Giving good feedback is so much more than dropping a casual hint here and there. Good feedback requires thinking about what you want to communicate and planning the best way to share that information. In my work I witness leaders who give great feedback that really makes a difference in performance. I also see feedback that is ignored even when it can help a person improve their work.
The key to giving feedback that makes a difference is in ensuring that the following key conditions are met:
- Make your feedback a dialogue, not monologue. Rare is the communicator whose message gets across in one try. For critical information like feedback, the receiver needs to be able to ask questions while returning nonverbal feedback that indicates understanding. A one-way dump doesn’t allow for conversation, which is why email makes a lousy feedback medium.
- Communicate feedback in ways that are clear and actionable. Feedback should always focus on behavior, not on fuzzy intangibles like attitudes or beliefs. Every piece of feedback should end with a clear statement of action that needs to be taken, along with a description of the unsuccessful behavior. Thus, “Your report is full of errors” should be followed by “I need you to use a peer to proof your reports.”
- Timing is immediate. Feedback needs to be heard as close to the incident or behavior as possible, and should be delivered in single doses. Unfortunately, many managers stockpile corrections, and then sit down with a laundry list of things they want an employee to change. Employees struggle to absorb so many issues at once, where some problems are weeks — even months — old and the context has been lost.
- Build in feedback for your feedback. How do you know that your employees have comprehended your comments? Have each one send you an email later that day summarizing the feedback and the actions that they have agreed to take. If they were not listening or did not understand what you wanted, the email will be impossible to write. This email also serves as concrete evidence of your pact in the event that the unwanted behavior returns.
- Pick the best location. Feedback needs to be communicated in private and without interruptions. In today’s open-office workplaces, this factor may be the most difficult to orchestrate. Be careful not to use the same conference room or corner of the cafeteria every time you give corrective feedback — it will be dubbed “The Principal’s Office” or something worse behind your back.
Good feedback keeps teams productive and on-point. Bad feedback is useless and will be ignored. So give yourself a feedback audit — how many of these critical conditions are you hitting on a regular basis?