback.
To build stronger relationships between yourself and employees:
- Meet at least once a week to discuss feedback and goals.
- Untether yourself from your office. Be a presence in the lives of your team members by having lunch with them, creating bonding experiences like retreats, or showing up as a supportive figure when they’re facing challenges.
- Boost employees’ confidence by giving them recognition. Feedback doesn’t always need to be about improvements—it can simply point out a person’s abilities and accomplishments. Let your team know what they’re doing right so they can keep building upon their areas of excellence.
2. Give the Conversation a Purpose
Every meeting a leader has with an employee should connect the organization’s purpose to the individuals’ purpose. As explained by executive coach Ed Batista, “To become more effective and fulfilled at work, people need a keen understanding of their impact on others and the extent to which they’re achieving their goals in their working relationships. Direct feedback is the most efficient way for them to gather this information and learn from it.” When providing effective feedback, consider why your recommendations or praise matters. How does it drive impact or create positive change? What bigger picture does it tie into? Why does their work matter? Implement the answers to these questions into the meeting to have a meaningful conversation.
To create a purpose-driven conversation when giving feedback:
- Make connections between how someone’s work connects to the company’s vision and mission.
- Focus the discussion on a person’s future growth.
- Inspire and motivate employees by communicating your belief in them. Above all, make people feel they’re capable of positively impacting the world around them. Encourage them to step into their purpose that connects with the business’s mission.
3. Communicate Clearly
Before providing feedback, be clear about what you will communicate during the meeting. Prepare ahead of time for the conversation by outlining the top three to five points you want to make in the time allotted for the conversation. This helps a leader ensure they don’t spend too much time on a particular takeaway when there are four more they still need to make.
Additionally, consider who you are speaking to. Effective communication isn’t one size fits all. As best-selling author Tony Robbins says, “To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” Because team members differ from one another, using the Situational Leadership® model is a great idea. This approach helps leaders know whether or not to be more directive or supportive based on each person’s needs. It’s an effective tool that generates positive outcomes when providing feedback.
Learn more about Situational Leadership.
Other examples of communicating clearly include:
- Discussing and setting expectations for a job or task before a person agrees to be accountable for it.
- Being specific about where greater opportunities for progress can be found.
- Providing action items that direct employees toward improvement.
- Being willing to have tough conversations, even if they might make both parties uncomfortable. Leading with truth, honesty, and integrity increases a person’s influence. As a result, trust increases, as well as the number of those willing to follow.
4. Create Space for Discussion
Conversations are a two-way street, which is why leaders need to offer opportunities for discussion. To do this, read non-verbal cues that indicate you might need to dive deeper into certain points. This might look like saying to an employee who looks overwhelmed: “Tell me how you’re feeling about receiving this feedback.” It could also mean asking someone with a confused look on their face if they need more clarification.
If an employee doesn’t need further support or direction but still looks uncertain, get curious and ask questions. For example, say, “It seems like you’re holding back some concerns. What’s bothering you about this feedback?” After asking a question, practice active listening. In the words of James Cash Penney, founder of J.C. Penney, “The art of effective listening is essential to clear communication, and clear communication is necessary to management success.” Listening is one of the most important leadership qualities because relationships and trust can’t form without people feeling heard and understood.
To become a better listener:
- Listen with the intent to truly understand what the other person is saying. For instance, get more insight into areas of conflict or disagreement.
- Ask clarifying questions such as, “What do you mean by _____?” or “Can you go into _______ a little more?”
- Repeat back what you’re hearing. This indicates that you’re listening and also eliminates miscommunicated messages.
- Create time for a follow-up conversation if it is needed.
5. Perform Self-Evaluations Alongside Your Team
Nine times out of 10, people are their own worst critics. Having another person point out something you already feel bad about can add insult to injury. Clear the air by letting employees talk about their mistakes during self-evaluations conducted in a group meeting. More importantly, as a leader, don’t be shy about sharing your own blunders. Be the first to admit where you’ve gone wrong and the areas where you need improvement. Sara Blakely, the founder of SPANX, is a huge proponent of openly discussing failure with her team. “Failure is not attached to outcome, but in not trying. This way, it is about answering to yourself,” she is quoted as saying. When leaders normalize failure, perfectionist tendencies die and team members begin challenging themselves to grow.
Additionally, during self-evaluations, use this time to:
- Allow team members to encourage, motivate, and support one another. When an employee shares about a mistake they’ve made, invite their team members to give positive feedback to that person.
- Let employees discuss accomplishments and wins they’re proud of. This helps people not feel as though they’re taking one step forward and two steps back when they discuss areas needing improvement.
- Recognize areas of growth in each person.
- Teach the importance of a growth mindset by creating challenges for employees to step outside their comfort zone.
Learn more about making a cultural shift from being a team of perfectionists to a team of innovators with “Growth Mindset: Creating an Environment For Innovation.”
Don’t Forget to Ask for Feedback as an Employer
Finally, remember to ask for feedback about your leadership. This can be done with anonymous surveys so team members feel free to respond candidly. Ideally, though, feedback happens in person during one-on-one meetings. Show interest in what your employees have to say about how those in leadership could improve. Being attentive indicates to team members that you value their insight, which results in a stronger relationship with those you lead.
To get in-person feedback from employees, ask questions such as:
- What can the leadership team do to create a better team culture?
- Where are there gaps in our team?
- How could executives, directors, or managers better support employees?
- What would your ideal workday look like? How is this different from your current workday?
- Where do you see room for more collaboration?
- What qualities do you think leaders need?
- How can we become excellent at what we do?
Capture the information team members share with you and genuinely thank each person for their feedback. While all of their suggestions might be applicable, try implementing any measures that will help take the company and its leaders to the next level. Additionally, when announcing new objectives or changes inspired by particular employees, give them credit for their ideas.
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