Make your feedback count by making it wanted.
"Feedback is the breakfast of champions", as Ken Blanchard famously said.
To develop, to grow and to win, feedback is essential.
The blatant truth is though, most people are loathe to receive feedback, and good managers can't help but tune into this negative energy. This is not the fault of the employee. Instead, the cause lies in how feedback has traditionally been offered.
More often than not, the traditional performance review has been the mainstay of feedback delivery, focusing on highlighting and closing gaps of some kind - whether skills, performance or otherwise. Leaders mean well in these undertakings. And while these reviews often incorporate acknowledgement of strengths and successes, their raison d'etre is often the opposite - a focus on what is not happening, or is happening that shouldn't be.
In fact, this goes for most feedback situations, not just performance reviews. And, as we well know with news, it's the negative stories that have staying power. So it is that employees enter the "feedback zone" already predisposed to fear, bracing to have their shortfalls illuminated.
Beware your subjectivity
No matter how it's provided, feedback is inherently subjective. Yet, managers provide it as if their view of the situation is fact when in truth it's simply one interpretation, seen through one lens. Ask five people to assess the same scenario, situation or individual and you'll likely get 5 different versions of "reality".
There's simply no such thing as "objectivity-certified" feedback. When it's provided as a fact yet doesn't align with the recipient's view of the matter, its impact is much lessened. Worse yet, it may be perceived that your feedback is unfair which can undermine trust and limit future receptivity to it.
So, how can you provide feedback that employees really want. That ramps up receptivity, motivates, develops and builds trust?
Consider these 5 tips...
Feedback should focus on the impact
Feedback is often very transactional, focusing on the what and how it was done. But what is often overlooked is the impact it has on others. How was another's life or situation influenced as a result of this action? The "so-what".
This aspect uses the subjective nature of feedback - as mentioned earlier - but in a useful manner.
Suppose, for example, you experienced a team member, Jack, raising his voice in anger in a meeting. As a good leader, you decide to offer feedback letting him know you observed his anger, and how this is not an acceptable behaviour. You even probe to determine what's behind it. However, you also know that since you're seeing things through your own lens, Jack may walk away viewing the situation very differently from you. Perhaps in his mind, waving it off because it's his normal way of communicating and is only a reflection of his passion. Or, disagreeing fully that it happened in the first place.
So you decide to express how his actions made you feel - how you felt attacked, even threatened, and that others in the room probably felt the same way. This forces Jack to take stock of his impact on others. The "so-what".
While Jack may want to discard your "take" on the matter, it's more difficult to ignore your emotional response to it. This awareness then often becomes a powerful staging point for a discussion around possible solutions.
Align feedback to strengths
The rear-mirror, weakness-based approach to feedback is a thing of the past. Or, at least it should be. Employees all have natural strengths or honed skills sets. Rather than focus on weaknesses, gear your feedback to these strengths. To how these have led to success and how they can be leveraged even more effectively in future.
Employee strengths are areas of immense development potential. Not only that, when they have ability to apply these, they allow the employee to move in the direction of flow in their roles.
As stated in this 2011 research on feedback from Indiana University,
"To fully reap the benefits of using feedback, managers should instead primarily rely on a strengths-based approach to feedback that consists of identifying employees’ areas of positive behaviour and results that stem from their knowledge, skills, or talents."