Feedback is a key to growth and development, and professionals crave it. However, we, as leaders, aren’t always great at giving it. Moreover, if we do give it, we often don’t provide enough feedback or we don’t deliver it in the right manner for it to be meaningful and improve performance. So, what gets in the way? Our intentions and actions can become entangled in six common traps:
- We think “It takes too much time.” In over twenty years of teaching about feedback, this is the most common response when we ask, “Why don’t we give feedback?”. Contrary to popular belief, effective and meaningful feedback, both positive and developmental, can be provided in short dialogues. When done well, even brief dialogues can improve performance and productivity.
- We wait. And then we wait a little bit more because it’s not the “right” time. Guess what? As time passes, the “right time” never comes. A general rule of thumb is that meaningful feedback is given as close in time to the behavior as possible. When feedback is delivered “just-in-time”, the performer can recall and visualize the behaviors involved. This helps the performer put the feedback into context, easily engage in dialogue about the situation, and decide how best to use the information, enhancing the opportunity for positive change. The only exception to this general rule is if strong emotion is involved. In that case, put a little space between the situation and the discussion — but only long enough to be able to deliver the feedback objectively, while separating the emotion.
- We share our feedback with others, rather than the one for whom the feedback is most meaningful. Often because we are uncomfortable discussing performance information directly with the performer, we build consensus with others: “Hey, have you noticed…”; “Gosh, have you worked with …”;“Here’s what I experienced, was it the same for you?” Whether a good or bad performance, too often this leads to everyone knowing except the one person who can take action – the performer.
- We pass the buck. We notice something should have been done differently. Maybe we aren’t sure how the person will respond if we bring it up. Maybe it’s just faster if we fix it ourselves and move on. Both of these scenarios have two big downsides. First, no one can change something they don’t know about, so if the issue is impacting their perceived performance, we are robbing the performer of the opportunity to improve. Second, the lack of feedback around the issue may lead the performer to continue to execute in the same manner in future situations, effectively perpetuating the issue. No one wins in that scenario.
- We deliver feedback in a monologue. There is a fallacy in feedback that our point of view rules, that it is the “truth” as it relates to someone’s performance. Thus, when we deliver feedback, we often treat the conversation the same way. Ours is the only voice that matters, and the discussion turns into a monologue. When we observe a team member performing, ours is only one point of view. That performer will also have a different point of view. Meaningful feedback happens in a dialogue — a two-way conversation of expectations, data, observations, and impact.
- We assume they know. This is one of the greatest traps we fall into, especially with high performers. It’s the no-news-is-good-news approach. If they are doing well, we assume they know they are doing well, so we don’t tell them. However, that can backfire. Without affirmation, even high performers can start to wonder about their perceived value. Make no assumptions, except that all of your team members crave feedback, and you need to deliver it.
One of the greatest roles of a leader is to promote growth and development by providing meaningful feedback — information that helps performers learn, adjust, and improve. And, to do so in a way that team members leave the conversation equipped, inspired, and motivated to change, whether it is building on a strength or closing a gap. To fulfill this role and bring the best out of your team, be intentional in avoiding the traps and commit to sharing meaningful positive and developmental feedback with all performers.