An essential part of your role as a leader is to develop your employees, both by coaching to their natural talents, and by providing development opportunities in areas they need to strengthen. Identifying those development areas should be a collaborative process (leader and employee) based on the employee’s career goals, your observations, and the needs of the organization. Effective, interactive feedback is a key component of this process. I’m not talking about the annual performance review that rarely does more than elevate everyone’s stress level. I’m talking about regular, timely feedback that reinforces and acknowledges strengths, and identifies and addresses development areas. Yes, this means more frequent one-on-one conversations with employees; and yes, it involves more time and effort on your part. And…the returns in terms of employee motivation, engagement and retention are so worth it.
What’s your approach to giving feedback? Are you doing it on a regular basis? Here are some best practices to get you started.
1. Give it often. Employees want to know how they’re doing. You may believe “no news is good news” yet your employees may not see it that way. They may interpret your silence as apathy, and begin to wonder, “Why do I even bother?” Take the time to acknowledge, and show appreciation for their efforts. Likewise, if there’s an issue, don’t assume it will resolve itself. Unless you say something they may not realize there’s a problem. Bad performance does not improve with age.
2. Make it timely. This doesn’t mean you have to praise them each time they complete a task. Be sincere! It means saying “thank you” immediately when they’ve made an extra effort, or providing praise shortly after they’ve solved a complex problem or achieved a new skill. It also means giving negative feedback no later than 24 hours after observing the behavior. And be sure the feedback is based on your observation rather than what you’ve heard from others.
3. Be specific. Use the SAR method. Situation. Action. Results. “Thank you, Jane, for stepping in to complete that report while John was out. Without your help we would not have been able to complete the project milestone.” Or, “Bob, I’ve read through your proposal and some of the figures don’t quite add up. Accuracy on these proposals is essential to avoid future issues with the client.” Be sure you don’t fall into the “but” trap. “I really like your approach on the presentation, but I think the slides are too busy.” What will the employee hear? “The slides are too busy.” Use “and” instead. “I really like your approach on the presentation, and I think it will have more impact if you have fewer words on each slide.”
4. Listen. Feedback should be a dialogue, not a monologue. Be open to ideas from the employee as to how they might improve, or how they’d like to better utilize their natural talents. And set a good example by being open to their feedback about your approach, leadership style, communication, etc.
5. Follow through. Giving the feedback and recommendations is just the first step. If you leave it there nothing will happen. Help develop your employees by keeping them accountable. Revisit the conversation to acknowledge progress made and/or reinforce development plans.
And most of all, be respectful and kind. A recent New York Times article gave some shocking statistics about rudeness in the workplace and how it impacts employee health and performance, creativity and customer loyalty. Guess what? Nice guys (and gals) finish first. Be one.
Till next time,
In the leadership development workshops I conduct I always include some kind of action planning at the end. After all, learning is a process not an event, and I think it’s important for participants to have some follow-through goals to continue that process. One of the activities I like to use is called: Stop, Start, Continue. I might ask, “Based on what you’ve learned about how you lead, and where your strengths and development areas are, what are you going to stop doing, start doing and continue doing?”
I think this is a good exercise for everyone to do periodically. And now that we’re nearly halfway through the year, I thought I would provide it to you as an opportunity to do a mid-year assessment and determine what’s working well that you need to continue, and where the gaps or issues are that point to behaviors that you need to start or stop.
Much of my work is focused on helping leaders and teams become more aware of their strengths, development areas and how they are perceived by others – how they “show up” on a normal day and on those days when they are under pressure or stressed out (no one has those days, right?) This knowledge, or self-awareness – contributes to better performance, improved communication, deeper relationships, and more overall success.
So here’s your assignment. Find a quiet place, grab a cup of coffee, a glass of wine, a bottle of water or another beverage of choice, and think through the following.
What are your top 3 - 5 qualities? Think about things like purposeful, reliable, collaborative, imaginative, or any other qualities that have helped you succeed. How well are you using those qualities in your current role?
What are 3-5 “derailers” for you? These are those “overextended” behaviors that happen when you are stressed or under pressure. I like to think of them as “too much of a good thing.” For example, if you are evidenced-based on a good day, under stress you might get lost in the details; if you are spontaneous, when under pressure you may become impulsive; or if you are collaborative on a good day, when stressed you may be so focused on getting everyone’s opinion that you become consensus-obsessed.
Now, think over the last five months and write down one really great achievement – a situation when you just nailed it. And then write down a situation where you fell short of your expectations. What behaviors contributed to each?
Once you’ve thought through these items you’re ready to create your Stop, Start, Continue plan. Based on your review of the past five months, what’s one thing you’re going to stop doing, one thing you’re going to start doing, and one thing you’re going to continue doing? Write them down. Assign a date. And post your list somewhere you can refer to it often.
And whatever you do, DON’T stop believin’.
Till next time,