One of the most important jobs of a manager is to provide feedback. And it’s not just advice from the boss. Whether you’re raising kids or leading a team project, feedback is a critical tool for success.
Effective feedback has nine elements. They are:
If you work for a boss who gives you little to no feedback all year long, then you know the dreaded process. You fill out a performance review form. You schedule a meeting with your boss. You sit down and wait to see what will happen. You have no idea what to expect. You may be nervous, anxious or just plain curious about what she will say.
An effective boss doesn’t wait for performance review time to give feedback. It’s a continual process. I’ve found the most effective feedback is given during informal times—over a cup of coffee or lunch. You have the opportunity to have a discussion about something.
Effective feedback is supportive. It isn’t designed to attack. It should be designed to help. It isn’t a list of complaints. I’ve had meetings where I just sit down and tell the person that I’m really thrilled with the way he handled a customer meeting. Feedback designed to be constructive isn’t wrapped in a false way. The old advice of give a compliment, then throw the zinger complaint, and wrap up the meeting with a compliment is ridiculous. Throw that out. Instead, be open and honest. If you don’t really support the person and want to see her get better, you have a completely different problem.
A good manager is consistent. You know what to expect. You are working from a set of principles. The best leaders are ones where you can anticipate what the person will say. When you have to guess or you don’t know, then there is a management issue.
General comments are meaningless. Generic statements don’t help anyone. Give specific examples.
“Sit down and let me blast at you for ten minutes” is not effective feedback. Good feedback is conversational. You ask clarifying questions. You seek to understand the other person’s point of view. You have a dialogue. You don’t make big, sweeping, absolute statements like, “You never lead,” or, “You are always late.” You have a grown-up conversation.
Off-the-top-of-my-head feedback is generally lower value. When you take the time to think through the issues, it creates a more powerful opportunity. I often spend at least three times longer preparing for the meeting than the actual meeting. That improves the effectiveness because I’m prepared, ready, and engaged.
If you aren’t giving or receiving truthful feedback, then no one is served well. Find another job, another boss, or another employee. If everything is politicized to the point where you cannot give honest feedback, you are not in a healthy work environment.
Effective feedback is never one-way. I always ask what could I do better? How could I serve you differently? How can I be a more effective boss? It’s easy to spot those who really want to give you helpful answers versus those who want to be political. Just like they know if you are truthful, so, too, will you.
Feedback that is not understood is the biggest challenge of all. We all hear things through various filters. We may not be prepared for it. We may be overly defensive. We may have heard something we wanted to hear. Good feedback takes time for clarification. Do you understand what I’m saying? Tell me what I just said. Give me an example of what we’re discussing.
One of the most important ways to build a solid team and a healthy culture is through exceptional feedback. It not only helps the employee and the boss, but it helps the entire culture. If you know the rules and know how you are doing in the game, you play with more energy, more determination and more skill.
Take the time to give your employees good feedback. Or your kids. Or those on your team.