No matter the business or industry-type, a leader wants to see the organization thrive. Even more, a leader desires an organization where employees are performing at their best. Ah, utopia! For people to develop and perform at the top of their game it takes a lot of things - drive, motivation, a set of innate skills and capabilities - but also a dash of guidance and leadership.
As a leader, communication and giving constructive feedback are some of the building blocks to successfully developing employees. However, developing employees takes more than just providing feedback. It takes an open environment that not only welcomes the development, but also fosters it.
My own experience as a leader has tested many of my skills, none more than communication. You learn early on that not every employee responds to the same message nor are they motivated in the same way. To be a compelling communicator I had to provide effective feedback while being an inspirational coach.
It is important to point out that feedback is data. When shared, feedback allows the employee to be self-aware of their job performance and the impact of his/her skills and behaviors. Constructive feedback is crucial to an employees’ career development, engagement level, retention and motivation. Positive feedback strengthens performance and is generally the easiest type of feedback to provide. Delivering corrective feedback is a daunting task for many; however, when it is handled well, the experience should have a positive effect.
Constructive feedback should be…
- Sincere – Candid feedback, positive or corrective, should be genuine and honest. After all, you are trying to develop an employee. When administering corrective feedback avoid having a conversation in a tone that exhibits anger, frustration, disappointment or sarcasm. Sure, those feelings may be swimming around in your head, but the style in which you deliver the message can be more impactful than the actual message itself.
- Specific – Being vague does not help. Statements like “You did a great job” or “You need to be better at completing tasks on time” are too ambiguous. They don’t provide an employee with enough details into the behaviors you would like to see continued or changed. It’s also a good practice to leave out the “but…” or sandwiching negative feedback between positive to soften the blow as it can often backfire. When you tell the person what your expectations are, what you appreciate or what your understanding of a situation is, the outcome can be better for both you and the employee.
- Timely – Most employees want to know when they are doing something right or when they are not, and there is no time like the present. Providing feedback immediately or as close to the action or behavior happening is generally the most effective. With that comes the old “in right place and right time” quote. First, when corrective feedback needs to be addressed, it is best avoided when emotions are running high; yours, or the person you want to give the feedback to. This is when waiting is suggested. Second, where to provide the constructive feedback is just as important. Using a private setting (like an office or meeting room) will make the employee feel more at ease and allow for no disruptions.
Leaders should not expect to witness meaningful change by simply sharing feedback. If a leader does not outline what worked, what didn’t and how to improve, how can they expect the employee to perform to their full potential? Coaching takes feedback to the next level. A good coach has the ability to deliver the facts and move beyond it by creating an environment that welcomes change and development.
Without a coaching dialogue, leaders often solve the issues without asking questions. This puts the employees at a disadvantage, especially when the feedback is corrective. Helping the employee think through the challenge and come up with their own solution not only teaches them to find the answer themselves, it develops good problem solving skills.
Lastly, coaching is about support. It is key for the employee to walk away from an interaction understanding the importance of the discussion, yet still feel encouraged and motivated to continue.
5 Coaching Principles:
- Self-Esteem - Employees need to feel respected and have a sense of self worth in order to be motivated, confident, innovative and committed. Employees who feel valued are more engaged and willing to share responsibility, confront challenges, and adapt well to change. It is the role of a coach to provide useful responses that are empathic, supportive and exploratory.
- Active Listening - Listening is a powerful way to build trust and improve communication. To listen actively means to pay careful attention to what the employee is saying. Demonstrate this by being attentive and maintaining eye contact while the employee speaks. Show understanding and empathy by paraphrasing or reflecting back what was expressed. This exercise will encourage your employees to share their feelings and ideas with you.
- Involve the Employee - Employees want to have a say in how they do their work. They want to be involved in decisions that affect them. Involvement increases the chance that innovative ideas and solutions will surface. A strong supervisor will ask employees for their suggestions on how to solve a problem or improve performance.
- Share the Why - Employees always want to know “why?” and that includes when it comes to their performance. When you are open with them, you’ll encourage them to trust you, be open in return, and to accept responsibility for improving. By sharing the rationale for your decisions, you will help them understand how their work contributes to the goals of the department/unit and the organization as a whole.
- Provide Support - As a leader, you are in a special position to provide support to your employees. This may include mentoring, providing resources or reassigning duties. When providing support do not remove the responsibility; it is important to guide the employee and let them achieve success on their own.
Successful organizations know that ongoing feedback and coaching go hand-in-hand. Together they can be used to reinforce the appropriate behavior, teach new skills, and motivate employees to pursue higher levels of performance, as well as correct performance shortcomings. Done the right way coaching and constructive feedback can be the roadmap to success for developing an employees’ potential.