One of the key trends of the Future Of Work is the need for feedback. In the past, feedback was given and received during annual or perhaps quarterly reviews. Now, we are able to gather honest, constructive feedback on an ongoing basis.
The move towards feedback
There have been a whole host of neuroscience studies that have demonstrated the fundamental importance of feedback. This is why the time has come for forward-looking, constructive, positive, frequent feedback. This new type of feedback is brushing aside the sacrosanct, frustrating, infrequent reviews of the past.
All your employees need to know where they are at in terms of your expectations and the things they like. They want to know where they stand. They aspire to make progress and move forward in their career. Each needs to set themselves challenges. These are the new issues that feedback must address.
There are many ways of “doing”, “gathering” and “giving” feedback, from formal reviews to informal meetings, 360° surveys, project post-mortems and co-development.
The main obstacles to establishing a feedback culture
The three main obstacles that must be overcome in order to establish this best practice in your company are: fear of giving feedback; being unaccustomed to giving feedback, and; a lack of clarity over who should give feedback.
1. Giving feedback is scary
Ask your teams why they don’t give feedback and you will often hear that they are afraid to. Fear is a big obstacle. Below are a few common responses that illustrate this point:
- “I’m scared I won’t be able to find the right words.”
- “I’m afraid of demotivating X.”
- “What if they take it the wrong way?”
- “They wouldn’t understand and perhaps wouldn’t even listen to what I have to say.”
- “I can never find the right time.”
2. We don’t think about giving feedback
You may have to overcome the problem of employees not being used to giving feedback. You might hear comments such as:
- “It doesn’t even cross my mind.”
- “I never think to do it.”
- “I tell myself I should do it, but then I let it slide and it ends up being too late.”
- “There’s always a reason not to do it.”
- “We’re so snowed under that we don’t even think about it. As soon as we’ve finished one task or project, we have to move onto the next without having the time to look back and reflect.”
3. Who should give feedback?
Once you have tackled the problems of employees feeling afraid of or being unaccustomed to giving feedback, there comes the question of who should give feedback. People will most likely tell you:
- “Managers, obviously.”
- “My manager never gives me feedback.”
- “I’m not best placed to give feedback to a colleague.”
- “My manager would take it very badly if I was to give feedback to a colleague. They would think I was trying to take their job and show off!”
What is best feedback practice?
You’ll no doubt be familiar with the saying “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. You need to choose the right path and stick to it in order to avoid frustrating or demotivating your employees. Below are a few pointers on best practice.
1. Think of feedback as a gift
When you give a team or individual feedback, you are giving them a gift. However, as we all know, some gifts can be a poisoned chalice, while others get thrown out straight away or tucked away in the loft forever. When giving a gift, you need to think about how you give it, the gift itself and whether it meets the recipient’s needs. The same is true of feedback.
2. Feedback is not the preserve of managers
It’s important to dispel the myth that only managers can give feedback. Everyone can give feedback to a colleague or team and should be encouraged to do so. It is of benefit to everyone and helps your employees to progress.
3. Feedback should be specific and practical
When you give feedback, make sure that it is specific and practical enough to be of use to your employee. For example, rather than saying “You should be more ‘salesy’ with customers”, why not try “How about giving customers a smile?”. You should also always feel free to ask for more details when someone gives you feedback.
4. Use “What ifs” or “How abouts”
Using this type of wording to phrase your feedback puts a more positive slant on the conversation. Beginning sentences with “I’m asking you to” or “You should” is condescending and will deter your employee from joining in the conversation or taking up your suggestions. Instead, try using wordings such as “What if...” or “How about...” that invite a response and encourage the employee to act.
5. Give feedback very frequently
Don’t wait to give feedback. A sports coach will debrief their team right after a match, not a month later. The frequency with which you give feedback is hugely important as the more regular feedback is, the more your employees will become used to it. Feeding back to your employees very regularly will help root feedback in your company culture and make it an instinctive reaction. It is by making feedback a regular, routine part of work life that we debunk the many misconceptions surrounding it.
6. When individuals and teams are doing a good job, tell them
Most people think that those who are doing a good job know it. Think again. It is important to draw attention to the quality of your employees’ work and stop thinking that people will automatically know that you value what they do. Remember to thank them for their strong performance, ideas or initiatives.
7. Aim high
When giving feedback to an individual or team, always identify the best possible scenario and encourage them to aim for it. Try to think about how what you are saying will help them progress and develop and always bear in mind that your words can have an impact on future situations.
8. Stay positive
Whatever you say, make sure that your feedback is always positive, constructive and useful. Being negative will make people defensive, whereas being positive will create room for goodwill and avenues for improvement.
9. Focus on the future
When giving feedback, focus on the future. You may be talking about a past event, but you should always bear in mind what’s to come. This will help you debrief people in a way that is constructive and enable them to develop and progress.
10. Identify personal aspirations and goals
When organising a feedback session, ask your employees about their ambitions and aspirations, as well as the challenges they are facing and their objectives for the future. Take the time to understand their personal goals. This will give you invaluable insight you can use to manage your teams and understand those you are debriefing.
11. Talk in terms of a person’s actions, rather than who they are
When giving feedback to someone, never phrase it in terms of who they are. Stick to their actions. For example, never say “You’re not sales-minded”, as this is a reflection on the person themselves and their inherent qualities. Instead, try phrasing it along the lines of “The way you act isn’t focussed enough on sales”. Put simply, try to avoid using the verb “to be”.
12. Create a supportive, conducive environment
It’s important to make sure that the way you give feedback to your employees is positive and constructive. You can do this by following a few simple rules. Be clear about when a debrief starts and ends. Explain what it is about at the outset. Say what the purpose of the debrief is and how it should be conducted (e.g. being constructive and respectful at all times). By creating a supportive environment, you will both be better placed to listen to what the other has to say and you will encourage dialogue, which in turn will ensure that each debriefing session brings about greater change.