Do you give effective feedback?

Written by
Wanda Wallace

27 May 2016

27 May 2016 • by Wanda Wallace

Here are some facts to consider when it comes to giving feedback:

  • 40% of employees report wanting to talk with managers about key topics – especially future focused and development focused topics.  These employees are three times as likely to leave within the next twelve months. CI Group:  Engaging Conversations
  • The three intrinsic motivators of praise and commendation, attention of leaders, and opportunities to lead projects are more motivating than key financial incentives (67% to 62% versus 60% to 35%)  McKinsey Quarterly, 2009
  • Conversations about meaningfulness, choice, competence and progress are the primary intrinsic motivators for creating engagement. Kenneth Thomas, Ivey Journal, 2009

When managers give effective feedback, they are helping employees grow and develop careers; plus, managers are showing that they care about the employee. If you do not care about engagement and motivation, then you don’t need to give feedback. Given that we know how important it is. Why don’t managers do it? There are many reasons –  some involve emotion, some involve skill. 

How actionable is your feedback?

Managers are sometimes worried that they will actually decrease an employee’s motivation or level of performance by giving feedback. If feedback is given in a non constructive way, it can be de-motivating. The distinction between effective and ineffective lies is how actionable the feedback is.  

Let’s take an example, suppose a manager has the opinion that an employee is not being a team player. That may be an accurate assessment. However, saying “you are not a team player” isn’t going to be effective. Focusing on the action, as in the employee’s lack of attention to other’s comments in team meetings can be effective. The employee now knows exactly what the manager means and knows what to change in his/her behaviour.
Second, managers do not give effective feedback is that they are not sure what to say or how to say it. Once they give the feedback, they might not know how to coach the person to improve behaviors. Managers need to learn to better diagnose the behaviors, the actions that are leading to a particular impression. For your employee who isn’t being a team player, what is it that he/she is doing?  

In some cases, managers may believe they have given feedback but it did not yield the change they wanted. The good news is that most of these issues can be solved or prevented with coaching, training, and a better understanding of how to give feedback. 

Give your message in a clear, helpful and safe way

Emotional barriers to giving effective feedback are huge. And harder to resolve. If a manager isn’t sure how a person will respond, he or she might be worry about the reaction along with how to respond to that reaction. Many people are simply uncomfortable with emotional reactions. But again, managers can be taught to overcome the emotional challenges by following clear principles for giving feedback.

On a practical note, some managers are afraid of legal or HR complaints. If you are afraid you will be called sexist for telling a woman she is behaving too aggressively, you might be unlikely to let her know that her behaviours are causing her to lose the confidence of her colleagues. Learning to give your message in a clear, helpful and safe way will solve these problems.  

Let’s take an example: Pat is a great performer, the best in the team. You will rate Pat in the top 20% this year again. However Pat does not share information freely – only with a select set of trusted colleagues. This leaves the rest of the team unhappy – they feel excluded, they feel they cannot do their best work because they do not have full information, they feel he gets special treatment. He does get special treatment because he earns those privileges. You would like for Pat to be less suspicious and more confident … at least more willing to share information.  

Last week at a team meeting, Pat did not tell John about a customer conversation and the resulting insight for the business. As a result, the work that John was doing on a project was not well positioned. 

So now you as the manager have to step in not only is John demotivated, the entire team suspects a more sinister motivation. How do you give feedback to Pat in a way that does not demotivate him? Pat is a big contributor to the team. He loves having autonomy and he has earned the right it. You trust him, but others don’t. Telling Pat that people do not trust him probably won’t lead to the result you want as a manager.  

We are going to go into much closer detail over the coming articles, but I want to leave you with the challenge of how Pat might feel about the feedback and what you can do to increase the chances that he will receive the message in the right spirit and take action.