Five Ways to Tame the Feedback Dragon
Feedback. Employees and managers have a love-hate relationship with this word. While most people in the workforce would agree that feedback is an important part of their work life, the word still carries some discomfort with it. It is this slight discomfort that, if left unchecked and unmanaged, can grow into a bigol’ monster of a dragon and that is why managers and their HR partners need to work together to minimise, if not eliminate, doubt, hesitation and discomfort that surrounds the feedback process and mechanism.
So why is feedback important? Well for starters, consistent feedback is an effective way to understand and reinforce expectations within the organisation. Feedback keeps managers and team members on the same page and gives everyone a sense of direction. The right kind of feedback, delivered the right way, can boost employee morale and self-esteem as well. While feedback is a critical part of organisational communication, studies show that managers find it hard to provide feedback to their team members and vice versa.
Here are five ways you can tame the fire breathing feedback dragon lurking in the shadows within your organisation!
1. Take Away the Dragon’s Habitat – Fix the Communication Environment
This feedback dragon feeds on fear and uncertainty in the hearts and minds of employees. Questions like - “What will my manager say? How well have I really been doing? Am I on the company's radar? I hope this is not about more work coming my way?” The more afraid and uncertain employees and managers are, the bigger and stronger the dragon becomes. Hence, the communication environment plays an important role in easing the pressure regarding the feedback process.
HR needs to ensure that both upward and downward communication is encouraged within the company. But the HR team can only do so much. Managers need to adopt a friendlier, proactive role in this situation. Remember how, when you met your neighbour's cat for the first time, you let the cat approach you instead of running towards the cat and scaring it away? Managers need to build an environment of trust around communication and encourage employees to approach them first to build trust and friendship.
Laying the proper groundwork for a functional relationship requires trust and mutual respect. Once we have trust issues out of the way, communication becomes a two-way street, free of traffic hold-ups!
2. Think Before You Draw the Sword – Prepare in Advance
'Just winging it' may not be the best idea when it comes to providing feedback to team members. Nevertheless, we often see managers coming into feedback sessions completely unprepared. The wisdom of the Cheshire Cat when he tells Alice, “If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there" comes to mind in this situation. The key here is for managers to be absolutely crystal clear on their purpose. Some of the questions managers can ask themselves beforehand are - Why am I giving feedback to this person? What is this feedback going to cover? What changes do I expect once they hear the feedback?
Constructive feedback, like a good sandwich, needs to have a layer of nice and juicy protein – the positive affirmation; a bit of healthy lettuce and greens – things that can be improved; and a layer of specific savoury sauces – the words and expressions that will work well with that particular person. The objective is for the feedback session to be focused, friendly and fruitful! Enough said!
3. Nothing But Net! Slam Dunk the Message Delivery
Providing feedback to a team member or an employee in a way that improves their performance is an art. And as with any form of art, practice makes perfect. The first rule of thumb is not to make it an 'event'. Starting with statements like 'I want to give you feedback on your performance' or 'tomorrow we will have a one-to-one feedback session' might not be the best idea.
Just the way cheesy pick-up lines fall flat on their face at the bar, opening lines like these will only create barriers in the mind of your team member and might make the entire 'feedback session' useless. Instead, consider statements such as 'so much has been happening lately, let's sit tomorrow and take stock of what all we are up to' or 'I need your help with the next stage of the planning process. Let me know when you have time to discuss the project this week.'
During the actual feedback session, keep it brief and clear. Replace vague appreciation such as 'you did great' with specific things such as 'your presentation was clear and covered all key points.' Such comments can boost the confidence of the employee and make them more receptive towards other things you have to say.
And most importantly, watch out for the body language. If you see them curling up and closing down, consider terminating the session because from that point on, it is just a waste of everyone's time.
4. Know Thy Friend – Understand Your Own and the Other Person's Personality
If you speak 'Orkish' to an Elf, you might not get the right response! And if you have not seen the Lord of the Rings yet, you need to do so immediately! Coming back to the topic, the personality type of the sender and the receiver in any communication plays a great role. Personality type becomes even more important when the conversation is feedback related – an already stressful subject for both parties. Richard N. Stephenson's 'D.O.P.E.' classification of personalities is an apt example in this context.
According to Stephenson, a person is either a Dove, an Owl, a Peacock or an Eagle. Now if you are providing feedback to an Eagle in Peacock style, chances of a communication breakdown are very high. This does not necessarily mean sugar coating everything. In fact, that might be counterproductive. In technical terms of communication theory, the message has to be sent across in a way that can be easily decoded by the receiver.
Even if you do not agree with Stephenson's model of personality types, try other models or make up your own. But in any case, take the time to consider the personality type of the receiver and change the tone and content of your conversation to match their sensibilities.
5. When to Hold Them, When to Fold Them? - Time it right
In his song, 'The Gambler', Kenny Rogers advises that a skilled gambler knows when to hold them and fold them referring to a game of cards. A manager needs to understand how much is too much. Are feedback sessions too frequent? Or too few? Has enough time passed since the previous session to allow the person to make the necessary course corrections? These are the questions a manager needs to keep in mind. The other important aspect of timing is allowing enough time for emotions to settle down after an incident has occurred. No doubt, it is important for a manager to help a team member improve their performance by sometimes providing critical, yet constructive, feedback. At the same time, such feedback will be least effective immediately after an incident if the recipient is angry, anxious or embarrassed.
All the above ideas are centred around closing the feedback loop. Feedback is only effective when both parties take part in it. And for that to happen, a feedback session must not look like a fire breathing dragon, a monster if you will, to the receiver. Once we can tame the dragon, the impediments to smooth and effective communication between the manager and the employee are removed, and the department and the organisation will start to benefit from such constructive feedback activities.