Knowing how and when to give feedback is a crucial skill in how to manage staff.
There’s a right time, a right place and a right context, just as there are wrong times, wrong places and wrong contexts.
This is too broad a topic for just one blog post, it could easily become a book, but I’m not in a hurry to write another one of those so I’ll stick with a few key points for now.
Rule number one is, when offering criticism make it about a behaviour, not about the individual who displayed the behaviour. Blanket statements like ‘you never…’, or ‘you’re so…’ They’re personal; they ‘cross-the-line’ and they generally don’t achieve good outcomes.
However feedback to, for example, your Estimator/Marketing Manager along the lines of ‘Because you didn’t mail that document by 4pm yesterday we’ve missed the deadline for submission which is likely to cost us tens of thousands of dollars in lost revenue…’
This is very specific. It’s about an actual event, it’s current, it’s relevant to the individuals’ area of responsibility and you’ve explained the importance of the consequences. Now it’s time to listen to their response in an objective, non-emotional manner.
In giving feedback it’s also important to know, and consider the individual staff members history of performance and to know it specifically. Not through hearsay, and ideally through a documented history of performance. It’s easy as a manager to exaggerate underperformance, particularly during stressful times or moments of mind-bogglingly-dumb behaviour on your employees’ part. Always remember to keep calm, remain rational and don’t draw any conclusions until you have the whole picture. If you shoot from the hip, it can backfire on you.
Rule number two is, maintain a positive bank balance. I use the mental image of positive and negative account balances when thinking about staff relations. As a manager it’s important to ensure you’re making a few more deposits (positive reinforcement) than you’ve made withdrawals (constructive feedback about negative behaviours).
Positive feedback should also be specific and not personal, and for very good reason. As a manager you want to create great performance, not great egos! By keeping your praise specific to the outcomes and behaviours you want to see, you will encourage more of them. However, by praising individuals with comments like ‘you’re a gem’, or the most dangerous of all ‘what would we do without you’ these can create an over-inflated sense of self-worth, which eventually leads to drama you don’t need.
As for When and Where, in my experience, When is about the significance of the event. Where is about the morale impact on the team and the individual concerned. If it was a big win, give positive specific feedback quickly and publicly. If it was just another good days work done, that should be the norm, so save it for performance review time. If it was a negative incident, keep it private and deal with it constructively and specifically in a one on one environment.
My final tip for this topic is to be consistent. Be in the habit of giving and receiving feedback regularly and be consistent in the way you give, receive and respond to feedback. A good leader is a consistent leader.
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