Critical Feedback is the Key to Excellence

Ray_DiDonna_1000px_2015The speed at which the world changes seems to move at a faster pace all the time.  The same holds true in the business world — speed is everything, technology is everywhere, and it affects everyone at every level.  But, no matter how many things change, and no matter how quickly, there are some things that just should not be. For example, as a manager, your job is to get the best results possible from your team.  To accomplish this, you must be able to provide constructive feedback and meaningful coaching on a regular basis.  And, by far, the most impactful way to deliver feedback is by doing it in-person — one-on-one — not by email, and definitely not by texting.

One of the most important things to remember when giving someone feedback is to treat your employee the way you would want to be treated in the same situation.  If you’re not getting the job done, would you want to be kept in the dark by a boss who doesn’t want to hurt your feelings?  Of course not.  You want to know where you stand because we don’t improve if we don’t know we need to improve.  Critical feedback is the primary tool we use to help us perform better.  If, as a manager, you have difficulty delivering critical feedback and, thus, hesitate to criticize under-performance, then you are effectively hindering your team’s ability to succeed by withholding important information necessary to get the job done.

Great managers know that when it comes to actually providing constructive feedback, there are three keys to success: feedback must be timely, candid and clear.  First, the best feedback is provided as soon as possible to the observed behavior/performance.  Waiting until the next review will not provide the right reinforcement.  If a team member does something great, tell them immediately and, when appropriate, recognize them publicly. On the other hand, waiting to have a critical discussion about performance that occurred months ago will lead to surprise, disillusionment and perhaps even resentment!  You now have an employee left wondering what else you haven’t told them.  Rest assured that providing critical feedback does not get easier if you wait longer – for either of you.

Next, you need to provide feedback that is candid—honest and straightforward.  Feedback that is simply an objective assessment of someone’s performance, compared to agreed upon goals and targets, is more powerful and effective than trying to “sugar-coat” a tough message.  Again, think about how you want to be treated.  No doubt, you just want an honest appraisal of how you are doing so you can improve your own performance.  Well, that’s what your employees want as well, so they can also do their best work.

Finally, the feedback you provide must be perfectly clear.  It’s your job to make sure the recipient understands exactly what their issue is.  Generalized feedback such as:  “you’re not doing a good job” is really not helpful.   However, something clear like:  “during the presentation you gave, you failed to recognize your audience’s reactions and adapt to improve buy-in” is not only clear, but it gives you a better opportunity to have a discussion, and work together to figure out how best to improve for the future. That’s the kind of management style that will promote teamwork and get the best results possible! Learn more about techniques such as this to add to your repertoire during my November 6th Webinar The Actuarial Manager’s Toolkit.