Providing feedback – the right way

Every year, during appraisal period, every employee waits for the feedback from their superiors – akin to school students who await their year-end results with crossed fingers hoping for a promotion to the next standard if the performance is good. As a manager, you may always find it tough to provide feedback to the team members and balance their expectations, manage their emotions, and maintain high levels of motivation. Let’s discuss how you should approach towards providing feedback.

But before that, let’s understand the difference between Appreciation and Positive Feedback or between Criticism and Negative feedback. Appreciation is simply a pat on the back for good work. “You did a good job”. While it’s great to appreciate someone, it doesn’t explain much or add value. Positive feedback goes further and identifies particular area of contribution. “I liked the way you handled the client questions during the meeting. The way you began with explaining the benefits to the clients, addressing their needs and how our product could benefit the clients without compromising their budget was great. I am sure the client will respond favorably to the pitch.”

Similarly, criticism is a short kick that doesn’t really explain much. “You messed up the client pitch by not explaining the benefits to the client.” Negative feedback, in contrast, provides the details and creates a base for discussion and improvement. “The good thing in the meeting was that you showed the product features. But I think you need to be more organised during the pitch going forward. You need to explain the benefits to the client, without which, the client may never know how our product will help them. If the client doesn’t see the benefit, he’s very unlikely to consider our product.”

Here are a few tips on providing feedback:

1. Prepare well: Don’t be casual about the feedback discussion, get your facts in place, ensure that you have observed the behaviors well multiple times – even got it seconded by some colleagues – and you’re not making premature judgement. Keep specific examples ready as you’d need them while discussing the feedback.

2. Schedule an exclusive time for the discussion: Make your team members feel important. Schedule an exclusive and communicate in advance. Block your and the subordinate’s calendar and ensure that you stick to it. Keep distractions at bay and ensure that you don’t take any calls during the meeting. It’s a very important moment for the subordinate and you must respect it by making her feel that it’s important for you too.

3. Provide timely feedback: Feedback is best given when it is given timely. Arrange to provide the feedback soon after you observe a behavior that needs correction – you need not wait till the appraisal discussion as the damage may be high till then. However, remember to gather complete information before you share the feedback. Also, if you’re angry, hold on, calm down before you share your feedback.

4. Make it constructive: Feedback should focus on improving future performance and not to highlight poor performance. Conduct a “performance preview,” not a “review.” While it is important to bring to light what went wrong, it is equally important to mention what’s went well and how things can be improved in future. If you think that nothing went well, check again.

5. Focus on real issues: it’s not necessary to find something that went wrong. If your colleague’s behavior or action was a one-time event that went wrong, consider letting it go. Focus on real issues that requires correcting or improving performance.

6. It’s the issue, not the person: Highlight the action or the behavior that needs attention or improvement, avoid characterizing the person with such actions. If a subordinate has been coming late to work every day, focus on correcting action rather than calling that person lazy or irresponsible.

7. Avoid generalization: Be more specific in the feedback. Avoid praise or criticism. You may try to mention. “You nailed it! I was very happy with your performance on this project. I particularly loved the way you created the presentation using innovative graphics and charts. That made the whole report very interesting to read and kept the client engaged during the presentation.”

8. Seek feedback: Feedback should often be two-way. Be open to receiving feedback as well. It’s possible that your subordinate is not understanding your instructions clearly and you may need to tailor your communication better to make your advice clear and complete. You may want to confirm if your subordinate has understood your instructions completely. You may want her to confirm her understanding. “Can you confirm what is your deliverable based on this brief?”

9. Provide facts rather than opinion: Try to suggest facts rather than opinions. For example, if you mention the information in the presentation are incorrect and then point out an error along with corrected information, it’s a fact. But if you say, “I don’t think your suggestion would work,” that’s an opinion. Opinions are important but do not carry the same weights as demonstrated facts.