Providing Effective Feedback
One of the most stressful part of a manager’s responsibilities is providing feedback to employees who are underperforming or doing something incorrectly. Some managers use the sandwich approach to offer feedback: tell them the negative, sandwiched between something nice. In my experience, the problem with the sandwich approach is sometimes the meat of the feedback gets lost between the niceties. It is like trying to find a slice of meat in a Subway sandwich among the bread, lettuce, tomatoes, and other toppings.
Feedback should be direct. Feedback is only negative if delivered in a negative way. During my coaching workshops, I educate managers on being able to provide direct, positive feedback which addresses the issue and works to improve behavior by ensuring it contains the following five elements.
Feedback is Current - when you delay feedback, employees may not realize the impact of their actions. The old adage is no news is good news, and if nobody said I was doing anything wrong, I must be doing it right. Other employees are likely to believe the behavior is acceptable and may follow suit as well. Also, the longer you delay feedback, the more likely the details of employee behavior is forgotten by you and/or the employee.
Feedback is Focused on Specific Behaviors - employee behaviors are observable, measurable, and factual. Feedback should be delivered using “I” statements: I saw, I heard, I reviewed. This lets your employee know you are aware of what they have done, or failed to do; coming from your perspective of the situation.
Sometimes managers address vague situations such as attendance or attitude. Focusing on the specific employee behavior allows the manager to detail what has specifically occurred. Instead of telling the employee he or she has been “frequently late” specifically inform them “I have documented you being late ten minutes or more, six times in the last month.”
Feedback is Not Personal, Judgmental, or Accusatorial - feedback should not be a personal attack on the individual. Dr. Stephen Covey teaches to seek first to understand, then to be understood. After detailing to the employee what I have observed, I then ask them “why?” This allows me to understand the employee’s perspective. This doesn’t necessarily mean you will agree with the employee; it helps you develop a plan to correct the behavior.
Feedback is based on behaviors which Can be Changed - asking why also determines how easily the behavior can be changed. Maybe the employee’s lateness has to do with child care issues, and the employee is taking his/her child to school or daycare as soon as it opens. Perhaps you can work with them on adjusting their schedule.
I spent 22 seasons as a high school wrestling referee. I worked a tournament with another official who lost his middle finger in a work accident. The correct signal for awarding a takedown was to raise both your index and middle finger simultaneously, awarding two points for the score. This official signaled with his index finger and pinky. Regardless of the feedback, there was no way he could change behavior to signal the way other officials did.
Feedback is Focused on How the Employee Can Improve Next Time - one of the reasons leaders get so anxious about providing feedback is because they struggle with how to tell employees they are doing something wrong. Feedback should be less about what is wrong, and more about how to make it better next time. You cannot coach an employee on what not to do without providing instruction on what is expected. Explaining the reason why a task is required to be performed a certain way will increase employee buy-in, and be more likely to change behavior.
Effective Feedback in Action
Assume you are the manager providing feedback to a teller who has experienced a few cash differences. After observing behavior, you notice she is only counting her cash once, and does not use the computer’s calculator. The feedback dialogue may sound something like this:
Manager: “I observed when you count cash, you count it from your drawer once and hand it straight to the member. I was curious why you do it this way?”
Teller: “Oh, I just find it makes the transaction go quicker that way.”
Manager: “I understand that reasoning. The policy says to count it three times, once using the calculator. We train that way because it greatly reduces mistakes. I recommend doing that from now on. Can we agree on that going forward?”
In the example above, the feedback provided was direct and nonjudgmental. The manager understood the employee’s point of view, agreeing that her way was quicker. You informed her of the correct procedure and why it was important to adhere to it. You also asked the question at the end to confirm buy-in. Providing effective feedback in the manner described above will take the stress out of the process, and help improve employee performance.