When you ask managers what they like least about their job, chances are providing feedback to employees ranks high on their list. These conversations can be awkward and uncomfortable. There’s often a lot a stammering, uhming and ahhing, and beating around the bush or, the message is delivered too directly and misses the “constructive” part completely. Consider the following:
“Anita, that report you submitted was not good. You gotta do better!”
“Hey, Anita, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that report. You know, it wasn’t what I was expecting. I mean, it wasn’t horrible; you addressed the main issues but there were some holes. I had questions. Ya know? Not sure if you were time crunched, I know you have a few projects on your plate right now. So if that was the case, then hey, my bad, come tell me you need more time. But ultimately, if you could do better next time that would be great.”
In either scenario, Anita has no real understanding of what was wrong with her report or what she could do to improve. Neither conversation enhanced the working relationship or encouraged meaningful change. And these are fundamental elements in a healthy workplace – people want positive, trust-based relationships and they want to do their best work. Providing constructive feedback is a conduit to both and it reinforces respect in the workplace at all times. Here are the basic characteristics of constructive feedback you can use to help your employees improve and develop.
Be Specific and Factual
Help the person understand exactly what you are providing feedback about. Identify specific actions using clear and concise language. Stick to observable incidents and avoid generalizations as this helps the person recognize that you are addressing something they can control. Pay attention to timing as well. Constructive feedback should be provided when the issue is fresh in everyone’s mind. This ensures circumstances are relevant and easy to recall.
The report you submitted on Monday was poorly worded, which made the connections between ideas difficult to spot, and the grammatical errors made it hard to read overall.
Be Positive and Encouraging
Encouragement is an important element of providing feedback as it builds acceptance to hearing what needs to be improved. People want to improve; yet at the same they tend to put a lot of weight on negative messages and take criticism very personally. When you balance feedback by talking about successes as well as shortcomings, the improvement issues are better absorbed and the person is more likely to listen versus closing off and getting defensive.
Your reports over the last few months have been really good. Full of great data, relevant insights, and very easy to read. I often forward them on the Board without making any edits or changes. I appreciate that so much and have come to expect that great quality every time. The report you submitted on Monday however, surprised me because it wasn’t of the same caliber. It was poorly worded, which made the connections between ideas difficult to spot, and the grammatical errors made it hard to read overall.
Be Collaborative and Supportive
Telling someone how to change or what to do differently is always less effective than helping them to decide for themselves how to improve. Imposing a solution invites resistance to change and it also undermines trust and respect. Offer suggestions, brainstorm solutions, talk about strategies you’ve used to overcome a similar issue, and discuss different scenarios. Seek to understand obstacles to success and assure the person you are there to assist and support. Encourage reciprocal feedback as well; these conversations help you think about improvements you can make to clear obstacles for success.
I understand you felt overwhelmed last week. And I like your idea of maintaining a project dashboard so I, and the rest of the team, can see what everyone is working on. I also understand that when you are feeling pressured your focus is on content not necessarily polish, and that you literally finished the report and hit ‘send’ without any proofreading. I use the Grammarly App and it’s very helpful. It catches many of my small, and big, mistakes. It’s really improved my written communication! Let’s also make sure we work on our communication so you know you can come to me when you are feeling overwhelmed and not feel pressured to submit work you aren’t fully satisfied with.
Focus on Concrete Actions and Follow-up
Tackle one issue at a time so the person doesn’t feel overwhelmed. The goal is consistent improvement, and having too many goals creates competing priorities where nothing is done well. Agree on one or two clear and specific changes you can implement in the short-term and that you can monitor and measure for improvement. This not only helps with follow-through, it creates a feedback habit where you check in regularly to see how things are going.
So, I think we have a plan. I will start working on developing a dashboard that integrates with the rest of our internal systems. That’s a medium-term solution so for the short term, we’ve agreed to the following: One, you will install Grammarly. Two, you commit to building in proofreading time for all of your reports. And three, we will meet twice a week for a project-status update and to keep the lines of communication open so you know you can come to me and ask for help or an extension.
With a consistent pattern of constructive feedback you will see measureable improvement in performance and the relationships you have with your people will improve as well. These ongoing conversations build trust and respect and they let your people know they are active participants in their own success.
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