Feedback … aargh!

Performance FeedbackIt is important to share with team members when they could have done something more effectively. This includes what they could have done instead, and why the alternative would have been better. Feedback structured in this fashion helps the team member see how they can improve their performance and achieve their goals. It is important to build on previous performance to generate even more effective performance.

If we take a page from an athletic coach’s playbook, they coach immediately after something has happened. In the sports analogy, the “player” has a fresh memory of the situation or problem. It is critically important to point out the results or consequences of what was done or not done. The next step is to describe or demonstrate the alternative action or handling of the situation.


The technique that I am about to describe is a general template. You should be careful to use your own speaking style and vocabulary. One of the key factors of this technique is that you do not want to “trash” any team member. It’s important to balance coaching feedback for improvement with positive feedback to maintain a team member’s self-worth and thereby their openness to feedback. To use the vernacular expression, “Even in a pile, there must be a rose in there, somewhere.”

The next important step is to be very specific about the performance. When you compare current performance to expected or required performance, team members can clearly see what adjustments are required for future success. The feedback must also be timely and as near the actual performance as possible. While the details or situation are fresh, you’ll be able to explain exactly what the team member did that needed improvement. This gives the team member the best chance to fully recall what was said or done, and why these actions must be improved before the next similar situation.

Consider this template for offering feedback for improvement: “Frank, when you were teaching Ruth to operate the scanner, you told her she just wasn’t absorbing it. She became upset and afraid to ask questions. You need to go easier on her.”  You will notice that this feedback doesn’t describe an alternative or the result it would achieve.

An alternative template could be framed like this: “Frank, when you were teaching Ruth to operate the scanner, you told her she just wasn’t absorbing it. She got angry and became afraid to ask questions. A better approach would have been to acknowledge that it’s difficult to operate the scanner and that her questions are appropriate. That would have maintained her self-esteem and encouraged her to keep trying.

Providing useful feedback is not easy, but one effective technique is to be very specific about the performance. If all you can offer is generalities, bad things could happen. You may give the impression that you are insincere. Saying “good job” but not supporting it with details makes it seem as if you don’t know what was done or why it was valuable. Actually, you could increase the chances that your team member will become defensive. You also do not want to be perceived as “pushing” too hard for suggesting improvements if the person or team is generally doing well.

It is also important to avoid offering positive feedback when it is undeserved, because it will appear to be insincere, or worse, dishonest. Team members may consider you as being manipulative and wonder about your real motives for providing the feedback. At this point you have lost credibility.

Further, if your feedback is based on assumptions or guesses, you weaken your feedback and give team members the impression you’re making excuses for them and don’t believe what you’re saying. It is imperative to give enough specific information about what needs to be done differently.

Avoid Generalities – If you use words like always and never in your feedback, it sounds like you’re describing a long-standing performance trend. Team members may even become angry with you for not providing the feedback sooner. You don’t want your team to think their general performance, not just the performance in this situation, is unacceptable, because that is demoralizing.

Timeliness – If you wait too long to give feedback for improvement, the team could be embarrassed that other people saw there was a problem while they didn’t. In some cases anger may foment because it’s too late to do anything about it. Team members may feel insulted that you even brought it up. After all, if it was so important, why didn’t you say something when it happened? This is a typical case of resistant to feedback. Finally, frustration may be caused by difficulty remembering the specific details of the situation.

Defensiveness – Feedback, by definition is a two-way communication. As a team leader, defensiveness or resistance to feedback may cause a team member to feel as if you don’t value or trust their ideas. On the other hand, a defensive team member may give the appearance of closed-mindedness, guilt, or unwillingness to be accountable for their actions. Both the team leader and member may be reluctant to provide feedback in the future.

Related Articles:   Coaching … how did I do?   and   When an Associate Struggles … COACH!

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James E. McClain is the author of Successful Career Development: A Game Plan, the book upon which some of our training programs are based. He has over 30 years' experience as a corporate HR executive, small business owner with ongoing experience in career development and as a college instructor. His educational background includes a B.S. and Masters degrees Education and Certification in Financial Planning. Our promise is that "you can pay more for training but you can not buy better training." The mission is to deliver the most effective and cost effective training and development programs.

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Posted in Coaching, Performance Management, Professional Skills

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