When was the last time someone gave you “feedback” as a leader that actually left you feeling motivated to improve personally or professionally? If you can’t remember a positive feedback experience or only a few, you’re not alone.

Giving feedback is too often confused with giving bad news or an evaluation that comes across as a corrective action. Genuine feedback feels like a teachable moment designed to learn something helpful. It’s easy to assume leaders automatically know how to give effective feedback.  In reality this skill is not as common as employees would hope.

Evaluation vs. Feedback

If you shy away from giving or receiving feedback, you may not have experienced genuine feedback for growth.  Instead, you may have received an evaluation disguised as feedback. Leaders often hear this from executive leadership as a way to hold them accountable.  What is modeled gets passed on, and employees on down the line get the same treatment.

Done well, evaluation can be a productive way to document and summarize performance toward a standard. Done poorly, evaluation can leave an employee feeling guilty or even shamed as a person. Evaluation disguised as feedback often leaves the employee feeling one or both of these emotions without a way to improve.

This kind of feedback often comes in a “good news – bad news – good news” formula is a variation on the One Minute Manager idea of giving constructive criticism. It’s that tone of criticism that gives a mixed message.

Just when you think the compliment is the reason for the discussion, you feel the sharp edge of disapproval, followed by a pat on the back to do better.  Delivering bad news or giving constructive criticism is necessary sometimes, just be honest about it.  Otherwise your team will second guess future compliments.

Feedback for learning and growth leaves the person feeling empowered to keep going.  The words and the tone help shape and guide their path in productive ways.  It doesn’t have to be all roses, yet there is an encouraging tone that highlights what’s working, where to make course corrections, and give perspective on reaching the next milestone or major goal.

Feedback for Learning

After interviewing leaders for two decades, the best ones see adults as learners and treat feedback as a skill that can be taught to their team. This is true for executive leaders coaching their own teams, and mid-level leaders working with employees. While getting things done it is important, these great leaders understand that only happens in collaboration with their team.

It might not seem intuitive at first, but even feedback can be collaborative.  This kind of feedback looks and sounds different because you hear an “ask – tell – ask” pattern that feels more like talking with a professional coach.  That’s the point.  It’s not about fixing people.  Feedback for learning invites the employee to think. Simply ask for the person’s view of a situation, tactfully tell how you see it, and ask to clarify areas the person disagrees.  It’s a teachable moment for both of you.

By leading with listening during feedback, you may learn something that changes your approach to the conversation. It shows respect for the other person and shows confidence in your role as coach that you can lead without having all the answers. Some answers are discovered together. Leaders who see themselves as adult developers invest this kind of time in their team, so they learn to think for themselves and become leaders in their own areas of expertise.

Connecting the Dots

In the first six months of our pandemic, I’ve heard personal stories of managers pretending to be leaders while trying to micromanage their team working remotely. Let’s just say that’s not going well.  What might have been tolerated in an office setting becomes offensive in a work from home world.  If you’re trying to retain employees, this has to change.

What’s blatantly missing is the relationship and trust building that comes from leaders who continue to ask questions, help people diagnose issues, and define a mutual plan of action. The “ask – tell – ask” style of feedback can be seen in several useful situations:

  • Check-ins to monitor performance
  • After action reviews on a project or event
  • Coaching sessions for professional growth
  • New hire on-boarding to affirm strengths and set growth goals

This last feedback focus uses interview feedback that puts jet fuel in the passion of a new leader or employee.  It’s rare for a new hire to be told why they were chosen as a person, beyond their knowledge or skill.  When done right, interview feedback is the first step in an employee retention plan with a human touch.

Whether live or remote, using genuine feedback with your team will help you rise above the noise and stand out as an effective leader people want to follow.

#TypesOfFeedback, #ListenToLead, #LeadershipDevelopment