Make no mistake: regular feedback is the glue that holds a productive, engaged team together. The numbers back this up, too. Turnover rates drop by almost 15% when employees are the on the receiving end of regular feedback.
Well-delivered feedback creates cohesion among your team, sparking everyone from the project lead to the newbie intern to invest in the stakes of each project. It helps improve individual employee performance on the job, leading to more profitable interactions with fellow colleagues and customers. Feedback also forges a path to continuous learning for you and your team…and that means continuous innovation, too.
As a manager, giving and facilitating feedback is a skill you need to develop and exercise just like a muscle. You wouldn’t consider winging a marathon, so don’t wing this one either. With some advance preparation and training, you can create a dynamic team that successfully gives and receives feedback.
The first step to providing effective feedback is shockingly simple: recognize your team when they get things right. In surveys of employees, 69% said they would work harder if they felt their work was recognized. It makes sense, right? If no one notices that they’ve been staying late to finesse a project or scored beaming smiles from their 10-top, how motivated are they to do it again? See great work? Show your team you’ve noticed.
Maintaining a positive attitude is important even when you do have to provide a suggestion for improvement. A helpful way to think about “constructive feedback” is to focus on the term itself. It’s called constructive because it’s about the act of building something together, not tearing something down. Maybe you are frustrated about a lapse in team performance, but don’t respond from those feelings of anger. Cool off and respond from a place of confidence–you believe in your team and you know they can, and will, do better.
Create a structure for providing feedback
The most effective feedback responds nimbly to work situations–both good and bad–and are consistently reliable. In today’s more flexible and team-oriented workplaces, the tradition of once yearly performance reviews may be past its sell-by date.
For one thing, waiting for scheduled reviews means you miss many opportunities for smaller corrections. Joel Peterson, Chairman of JetBlue Airways advises shaking things up and not holding back until an intimidating annual review.
“Make a deal with your team to offer (and accept) real-time tweaks to enhance performance,” he suggests. “Indeed, the best opportunities for this are when you ‘catch people in the moment’ — when you can point out a missed cue or a better way a situation could have been handled. Make talking about ‘how we’re doing’ regular and easy.”
On the other hand, providing a structure for more in-depth feedback can really boost team dynamics. Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Rebecca Knight advocates a balance. Set clear goals at the outset of a project and chat with your team about what they are each responsible for and how they will work to keep one another on track. Then, get a regular check-in time on the calendar. How is everyone doing with the new timekeeping system? Does the deadline you’ve set still seem feasible? Encourage your employees to come prepared to each session and ready to share their points of view.
If you need to bring up something more sensitive with an employee, don’t blindside him with a sudden info dump about how he’s not meeting your expectations. Be clear: i.e. “I have something I need to discuss with you,” so he is prepared to hear you out and you have the time to listen and collaborate about steps you can both take to help him reach your standards.
Spell it out in thoughtful statements
It’s more important to deliver feedback in the right manner, than giving it regularly. If you’re new to this, don’t be afraid to practice or even rehearse with a friend. Prepare what you’ll say ahead of time. It can make a huge difference in how your staff receives your feedback, so we’ve compiled some expert advice.
- Replace “but” with “and.” If you say, “That’s a great idea, but…,” your team is going to immediately hinge on the all-important “but” and suspect that your praise is just a prologue to bad news. Rephrasing with a statement like “This part of what you did looks great, and we should…” is more effective because it “includes solutions without criticizing and putting down your team members.”
- Use the “magic” phrase. (Suggested by Daniel Coyne, author of The Talent Code). Okay, so it’s not magic, per se, but it does create an instantaneous sense of belonging and connection for your team. The phrase is “I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them.” In one fell swoop, you telegraph that you believe in your employees and that they are a special group capable of delivering exceptional results.
- Build your feedback with three steps. Leadership coach Eric Nitzberg advises phrasing your feedback in this way: 1. Describe the behavior (be as specific as possible). 2. Describe the impact of the behavior, focusing on the most significant impacts. 3. Share what you would like to change or continue in the future, thus providing a path to success.
If you put all of these suggestions together, you’ll come up with something like this:
“Hey, team. Recently I’ve noticed that Barbara and Tina have taken on most of the closing checklist. They are doing a great job, and I think the rest of the staff could learn a lot from joining in on this task too. Peter, it would be great if you could take over balancing the register from now on. I know, as a team, you three are capable of making closing extremely efficient and easy on all of us.”
Make feedback a team effort
If you truly want your team to function as one, feedback cannot be all top-down. Consider yourself the moderator of feedback settings, but not the only voice meant to speak up. Be open and transparent about your expectations and create situations where your team can work on metacognition–i.e. critical thinking about their own attitude and performance within a task.
Encourage an environment where all team-members recognize the giving and receiving of feedback as part of their leadership roles. Just wrapped a big project? Sit down to debrief. Scheduling time to discuss what went well and what your group could improve on for next time lets you troubleshoot while the input is still fresh.
It’s also important to know your team as you weigh feedback. Overall, novice members of the team crave positive feedback that affirms them in their new roles. More experienced team members are ready for criticism as long as it empowers them to make strategic changes in the future.
When it’s really working well, feedback becomes a vote of confidence from you to your staff. Whether you point out improvements you want to see or simply say, “Thanks for a great month,” your conscientious statements reinforce work bonds. Teams are interconnected groups of people, after all. Much like the nervous system, they work best when communication is clear, fast, and aimed towards a larger purpose.