Telling someone that they are not doing something right can be one of the most stressful things a leader can do, especially when that conversation is accompanied by documentation. These five steps can help any leader at any level deliver feedback that will be received as constructive. Feedback should be a moment of growth and education not anxiety and fear.
5 Steps for Delivering Feedback
One of the many roles of a leader is guide their team through both the good times and the bad. It is relatively easy for a leader to provide feedback to a team when the organization is winning. The message is up beat, well received, and usually taken as constructive by all parties. That message is much harder to deliver when results are not being achieved, or one member of the team is holding the rest back. Over the last twenty years I have seen the vast majority of leaders avoid situations where negative feedback must be delivered. They try to find ways around the individual, they attempt to manager the toxic environment that is growing within the organization, and they pull away from supporting that individual.
The best leaders realize that these types of moments are not a door to negative interactions, but rather an opportunity for learning and development on both sides. Strong leaders know that addressing concerns immediately and professionally will provide their team member with an opportunity to get back on track and contribute to the overall vision. These five steps can help any leader deliver feedback that will be received as a constructive opportunity for growth, and will mitigate the fear and anxiety from both parties.
- Praise in public, coach in private – This step is first because if the interaction isn’t staged appropriately than many times it will be a one sided conversation, and there will be no hope for growth. Staging doesn’t necessarily just take place on the day you are providing the feedback. The reality is that as a leader you should be taking as many opportunities as possible to praise your team in public so that they know you support them and will recognize them for a job well done. Conversely, when you find yourself in a position to have to deliver a coaching opportunity, then you need to make sure it is done in private. There are no exceptions to this rule. I have seen many leaders think that they are asserting their position when they criticize their team in public. The reality is that the team member isn’t listening to you, rather they are just trying to get away from you. When you coach a team member, do so in a private location where they can focus on your message, and not on what other people perceive of the interaction. Setting the stage will ensure that your message will be heard.
- Lead with the Pros – Now that the stage has been set the first thing that should be said, should be a positive observation of the team members contributions. Leading with a positive comment will not only set the team member at ease, but it will also ease your anxiety. If you are struggling with finding something positive to lead with then either you haven’t spent enough time with your team, or that team member probably shouldn’t be there. Don’t be afraid to use multiple statements if the team member is still uneasy to start the interaction. These statements are meant to open up the lines of communication, so you have to be perceptive as to when it is time to move to the next step.
- Be specific and be Candid – Now is the time to state your concerns. Frequently I see leaders say things like “you’re not making your numbers”, or “you aren’t fitting in with the team”. These statements are very broad, and will leave the team member searching for excuses to counterpoint your feedback. This step is where being candid, and direct will benefit both parties. Have specific examples prepared when you pull them aside. If you reference the numbers bring the actual numbers (and a copy for them as well) so that there is no ambiguity. If they are not fitting with the team, reference specific interactions and examples, so that they can fully understand your concerns. This message should be delivered in a calm and even delivery method, because the goal is not to get upset, but rather to coach.
- Teach – This is the most important step. Once you have delivered your feedback it is time to ensure that this team member has an opportunity for growth. This is your chance as a leader to teach them how you would like to see the situation improved. You can utilize standard operating procedures, industry best practices, personal experiences, or success stories from the team. Each team member is different and each learns in a different way. You should be prepared to offer coaching in a couple of different formats to give your team member an opportunity to learn. Great leaders know that a large part of their role is education. This step is where the majority of the conversation should take place. This is where your team member should be asking their questions, and where you should be re-energizing them. Taking the time to not only provide feedback, but to also provide your team member with the tools to improve themselves will give them the opportunity they need to succeed.
- Refocus on the Vision – Once your message has been delivered, you need to end the conversation. Take this opportunity to point your team member back to your organizations mission, and show them how their contributions with regards to this conversation fit with that mission. If your company mission does not lend itself to this approach, then feel free to use your departments vision, or core values to help anchor the conversation. The point is to tie them back into their contributions to the greater success of the team.
These five steps are designed to ensure that each opportunity for feedback is seen as just that, an opportunity. Top performing leaders understand that engaged team members lead to better results. Feedback is a necessary thing in any organization, but treating it as a coaching opportunity will guarantee that your team stays engaged and producing at a world class level.
Future posts will focus on staying engaged with someone that you have provided feedback to, and how to handle someone that has not seized the opportunity and may not be right for your team. Please feel free to send comments or feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.
JLH Leadership Solutions