Feedback to employees helps

How are you doing on your job? Are you just loaded with feedback; overwhelmed with knowledge about what you're doing well and what you could improve? You're snickering, I can tell. You're probably saying, "The only way I know I'm doing OK is that my desk is still there in the morning." 

Managers are nervous. They're worried about how to tell employees things they need to hear. They don't want to deal with arguments, denial, blame, and worse--lawsuits. So many of them are just plain scared silent. Others don't know the words to use so they manage by mental telepathy and subtle hints. 

Let's stop the charades. We need to know and they want to tell us. So let's get on with it. Managers, rather than doing the 2-step, tell 'em straight. Employees, rather than feeling victimized and defensive, listen to what they have to say. 

Here are some ground rules for delivering a clear message that's easier to hear:

  • Only describe behavior you see. Guessing motives and making judgments is sure to shut down listening. Saying, "Your reports look sloppy-like you just don't care" is a lot harder to hear than, "This report has 25 typos in it and the paragraphs seem out of order." Wipe subjective words out of your vocabulary such as, "insensitive, lazy, inept, careless, stupid," they will only infuriate and cause resentment.
  • Tell the person immediately. In a workshop I conducted recently, a participant said, "My boss read me the riot act in my performance review last week. He said that my work had better improve or I could be out of a job. I asked him how long he had felt this way and he said about six months! Well, why didn't he say anything before then? It was like he was keeping it secret so I would fail."
  • Offer advice just before they can use it. Notice the difference between these two approaches: "You haven't smiled at a customer all week. You've been short-tempered and discourteous." or "Lana, I was observing your work with customers this morning. Before you go back to work this afternoon I want to remind you to smile, ask how you can help them, use their name and thank them for doing business with us." Which comment sounded like punishment and which sounded like coaching? Remember that a good athletic coach gives advice just before the player reenters the they have a chance to correct their performance.
  • Be specific and use examples. A former boss of mine once called me into his office and said, "I think you know what kind of job you're doing." I thought I knew but I decided not to take any chances. “Not really,” I said. "You're doing a good job,” he said. End of story. No examples. No suggestions for doing things better. No specifics about what I did that he liked or why he liked it. No opportunity to revel in my successes or brainstorm about how to do better.
  • Describe the change you want. Imagine being told, "Your communications skills need improvement." Swell. Now what? You're wondering, "Is it the way I write? The way I make presentations?" This feels like a hit and run to me. The person who delivers the message has a responsibility to clearly describe what you're doing and then help you see how to change it.
  • Find their reason to change, not yours. Everyone changes their behavior for their own reasons. Maybe they want to get ahead, to have a successful project, to be seen as the expert… Whatever it is, appeal to it. Here are two openers: "I know you've put in a lot of time on this project and you want it to succeed. So I know you'd want to know if there was something getting in the way..."Compare that with this: "I've been hearing a lot of complaints from the accounting department about the way you've been handling the new project...and it doesn't look good for my department." Which opener is likely to get willing commitment to change? The first one makes you feel as though your manager has your best interests at heart, while the second one sounds like a threat and causes a defensive response.

We all need encouragement and advice and few of us hear enough of it. Following these rules will make it easier to deliver and create the open, coaching environment that is the foundation of continuous improvement.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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