Giving feedback is one of the most important—and most challenging—tasks all managers face.
For first-time managers, it can be especially difficult.
No longer a peer to coworkers, new leaders take on the role of “boss.”
Instead of focusing solely on their own career and development, they must develop their teams and work toward achieving broader company goals.
One of the best ways to help a team improve is to provide frequent, effective feedback. But what exactly is feedback? And how can first-time managers deliver criticism without isolating their team?
Three key points to remember about feedback are:
- It should be specific and fact-based.
- It should be “wise” and focus on employee development.
- It should be ongoing and not a one-time event.
What Is Feedback?
Feedback can be in the form of one-on-one meetings, performance reviews, or a simple conversation at the coffee maker.
Feedback can be positive or negative, but the common theme is that it is actionable information about how someone is doing in meeting specific goals.
“We all know receiving feedback can be awkward or painful at times,” says William Gentry, author of Be the Boss Everyone Wants to Work for: A Guide for New Leaders. “Delivering it can be just as awkward and painful. But providing positive and negative feedback to your direct reports, staff, or team is the only way they will know how they are performing well, or if they are not, how they can become better.”
In other words, giving feedback means holding employees accountable for their responsibilities. Without feedback, teams won’t know when they are performing well and when they are not.
Helpful feedback guides employees; that’s why giving it is crucial to being a successful manager.
Just the Facts, Please!
Confronting employees with negative feedback can be uncomfortable, especially for first-time managers.
Telling a former coworker, and possibly friend, that they are not doing something well isn’t easy. Emotions can run high. That’s why it’s important to stick to the facts.
Gentry’s book offers a simple, three-step model for giving nonjudgmental feedback—SBI: Situation, Behavior, Impact.
As the book explains, this process can be a tool for giving both positive and negative feedback.
1. Situation–Describe the specific situation in which the behavior occurred. For example, “This morning at the 11 a.m. team meeting …”
Avoid generalities, such as “one morning last week,” as they can lead to confusion.
2. Behavior–Describe the actual, observable behavior being discussed. Keep to the facts. Don’t insert opinions or judgments.
For example, say, “You interrupted me while I was telling the team about the monthly budget,” instead of “You were rude.”
3. Impact–Describe the results of the behavior. If the effect was positive, words like “happy” or “proud” help underscore the success of the behavior.
For example: “I was impressed when you addressed that issue without being asked.”
If the effect of the employee’s behavior was negative and needs to stop, managers can use words such as “troubled” or “worried.”
For example, “I felt frustrated when you interrupted me because it broke my chain of thoughts.”
Because you are describing exactly what happened and explaining your true feelings—not passing judgment—the employee is more likely to listen and learn.
Someone who has gotten into the habit of interrupting may not have realized the effect of his or her behavior.
An employee who took the initiative on a project may decide, after positive feedback, to continue being proactive.
Give Wise Feedback
Wise feedback is given with the understanding that the ultimate goal is to support and help that employee.
In his book, Gentry suggests using a variation of the following phrase (based on the work of researcher David Yeager) when giving tough feedback: “I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations, and I know that you can reach them.”
Such a phrase demonstrates belief in employees and their ability to learn from mistakes or ineffective behavior.
Wise feedback is about teaching and supporting employees; it is never about “fixing” them or implying there is something “wrong” with them.
Keep It Going
The most effective feedback is given more than just once or twice a year at formal performance reviews. It’s timely, meaning that it’s offered soon after the incident, and it’s ongoing.
This allows team members to adjust their behavior, as needed, and then get more input on how they are progressing on their goals.
Keep in mind, however, that in especially emotional or stressful situations, it’s okay to wait to give feedback until both parties have calmed down. Remember SBI, and stick to the facts!
To learn more about what it takes to become a successful manager, see William Gentry’s book, Be the Boss Everyone Wants to Work for: A Guide for New Leaders.