June 15, 2018

Giving feedback

The ability to give good, constructive feedback is one of the most important skills a manager can have. Whether it’s positive feedback or negative feedback, managers have to be able to tell employees how they are doing, what they have done well and what could be done better.

The importance of regular, constructive feedback emerged as a strong theme in our ‘Develop Yourself Survey Annual Report 2018’. Numerous participants said they would like to see more and better feedback in their workplace. It’s a big issue for employees and according to several pieces of research, it’s also a big issue for many managers.

Unfortunately, giving feedback is something that a lot of managers shy away from, particularly if it involves difficult conversations or tricky members of staff. For many, it is one of the hardest aspects of being a manager, according to research by the US leadership development consultancy Zenger Folkman. In a survey of over 7,600 people, Zenger Folkman found that almost half (44%) of managers find giving negative feedback stressful or difficult, with 21% saying that they actually avoid giving negative feedback.

It’s not only negative feedback that managers struggle with – nearly 40% of leaders in the survey admitted that they don’t give positive feedback either. This is despite the fact that numerous surveys demonstrate the importance of positive recognition in the workplace. Research by IBM’s Smarter Workforce Unit, called ‘How do I recognize thee, let me count the ways’, found that the engagement levels of employees who receive recognition in the workplace is almost three times higher (76%) than the engagement levels of those who don’t receive recognition (28%).

Giving feedback is an integral part of being a manager and an integral part of performance management. And it’s important that it’s regular and consistent, not just something that happens once a year at appraisals time. This is particularly so if there is a performance management issue with one or more employees – why wait months to tell someone that their performance is under par when you could tackle the problem immediately and before it escalates?

In giving regular, consistent feedback, you are letting employees know how they are doing and when there are performance issues, you can help them address them as work progresses.

Rather than thinking of feedback as a purely formal process, view it as an ongoing, two-way conversation (unless there is a need for a formal performance management approach). Grab a cup of coffee with a member of staff and initiate a conversation about how a new project is going or how a newly completed project went. Get their feedback as well as giving yours.

There are many ways to develop your skills in giving feedback – there are a whole range of courses, resources, books and tools on this subject. There is not space to cover it all in this post, but here are a few pointers to help you on your way:

  • Focus on specific incidents and problems. For example, if something went wrong with an assignment or a piece of work, then base the conversation on that, at least to begin with.
  • Keep it objective. What you don’t want is for your feedback to be interpreted as a personal attack, so focus on situations, rather than the person and their personality traits.
  • Think about your medium. Giving feedback, particularly negative feedback, is something that can be best done face to face. Doing it via email, text or any other form of electronic communication opens up the possibility for misconception.
  • Be direct, but without being blunt. In order to avoid appearing critical, it’s very easy to talk around a subject and send out confused messages. Be direct but think in advance about how your comments might be received.
  • Let them speak. Always give employees the opportunity to voice their own feedback. If they don’t agree with you, hear them out. They may be able to give context to the situation that you weren’t aware of.
  • Pick your moment wisely. Don’t put off giving feedback as it is always best to give feedback when it’s needed, not six months after the event. However, don’t just straight in if emotions or stress levels are running high. Sometimes it’s best to leave it a few days for everything to settle down before you start up a conversation.