“Feedback”. Does that word conjure up good or bad images for you? One of the most important and difficult tasks of a leader is to give constructive feedback. I jokingly say it is why managers make the “big bucks.” In fact it is trust that the organization confers upon the manager – trust that you will give effective feedback. Unfortunately that trust is sometimes misplaced. When the task of giving feedback isn’t done well, the whole organization suffers. Retention, team morale and productivity are negatively affected. If feedback isn’t given when necessary, individuals and teams suffer due to lack of improvement in the case of constructive feedback, or recognition in the case of positive feedback. Ultimately team morale impacts organizational productivity.
Several years ago I worked for Steve, a VP who was terrific at giving constructive feedback. He used a practical approach. First his feedback was more of a regular dialogue, not a special occurrence. Regardless of whether his feedback was positive or constructive, he would always begin with an inquiry: “How is it going?” or “How do you think that went?” He was honestly interested in hearing input. Often people know when they have made a mistake or done a great job, and it is respectful to give them an opportunity to acknowledge either situation.
Then Steve might ask, “Okay, if you had to do it over again, is there anything you would change?” Again he was very respectful in soliciting feedback. If I had made a mistake and didn’t realize it, he would let me know the error and follow it with, “Moving forward, it would be better if…” The phrase moving forward was important for me to hear because many of us have a little voice that asks, “Is this a big enough mistake to affect my job security?”
Mistakes were viewed as learning opportunities…unless they were repeated. Repeated mistakes were treated with a development plan. And given the trust and respect that Steve’s group had for him due to his fairness, mistakes seldom recurred. His fairness began with regular check-ins to make sure you had the resources and training to do a good job. Steve’s example illustrates how frequent, systematic, proactive feedback can prevent a whole host of problems and create an atmosphere where people give their best.