As a leader, giving feedback is a critical part of your job. At times, this means you develop others by letting them know where you see their unique strengths bringing value to the team or helping them grow into a leadership position. This is the fun part.
But what about when you have to give negative feedback? This part of the feedback loop is just as important for developing your team members, but it can also be the part of the job that gives leaders the most anxiety. Developing others means finding the balance between breaking down unhelpful habits while encouraging winning behaviors.
Remember your goal is for improvement. When you sit down to figure out how to deliver difficult feedback to someone, keep the end goal in focus. Your team needs to feel that your desired outcome is not just to repair or criticize whatever went wrong, but also to help build healthier patterns for their growth and development. Framing it like a partnership to improve and debrief - asking “what can we do differently next time?” - will make it feel like this is for their good and growth, and not just a punishment for messing up.
Keep it timely & relevant. While it can be tempting (especially in the heat of the moment) to stack on examples of previous mistakes or habitual bad practices, it’s best to only address the situation at hand. This helps the person hear specifically what isn’t working and identify a clear path towards improvement and growth versus growing defensive. You want these conversations to be targeted - give them timely, specific feedback that will optimize a gentle but clear impact, and they’ll see a manageable action item they can start working on right away rather than feeling attacked.
Make it a conversation. Like we mentioned in a previous point, try to frame this as a partnership. You’re working together to improve. And while something that went wrong may indeed be the fault of one person, feedback is easier to hear when you don’t feel singled out or loaded down with a ton of blame. Be sure to ask how they felt they performed. Maybe they’re already aware of a misstep. If so, your job becomes walking alongside them to provide solutions that help them improve. If they are unaware of their poor behavior, it’s crucial to spend some time getting on the same page. But taking the time to ask for their perspective always allows them to get ahead of the issue and lead the discussion.
Document it. Although it can feel scary to document difficult conversations, having them recorded is critical to track growth and development. Offering a written game plan for growth offers alignment and allows your team members to reference your conversation when they’re struggling and make real-time changes. If the person improves based on your feedback, having a written record allows you to look back and celebrate growth. More importantly, if changes don’t follow your conversation, you need a written reference point to remind them of the times their behavior has impacted results. Remember, you never want feedback to feel like a surprise, so keeping track of feedback is a great way to create clarity.
Consider adopting a solution like Leadr that allows you to create clarity and track feedback and goals over time from one-on-one meetings, reviews, and other conversations all within one platform.
Create a plan of action. Feedback should always involve providing a solution to the problem. Most people don’t display negative behaviors or results intentionally; they simply don’t have the tools to help them develop in the areas where they may not be naturally skilled. Developing someone means offering tools and practical solutions for improvement.
At Leadr, we do this in our platform by setting goals for ourselves and team members. Goals can have more granular tasks associated with them to offer a consistent visual of exact steps for improvement. Clarity and alignment is critical to ensure growth occurs.
Continue the conversation. Ensure you follow up after difficult feedback conversations. When staff members improve, be sure to celebrate their success. If they’re still falling short, be sure to discuss the issue in your weekly 1:1s and continue to offer solutions for helping them. Research has found that across the board, no matter where someone falls in a generational data group, everyone wants feedback even if it’s hard to hear sometimes. 90% of millennials want candid, frequent feedback, and 85% of GenY and 71% of GenX do too. Give the people what they want. Make it a natural part of your team rhythms.
Ask for feedback yourself. Leading by example is a powerful tool. Showing your dedication to feedback as a leader will allow team members to build trust, knowing it’s a two-way conversation. When your team trusts that your feedback is to help them, you’ll build a relationship where they eventually seek that feedback from you proactively, knowing you have the tools to help them improve and grow.
Caring for and developing your staff means having difficult conversations that help your team members identify areas of growth. While this isn’t easy, it’s necessary for long-term success and worth the challenge.
Leadr is all about engaging and growing every member of your team, and one way we do this is through timely, consistent feedback. If your organization struggles to communicate about, track, or prioritize feedback, our software can help. Our feedback module is only one way our platform helps develop your team members and encourages every team member to become more involved. Want to see how this has played out for other teams like yours? Check out how The Caring Place transformed their culture with Leadr.