After discussing one-on-ones in my last blog about tools for supervisors, this blog will focus on feedback. Feedback is your opportunity to improve the performance of your team on a daily basis. Here I am talking about ongoing feedback you can give your team every day, not the kind of feedback you give once a performance year. Before I get to feedback let me remind you that this post is one in a series of six posts on tools for supervisors:
- One on Ones (link)
- Coaching (TBD)
- Delegation (TBD)
- Principles for success (TBD)
- Pitfalls for supervisors (TBD)
While one-on-ones are probably the most important practice given the impact it has on your team, feedback is what moves your team forward. The most important point about feedback is to never give feedback when you are angry. The way you communicate and what you say when you are angry will undermine the overall idea behind feedback – to make your team more effective in the future. There is nothing you can do about the past, move on and provide constructive feedback. You should only give feedback when you are able to smile while doing so. This will make sure that you are in a positive frame of mind.
There is a good reason to be in a positive frame of mind when giving feedback. If you think about it, how often is a mistake made on purpose? – it hardly ever is. So assume good intent. There are very few people who make mistakes on purpose. This of course means that there is no reason to get angry, just try to help your direct-report become more effective by pointing out the ineffective behaviour and discussing alternatives. I will tell you how to do that further below.
Let’s not forget that you should also give positive feedback. Some tend to forget this even though it is so much easier to give positive feedback. For it to really make an impact, make sure to be specific about positive feedback as well. Don’t just praise “Well done”, but rather give specific positive feedback like “When you prepare meeting notes and send them out before I even ask you, it helps everyone stay on top of their assigned tasks. Thank you.”
Purpose: The purpose of feedback is to encourage effective behaviour in the future. There is no “why” in feedback, which means you are not trying to understand why something happened, but instead trying to encourage effective behaviour in the future. This is not a root cause analysis. If you take this purpose to heart you will see that there is little difference between positive and negative feedback, you simply state what your direct-report did, the impact it had and what to do in the future (either continue or change behaviour).
How to Do: Feedback is not easy to give, especially negative feedback. The key here is to focus on the behaviour and not implied traits: e.g. “When you raise your voice and make sarcastic comments” is much better than “When you act like a jerk”. Make sure the person you give feedback to understands the implications, e.g. “When you send me your status on time, it allows me to collate the report quickly and be on time for my report to my boss”.
Don’t argue with your direct-report about either the reason for his behaviour or the validity of your feedback. Remember the purpose of feedback is to influence future behaviour. If he argues with your feedback, walk away, he will either do the same thing again and you can give him the same feedback again (this time with one more piece of evidence) or he won’t do it again (which means your feedback has achieved its purpose). The guys at manager-tools.com refer to this as “shot across the bow” and this piece of insight was eye opening for me and made me avoid so many unnecessary and ineffective discussions with my direct-reports.
There is a specific format that you could use to give feedback: Ask first “Can I give you some feedback?”, then focus on behaviour “When you do x, this is what happens”, and then either thank him and encourage him “Thank you, keep doing this” or ask for an improvement “Can you do this better/different next time?” Timing of feedback is also important, don’t give feedback on things that happened longer than a week ago. Consider feedback like breathing, many supervisors hold their breath and then blast it out after a while (or even just at the end of the year), try to breathe regularly. Small bits of regular feedback will allow you to keep correcting course and not try to turn the whole ship around twice a year.
One last piece of advice: Find a way to encourage yourself to give feedback frequently. Put a reminder in your calendar every day to give feedback, put a comment on your one-on-one tracking sheet to provide feedback, or do what the guys at manager-tools recommend: Put 3 coins in your left pants pocket and every time you give feedback move it to the right pocket. At the end of each day you know whether you gave 3 pieces of feedback and each time you put your hands in your pocket you get a little reminder of how you are tracking.