It 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 build on previous performance to generate even more effective performance.
Taking a page from an athletic coach’s playbook, we note that they coach immediately after something has happened, and the “player” has a fresh memory of the situation or problem. In the case of a non-sports analogy, it could be the business opportunity, special challenge, or routine task. This is your chance to explain what caused the failure in acceptable performance or handling of the situation and to point out the results or consequences. The next step is to describe or demonstrate the alternative action or handling of the situation and explain or demonstrate why the alternative action would be more effective.
It is important to use your own speaking style and vocabulary. Balance coaching with positive feedback so that the team member maintains a sense of self-worth and esteem. Be very specific about the performance. When you compare current performance to expected performance, team members can see what adjustments are required for future success.
Templates – Consider this template for offering improvement feedback:
“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 alternative 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 sense of self-worth and encouraged her to keep trying.”
Useful feedback must be very specific about performance. For example, 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, there is a chance that your team member will become defensive.
Another situation to be aware of is offering positive feedback when you don’t believe the performance deserved it. This is another way to appear 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.
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.
Generalities – The use of words such as always and never in your feedback imply that you’re describing a long-standing performance trend. Team members may become angry with you for not providing the feedback sooner. You don’t want your team to think their overall performance, rather than the performance in this particular situation, is unacceptable.
Timeliness – If you wait too long to give feedback for improvement, the team could be embarrassed that other people saw there was a problem, but you 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 resistance to and rejection of feedback. Frustration may be caused by difficulty remembering the specific details of the situation.
Defensiveness – Defensiveness or resistance to feedback may cause the person providing feedback to feel as if you don’t value or trust their ideas. Alternatively, it can give the appearance of closed-mindedness, guilt, or unwillingness to be accountable for actions. The person will be reluctant to provide you with feedback in the future, both positive feedback you want and feedback for improvement you need to be more effective in your job.
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