As a business leader, it takes a lot of effort and courage to give feedback to employees and coworkers. Which stage of feedback expertise you are in today, is the result of being consequent and pushing yourself every day. But despite your best efforts, the way you address your feedback may not land well with everybody.
Used correctly, feedback can improve performance, enhance trust and respect, and advance the achievement of mutual goals. Used incorrectly, it can be toxic to any relationship and environment.
How can you land your message land and sound helpful, so your people understand that it is well-intended and makes them more willing to act on it?
Engage the person in a specific solution
Managers often have the tendency to offer rather generic feedback, leaving the receiver in "quiz mode." It's up to them to try and guess what the conclusion of the conversation was exactly and what remedy might be spot-on.
Good leaders are extremely specific: “Ask X for help if you’re stuck” or “If you see something in the reports that shouldn’t be there, ask for clarification.” They encourage employees to problem-solve with them: “What do you feel went wrong?” or “What could you do to get that same result in a shorter time span?” Engaging employees in a specific solution ensures they’ll get it right the next time. It also shows respect for their opinions and builds their confidence. When executed consistently, employees also will be much more prepared for the next encounter about what to expect.
Link the criticism to what’s most important to the employee.
In extreme situations, you can always try this: “Do you think what you are doing right now is going to make your parents proud?”
Consider someone who cares about being respected by peers but is always 10 minutes late to staff meetings and often blames the tardiness on things that seem out of control. A manager might simply give her feedback nicely (“Please make more of an effort to be on time”) or sharply (“Do we need to get you a new watch?”). But a more effective strategy is to say something like: “How do you think coming in late affects your reputation with your colleagues and how would you feel if you were on the other side of things?”
If employees see the link between the feedback and the things they care about personally, they’ll be able to relate.
Keep your voice and body language neutral
At times, managers can motivate with a raised voice and expressive gestures. However, workplace criticism is far more effective when delivered in a matter-of-fact tone of voice, with a relaxed facial expression and with neutral body language. An unemotional delivery sends a message that the feedback is simply part of doing business. Feedback isn't about drama.
Learn individual preferences
Employees have feedback preferences. Some people want advice immediately, while others prefer that they are observed, and then receive comprehensive feedback on fixed moments in time.
In early stages, before your employees have a chance to do anything that requires feedback, ask them how they prefer to receive it. Should you give it immediately or schedule it? Do they prefer an email or a real-life talk? If it’s the latter, should it be in your workspace, theirs, or a neutral spot?
It is important to be open and receptive to criticism, but that’s easier said than done. Follow these guidelines and employees are much more likely to accept and welcome a culture of helpful feedback.
Outdated company structures are bound to change. Not just to adapt to the features of future generations but also to respond to the rapidly changing market dynamics. Conversation, empathy, a clear purpose and a sound engagement method will be the driving force of your strategy adoption and culture. And make no mistake, those are all areas in which you, the human, will have to make decisions. AI will merely have an enabling role.
First published on Human Reef's blog.