Feedback is a Gift

Imagine your company managed its finances as it manages its employees; ignoring red flags, not
following up with debtors and sitting down once a year to have a retrospective conversation about
what went well and what didn’t. You wouldn’t be in business very long!

Yet this is how managers often treat their most valuable resource, people. There is a very real cost associated with failing to give appropriate feedback, including confused priorities, missed
opportunities and disengaged employees.

Giving feedback is a key management responsibility, but it’s the one managers avoid the most - particularly when the feedback is likely to cause discomfort.

Consider the following 5 pointers when engaging in feedback conversations:

1. Set the scene. Regular dialogue forms part of your relationship with your team, extend this
to include feedback. When a new member joins have a ‘positioning conversation’. Explain
that as manager your role is to provide candid feedback, which you will do on an ongoing
basis. Clarify that the purpose of this feedback is to support the persons development. The
objective is to embed regular feedback as a team norm and create a culture of continuous
improvement.

2. Check yourself. Challenge your motivation in offering the feedback, whether it is positive or
negative. Make sure it's not your need for control, your value judgements or bias that are
driving you to comment on an aspect of someone's performance. Give the other person the
benefit of the doubt by believing that they made a good effort and didn't fail to deliver
intentionally. It is important to consider whether you communicated your expectations
clearly. That doesn’t mean that you can’t give the feedback, but it will make it more
balanced.

3. Absolute Honesty is critical as it demonstrates:
- Respect for the other person
How would you feel if your manager was unhappy with an aspect of your performance,
but didn’t tell you? Perhaps causing you to miss out on promotion or a pay increase. Is
that fair? Yet as managers we often put our team members in this position. Our own
unease can cause us to dilute feedback or try to rescue the other person from a difficult
message. What kind of a manager is prepared to set someone up for a lifetime of failure
rather than experience a few minutes discomfort?
- Respect for yourself
Difficult issues don’t go away just because you ignore them, they will only escalate. At
some point, as the persons manager, you will be called to account. Whether it’s your line
manager, HR or a legal representative – somebody will ask you to demonstrate how you
made the person aware that their performance wasn’t at the required standard. You
didn’t? Why on earth not?

4. Respectful Language. The best feedback leaves the other party feeling respected and safe
while understanding the challenge. This is achieved through the careful use of language.
Where possible, avoid judgemental words like ‘why’ ‘never’ ‘always’ and ‘should’ and don’t
overuse the words ‘you’ and ‘your’.

5. Absolute Clarity. Discomfort with difficult messages can lead managers to talk in general
terms, be vague or even cryptic. In addition, we all process information through our own
filters. A key component of giving feedback is to establish a shared understanding of the
issue. In a non-judgemental way, show or tell the person what they could have done
differently. Have them reflect back their understanding of what has been discussed. Clarity
allows the person to self-regulate and reduces the mangers need to micro-manage the
situation.

Remember, feedback is a two-way conversation and it takes the engagement of both parties to find effective resolution to any difficulties.