If you are a manager who struggles with giving constructive feedback, I can almost guarantee you are making these mistakes. And if you continually fail to deliver direct and effective feedback, you are going to find out–if you haven’t already–that the consequences are time-consuming, expensive and even detrimental to your career and reputation as a manager. Of course, it is crucial to deliver praise for a job well done, but for the scope of this article we will focus specifically on constructive feedback.
You’ve seen all different styles from other managers. You know: the hard-ass, the cheerleader and perhaps worst of all, the manager who hopes by some miracle the problem behavior will go away on its own. But giving effective feedback is a core responsibility of any manager. Being good at it is a “must-have” and not a “nice-to-have”.
So forget about trial and error. Instead, learn from my mistakes and successes. Save yourself a lot of time, grief and frustration. Become a better manager who can deliver effective constructive feedback.
Mistake #1: Thinking the Feedback Conversation is a Negative Thing
If you think this conversation is negative by nature it will color how you deliver it. The receiver will sense this and be more likely to receive it negatively. Instead, embrace the idea that “Feedback is a Gift”. I can’t stress this enough: the purpose of feedback is to help people get better. The only time feedback can be considered negative if it is given too late to make a difference or if it is given with the intent to harm. So it is critical to reframe your mindset and realize that you are serving the other person by giving them feedback. This is a positive conversation even if it seems difficult.
Mistake #2: Hoping the Problem will Fix Itself
I made this mistake more than once when I was starting out. So let me spare you the pain. Instead of hoping the person will magically fix themselves it is your responsibility as a manager to take charge and do your job. Take a simple but powerful lesson from the Andy Griffin Show: Nip It in the Bud. Have the performance conversation as soon as you see that someone is off the mark. Waiting only implies that what they are doing is good work and it will be harder to unravel as times goes by. You’ll see much better results. Every manager I know who hopes things will get better on their own ends up paying for it sooner or later.
Mistake #3: Not Giving Feedback As close the Event As Possible
Too many managers give feedback so far after the behavior or event in question that the conversation loses its efficacy. Behavioral Science teaches us that feedback given immediately following the action is by far the most effective. If you give someone feedback on something they did a week or two ago, they will have a hard time even remembering what happened. Most managers are very busy themselves, but you must prioritize having the performance conversation in a timely fashion. Do not miss the window of opportunity.
Mistake #4: Not Being Specific About What Good Performance Looks Like
If a direct report continues to underperform when you feel that you have given timely feedback, then you have probably not been specific enough. Next time, do not assume that your report knows what high performance looks like. Be painfully clear on what a good job would look like and see if you don’t get better results. It is your responsibility as a manager to communicate clear expectations. Ambiguity around objectives is a recipe for poor performance. By being specific you give your employee the best chance of reaching that goal. Know that it is your obligation to communicate what success looks like!
Mistake #5: Flinching or Backing Away from the Message
This is a moment of truth for a manager. They have delivered specific and timely feedback. But the employee seems hurt, burnt or even angry. At this point it is critical to hold your ground. Not in a punitive way but in a way that communicates you believe everything you just delivered. And that you believe feedback is a gift–remember Mistake #1? Unfortunately most managers sense the emotion of the employee and flinch. They back off the message. Feeling sorry for the person or trying to soften the blow by blaming other things going on in the company is not compassion. When a manager does this the power of the feedback is lost forever. If your feedback was sincere and in the spirit of helping the person succeed, you must stand your ground. Ultimately it is the most generous thing you can do.
Mistake #6: Not Setting Up a Follow Up
This happens frequently. It is poor leadership to walk away from a feedback conversation without having scheduled a follow-up. Depending on the importance, risk and complexity of the problem, it is imperative to set up a time to meet again with the employee to track their progress. If the issue is critical to the team it may even be necessary to check-in on a daily basis until the performance is up to standard. If the issue is a slight modification it may be a weekly check-in. Either way you must set up the follow through. Do not let the check-in be by default after the situation has gotten worse and you are notified by someone else. Which leads us to…
Mistake #7: Forgetting Accountability
I’ve saved the best for last. That is because far too often accountability is left out of the feedback conversation. This renders the feedback conversation impotent. This mistake happens because the manager assumes that accountability is implied or so obvious that it does not have to be explicitly discussed. Wrong! Without accountability feedback has no teeth. So discuss the natural consequences with the employee either if they bring their performance up or if they fail to improve. At the next follow up reflect what you are seeing. If it is improvement be sure to share that to reinforce the behavior. And if there is no or little improvement be ready to share this as well and have further discussions about how to get things on track. And remember to discuss the natural consequences if they do not get back on track.
As a manager, giving performance feedback on small and big things is a core responsibility. Remember that giving feedback–both praise and constructive–is a good thing as the purpose of it is to help the employee succeed and be great. Think about the times in your life when you had a great boss, coach or teacher who was both supportive and firm on your performance. He or she pushed you to be even better than you thought you could be. You now have the opportunity to do the same for your direct reports.
Give yourself a pat on the back for paying attention to this article. Now that you know the top seven mistakes and how to avoid them, you will be well on your way to getting the best out of your employees (and yourself). So take this newfound knowledge and confidence and start delivering effective performance feedback today!