7 Tips For Giving Feedback (and Making It a Lot Less Difficult, Too)

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Oct 7, 2013

How do you feel when it’s that time to provide “feedback” to your team?

It might be performance feedback or development feedback, but my guess is that it’s not your favorite thing to do.

Step back for a moment, though, and think about your role as a leader. What is the single biggest responsibility of a leader? One can say “delivering results” but the truth is, leaders don’t deliver results; their teams deliver results.

Could it be that the leader’s primary role is to develop their teams to deliver results? If the leader can deliver the results alone, the organization doesn’t need the team. And if the leader isn’t coaching the team to results, the organization doesn’t need the leader.

Why is it so hard?

What naturally follows is my premise (and some may disagree) that the development of the team trumps delivering results. Why then is it so difficult to provide feedback, which is the very core of team development?

Some may say that it is uncomfortable to provide feedback. Some don’t want to hear what another team member might say to them. Others may say that they don’t like sitting in judgment about their fellow team members. Still others may say that the team members just don’t want to hear negative feedback. And probably all of those reasons are valid.

Feedback is a critical leadership role

I don’t share the notion that performance management is dead. I do think it’s on life support, but the basic premise of setting expectations, providing feedback, and developing talent is hard to argue with. Rather than pull the plug, wouldn’t there be some value in learning how to perform this important function?

In other words, how can we make feedback more palatable and truly helpful?

I think that there are seven (7) key elements to successfully making feedback work. Each one sounds relatively simple, but when you put them all together you get a rich, open dialogue.

1. Provide context

Why is feedback important to the employee? Because you can link the feedback back to the values and strategy of the organization. It will help the employee connect the dots between the work they do and the success of the team.

Let them know why feedback is important to help them learn, grow, and develop so that they have the career that they want to have.

2. Make it real

Providing feedback by following a script sounds like you are providing feedback by following a script. It isn’t real to the employee, and he or she can see right through it.

Think carefully about what you want to say, how it connects, and why it is important. If you go into a feedback session because someone said you have to, you are not giving the employee the benefit of your careful thinking.

3. Involve the employee

When the employee has a stake in the ground and clear expectations to meet, he or she can take an active role in the feedback.

If the employee trusts that their best interests are in your heart, they will be much more likely to accept feedback, and generally will be the one to suggest how they might best improve or develop.

4. Be objective

As you work together to define the expectations, be very clear on what the end result will look like. Have the employee define and describe, with the understanding that they will then be able to measure their own performance.

5. Don’t try to change the employee

In speaking of resistance to change, Peter Senge said “people don’t resist change, they resist being changed.”

As a leader, you cannot make an employee change. The best that you can do is set clear expectations and provide honest feedback. The choice to accept or reject that feedback belongs to the employee.

What you can do is help the employee explore the consequences; for example, what will be the outcome if the change is not made? If the outcome is that the employee can no longer perform their current role, that’s a heavy consequence and needs to be very clear.

6. Make it a two-way dialogue

Chances are, there are ways that you can help the employee, so ask them how best you can help. Offer the opportunity for shared feedback by asking a couple of questions in a way that lets him know that you really would like to hear their feedback.

Ask “what can I do?” rather than “is there anything I can do?” to start with the assumption that there is something that might help. It may take time for the employee to be comfortable with the two-way feedback, but keep asking and perhaps offer some ideas.

7. Don’t be intimidated

Here’s where it all comes together. You can provide context and consequences, and, you can leave the choice of action to the employee. But the bottom line is, you are the leader and you are the one held ultimately accountable for the overall performance.

Keeping that role in perspective can help you provide the sincere, honest feedback. This is your job, and the ultimate decisions about the work of the team falls to you.

You aren’t their friend, you’re their leader and your responsibility is to provide open and candid feedback. It is their choice to accept it or not.

I get concerned when I hear people talking about finding easier ways to give performance feedback — because there is no easy way. Rather than look for ways around it, why not confront it head on and help our leaders become proficient at it?

This originally appeared on the ….@ the intersection of learning & performance blog.