Feedback is likely the most powerful tool leaders have for achieving engagement and performance improvement. Feedback can be defined as having an open and honest two-way conversation about performance that focuses on specifics and clearly defines desired future behaviors.
The most critical element of the feedback process is the opening feedback statement — the first one or two sentences spoken by the person giving the feedback. These sentences set the tone of the conversation and influence the emotional and behavioral responses of the recipient. They should be descriptive and not judgmental. They should comment on behavior, not personality; be specific, rather than general; and avoid all-or-nothing words, such as “always” and “never.”They should focus on the effect of the behavior rather than the behavior or trait that may have caused it. They should be timely, and they should be upbeat in emphasizing that change is possible.
There are two general types of feedback:
- Reinforcing feedback provides recognition for positive patterns of behavior regularly demonstrated by the employee. It also seeks to encourage new positive behaviors that are not typical of the employee.
- Redirecting feedback seeks to change or redirect an undesired behavior the employee has shown.
For reinforcing feedback, leaders should open with a clear descriptive feedback statement that lets the employee know exactly what behavior is being valued. They should be sure to state the positive effect the behavior has, or will have, on the organization and should not assume the employee already knows this. Providing reinforcing feedback requires leaders to be confident enough in themselves that they can openly praise others.
Redirecting feedback can be more difficult to give. It can be challenging, for example, to keep the employee from deflecting the feedback, blaming others, or justifying the behavior. To make redirecting feedback more effective, leaders must:
* Open with a clear descriptive feedback statement.
* Ask why the person acted in the way he or she did rather than assuming why.
* State the effect the behavior has had on the organization and provide personal reactions to it.
* Collaboratively seek a solution, perhaps by asking how the situation might be rectified or done differently.
* Jointly develop an action plan for the solution.
* Agree on a follow-up procedure or meeting.
* Encourage the employee.