Feedback - it's not compulsory but it is advantageous

I was buying something on eBay the other week (baking supplies, I have an addiction to edible glitter and rainbow sprinkles) and I looked at the feedback on one of the sellers. They had good reviews and I noticed that they had written ‘Feedback is not compulsory but it is advantageous’. It made me think about my own experiences of giving and receiving feedback and why, in my experience, so many managers are uncomfortable giving feedback to their teams.

When talking to groups of managers about the importance of feedback, I always ask them to consider their own experiences.  ‘Think of a time when you received well delivered, constructive feedback, even if it was formative’ I say. Delegates usually talk about inspirational bosses who took time to help them develop and improve their performance or the power in understanding how to do better. Generally, people light up when they remember these experiences and have carried the advice with them. However, when challenged on giving feedback to their own colleagues and teams, their body language changes, becoming closed, even uncomfortable at times. So why is this?

People, particularly new, inexperienced managers are often scared to give feedback. They worry about what they’re ‘allowed’ to say. My advice is always to remember the following golden rules. Firstly, give your feedback in a timely manner. Don’t wait until weeks after the event or worse still, until the employees next scheduled performance review. There should be no surprises in a bi annual performance review, they should merely be a summary of all the feedback and objectives you’ve set throughout the year. Respond to situations as they arise.

Secondly, be specific and focussed in the feedback that you’re giving. ‘You did that wrong’ or ‘well done’ aren’t going to cut the mustard. Talk about what went wrong or was really good. Describe examples of things you have observed. Describe situations as you have witnessed them. Not only does this make the feedback more useful, it removes any subjectivity and doesn’t become about opinions or perception.  It also allows the feedback to be sincere which increases the impact.

Thirdly, make the feedback outcome based. It can be uncomfortable to deliver a negative message. However, if you offer suggestions, even concrete objectives, on how to improve, that can have a remarkable impact. Helping others develop new skills or positive behaviours is the best outcome of giving feedback. And if you do set any objectives, make a note of them and share them with the person involved, that way, you can review them and continue the cycle of feedback.

Lastly, try to remain positive in your language, tone and body language. I once had a manager who delivered every message in the same monotone and never made eye contact. The message he was delivering was always totally lost in his negativity. I don’t remember any advice he ever gave me (and I’m sure there was useful information) all I remember is the manner in which it was delivered. Don’t dilute your message!

So what’s the point of all this? All the evidence suggests that the more involved employees are, the more engaged they are and business performance improves. For me, these are by products of doing a job well – developing people and encouraging feedback. Wouldn’t it be brilliant for someone in your team to light up when talking about you in a training session in the future?

Sarah Wright is a Director of Sarah Wright HR (sarah@wright-hr.co.uk). She has a broad range of HR and Learning and Development experience, having worked with both blue chip organisations and SME’s. She has a passion for people and loves working with SMEs to really make a difference in their business by listening to and developing their people.