“We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.” – Bill Gates
I like my coffee strong and black. No sugar. No milk. That’s exactly how I like feedback. Because an honest assessment is the shortest and surest way to self development I know. At the same time, I often feel unconfortable when I need to give feedback to my team, especially when the feedback is negative.
I think many of you have been there. It’s especially difficult for a manager who loves his team to give negative feedback. It’s even more difficult to give negative feedback to a certain team member. And especially when you are the one not believing in the employee’s potential, when you are really afraid that they will not change, when you feel that there is nothing you can say that would make that particular colleague improve his performance.
“The most serious mistakes are not being made as a result of wrong answers. The truly dangerous thing is asking the wrong question.” – Peter Drucker
However difficult, there is a sort of trick… a question actually that helped me put things into perspective every time. “What would you rather do? Give negative feedback five times or let time pass and fire that team member eventually?“. Which one of these 2 would make you feel more at ease? Would you rather be responsible for sessions of honest feedback that reflect your view on the employee’s performance and that could maybe help that employee improve? Would you rather give some tough love leadership? Or would you rather be responsible for letting a team member believe he is doing a good job and then reach the point where you need to fire him for lack of results and he feels like he had no clue it was coming his way?
This simple question has always helped me make up my mind and come up with a sincere evaluation of my colleague’s performance – preferably, an assessment based on figures, results, actual actions and indicators. And, of course, all spiced up with a few suggestions and with my honest offer to help and guide my team member.
The fun fact is that most of the times, these feedback sessions proved to be more than surprising. The results were quite worthwhile. Colleagues who have shifted their performance 180 degrees because that conversation clarified goals and job expectations. Other colleagues have realized they had been focusing on completely different results. While others finally became motivated by the shift of perspective that the feedback brought and by the fact that my assessment proved that I was interested in them and thus I was investing in them as professionals.
Some ingredients that go well with honest feedback
I don’t believe in universal recipes as much as I don’t believe in one-size-fits-all management advice. However, I can help with some tips from my personal experience. None of them are new, but all of them are tested. If they are of any use to you, I am more than glad:
- performance trackrecord – gather some actual historical data of the colleague’s performance, real examples etc – they will give a practical side to your feedback and make your colleague relate to the feedback you offer;
- keep it mathematical – figures, KPIs, results, actions – give it an objective side. It’s easire for people to criticize their own results rather than their own actions or mindsets;
- offer help – this builds trust and makes your colleague believe that he can actually succeed and that he has a support in you. Mean it, don’t just say it;
- offer feedback about the results and actions and not about the person – I know everyone says it, but it’s pretty vital. The person can change only if they want to, but the results and actions are exactly what needs to be changed.
I know it’s a pretty serious topic, but to lighten things up I would really love to end this article in a funny tone with a Dilbert quote: “Feedback is a business term which refers to the joy of criticizing other people’s work. This is one of the few genuine pleasures of the job, and you should milk it for all it’s worth“.