In an effort to further the development of direct reports, management often attempts to provide effective feedback. While these efforts are usually accompanied with the best of intentions, by and large, they act as a detriment to the overall employee experience. Feedback is one of those tools that when not done intentionally is often done wrong. Part of this intentionality is the idea that it has to be consistent and with a proper understanding of context.
One of the first big mistakes of feedback is that it just happens when necessary. Well, this presupposes that all feedback is corrective – which is a huge part of the problem. We seem to be hardwired to wait for some negative performance to kick off the feedback-flag in our brains. When a direct report does something incorrectly, our old-school management mindsets are ready to swoop in and provide feedback. This type of behavior contributes to a reinforcement of the idea that all feedback is bad. These patterns are recognized almost instantly by employees and once rooted in the mind of a direct report, it’s a tough uphill battle to try and initiate any feedback conversation where the employee doesn’t automatically get defensive. In most companies, this pattern of feedback-on-mistake is all too common (although it’s better than waiting till a month later to correct the mistake…). It is unclear which management training guide is responsible for indoctrinating all our managers with these detrimental practices. Regardless, we must retrain ourselves to think of feedback moments as opportunities to both praise and correct our employees. This is done by providing feedback on a consistent basis. When, as is most often the case, there is nothing corrective to discuss, use these feedback moments as an opportunity to pour sincere praise on employees for the good work they’ve been doing. This consistency will ensure that feedback doesn’t become taboo.
In recent podcast with Joe Hirsch Managing Director of Semaca Partners, we had the opportunity to discuss the ever popular, Feedback Sandwich. One of the most common ways to provide negative feedback is to “soften the blow” by sandwiching the negative feedback between two compliments. While a cursory review of this practice may reveal an amount of merit, the poor context this form of feedback provides ends up doing more harm than good. Joe discusses how by repeatedly providing feedback in this same format, most employees leave the conversation unclear about what to do next. He goes on to say that when folks leave these types of conversations, they are typically hanging on to the last thing that was said. This is the worst-case scenario. Now there is a manager who thinks he/she has provided effective constructive feedback and an employee who think he/she was just praised for a job well done, missing the need for improvement. To hear the rest of the podcase, visit Forging Employee experience. To stay in touch with Joe, visit him on LinkedIn or at his website. His amazing book on feedback is a must read and available on Amazon at The Feedback Fix.
Efforts to bolster the employee experience must include better feedback. To be successful, managers must provide consistent feedback given with the right context (either positive or negative). This will allow for an atmosphere of feedback that doesn’t inherently bring with it an overabundance of negativity.