Providing feedback to employees is essential to improving their performance on the job. But how do you ensure that you’re delivering feedback your people will actually hear and heed?
In Ignite the Third Factor: How Do You Get Someone Else Committed to Reaching Their Full Potential?, Peter Jensen sets out clear distinctions between effective and ineffective feedback. His advice reflects his long experience as a sports psychologist who coached Canadian athletes at seven Olympics—including gold-medal winners such as the 2010 women’s hockey team. Jensen, CEO of Toronto-based Performance Coaching Inc., offers these five rules to providing feedback that gets results:
1. Don’t leave your employees guessing what you mean:
If you paint a clear and detailed picture, people will be able to self-adjust their performance. The more specific you are, the better. Instead of saying “Great presentation today, Daniel,” be specific about what Daniel did that was so impressive. Offering only vague encouragement may boost his confidence, but you can’t count on him repeating what he did right if you haven’t spelled out what that was.
2. Describe rather than judge:
Jensen says learning to separate your observations from your interpretation and evaluation of them is at the core of offering effective feedback. If you judge the employee’s actions, she’ll likely take exception to your evaluation and tune out your message about what she should have done differently. But it will be tougher for her to dismiss your feedback if you focus on your observations. For example, if you saw an employee during a meeting shake her head and make an angry facial expression, rather than say “You looked mad in there” you should describe how she reacted and ask what went wrong to cause that.
3. Focus on the behaviour, not the person:
The key to improving, changing or reinforcing a behaviour is to provide feedback about the behaviour itself, not the employee. If someone on your staff has a bad habit of interrupting people in mid-sentence during meetings and presentations, focus on the interruption by saying, for instance, “Adam, you interrupted Jacques three times during his presentation this morning. A rule of thumb is to let people finish talking before you comment or ask questions.” This way Adam will understand that it’s his bad habit, not his personality, that’s the problem.
4. Avoid self-serving feedback:
You should provide feedback for one reason only: to help improve a person’s performance. Achieving this requires maintaining a good relationship with the employee, which entails resisting the temptation to indulge in self-serving behaviour. This is not the place to get even or to show that you’re smarter than the employee.
5. Understand that once is not enough:
The most effective way for an employee to get your message, writes Jensen, is “to communicate it over and over again, as often as you can, in as many ways as possible.” Just because you said it once doesn’t mean she got the message.