For many leaders, giving feedback to employees is the only thing harder than getting feedback. “I don’t want to sound like a jerk” is how one new manager described the awkwardness of providing constructive feedback. No matter the industry, organization, or level of position, giving feedback often makes leaders uncomfortable. What happens when people get uncomfortable? Naturally, they procrastinate!
Unfortunately, procrastination tends to worsen the issue. When we put off telling someone that they are not meeting performance expectations, we are unintentionally increasing the awkwardness of the situation. In my MBA course, I use the metaphor of leftovers in the fridge. When we delay addressing an issue with another person, it’s like leaving expired leftovers in the fridge longer hoping they’ll get better over time. It’s no surprise they don’t!
If you have found yourself in this situation, you are not alone. Many people find giving feedback challenging. This is common humanity. People often struggle to give feedback, not just you. However, this is a worthwhile skill to learn.
How Do We Get Out of Our Own Way?
In coaching and training leaders over the years, we have seen firsthand that performance management skills improve the most from two simple strategies. Giving feedback that is 1) bite-sized and 2) prioritized yields the greatest improvements for leaders and employees.
Resist the urge to stockpile feedback until “the time is right.” Unloading a large amount of suggestions will overwhelm the person and prevent them from taking action. Worse, you might trigger an emotional reaction from the person. In contrast, people are more likely to use targeted pieces of feedback to guide their future actions. For example, can you tell the person one thing they can do differently for better results the next time they present in the quarterly team meeting? Also, what is one thing they should definitely keep doing? By keeping your comments focused and timely, you help keep the person focused on improving their performance.
Not all feedback is equally valuable! Avoid being stuck in the weeds by focusing on the key actions that are most important for overall performance. Rather than explaining how the person can better format a document for your personal preferences, point out how integrating insightful graphs can increase the person’s influence with the division head. As you prepare for the conversation, ask yourself, “what is the most critical action this person can take against our priorities in the next 6 months?”
Upside of Improving Skills
Candid feedback shows people aspects of their performance, potential, and influence that they may not see otherwise. As a result, employees increase self-awareness and are more likely to take action to improve effectiveness. In addition, in a recent study from IBM and Globoforce, 80% of employees who receive feedback on performance report a more positive employee experience, which is linked to better performance, extra effort at work, and lower turnover intentions.
Reducing the discomfort and stress around feedback will help you get in the habit of providing it regularly. As you do it more thoughtfully, you will become a more skilled and confident leader.