Have you ever had an employee ask for feedback?
In theory, this is a good thing. After all, who doesn’t want to lend a hand when a colleague or report asks for help – especially when it pertains to their effectiveness on the job?
Or perhaps you see the need to give an employee feedback, even when they haven’t asked for it.
Either way, you may not feel safe or comfortable as you think about what might happen as a result. Your intention to help may be met by the employee becoming defensive, hurt, or angry.
How do you handle this? How do you provide information that is candid and in their best interest, and do so in a way that doesn’t backfire?
Seven Steps to Providing Supportive Feedback
1. Be thoughtful and specific about what you both want to accomplish.
Whether your employee has initiated the conversation by asking for feedback, or you have recognized that feedback is needed and have asked them to talk to you, you will want to identify why the feedback is needed and how this will help them, their team, and the company going forward. This will help you frame the conversation supportively, and help them to understand impact.
2. Set up an appropriate setting for your conversation together.
Make sure you and the employee have some dedicated time and are in a place that is quiet and confidential. Feedback provided in passing or in a public place is neither respectful nor beneficial.
3. Emphasize to the employee your desire to be helpful by providing feedback.
If they have initiated this conversation, thank them for placing confidence in you as part of their growth trajectory. If, on the other hand, you have initiated the conversation, you can share that part of your role is to help them grow into more of their potential, and that you take this seriously. In either case, you will want to convey that you come with best intentions and the desire to support them.
4. Affirm them first for the value they bring to the team and the company, noting some of the key strengths you appreciate in them, and how these strengths benefit the company.
Be specific. Use illustrations. For example, saying that someone brings a lot of strengths to the table is too vague and may sound dismissive. On the other hand, identifying that someone exhibits a lot of integrity in the way they deliver results on time or include others, for example, during the last major project…well, you can see the difference. Follow the latter illustration as you recognize their value.
5. Pay attention to your language as you point out growth opportunities.
Let’s say that your employee has a habit of over-promising and under-delivering. Rather than say, “You are untrustworthy,” or “I can’t count on you,” use an illustration to show how their behavior impacts the situation. You might say, “You and I agreed on a deadline for your piece of the XYZ Project. When you were unable to meet this, it meant the team was delayed two weeks in completing their portion so that we could deliver to the customer on time.”
6. Tell them what you need and offer your help by coaching them on this going forward.
Following our illustration, ask them, “Can you shed light on this? Is there something I am missing?” Pause and allow them to respond. If they do not realize this problem is isolated, you may want to give a second situation where it occurred. Either way, you can then ask, “How can I help you so that this one area doesn’t hold you back?” Asking, rather than telling, will allow them a growth moment, allowing them to develop awareness about the problem, and to identify any possible solutions.
7. Offer a go-forward plan.
You can share any insights you have, once you have allowed them to respond. And be intentional about checking in on a regular basis to share how you feel it is going. Catch them doing right when they are on time, and let them know you appreciate it. Give them feedback, as well, if it occurs again, and ask them to help you identify how you can work together to avoid it in future. Hold shared accountability in this.
I’d like to hear of your experience in giving feedback. What has worked – or not worked – for you? How do you use this knowledge as you provide feedback going forward?
Patti Cotton helps executives optimize their effectiveness in leading self, others, and the enterprise. Her areas of focus include confidence, leadership style, executive presence, effective communication, succession planning, and masterful execution. With over 25 years of leadership experience, both stateside and abroad, Patti works with individuals, teams, and organizations across industries, providing executive coaching, leadership development, succession planning, change, and conflict management. She is also a Fortune 500 speaker. For more information on how Patti Cotton can help you and your organization, click here.