Giving and receiving feedback is one of the challenging tasks that many people in various leadership positions struggle with. Many organizations, large and small, have a huge potential of leaders and managers, who can help them innovate and create high performance and growth; yet, many of these companies never think of capturing the amazing potential in giving regular feedback. Giving and receiving feedback is a coaching and management development tool that can foster engagement and improve performance faster if applied more appropriately.

Aside from being an important part of effective communication, giving and receiving feedback is a powerful technique used by high-performance leaders to set clear expectations, particularly in team environments. When deployed effectively, feedback reduces ambiguity, supports capacity building, and is a greater part of an impactful result-focused coaching process.

Regardless the huge popularity of feedback has as a universal performance improvement tool, many managers and leaders still struggle to apply it in their everyday leadership. A study shows that the absence of an effective feedback system in many organizations contributes to poor performance.

Why managers resist giving and receiving feedback

When managers fail to give feedback, it is often that they are afraid that they would hurt the other person. The fear of hurting others or being disliked therefore restrain them from having a quality conversation about how the employee’s performance could get better. On the other side of the coin are managers, who will never bother to seek, or receive feedback from others for fear of exposing their weakness or incompetence. Overall, not giving or receiving feedback is counter-productive to high performance. Managers who resist it are failing in their responsibility of developing their staff and contributing to their organization’s growth.

Guide for giving and receiving feedback

The first step towards achieving high performance and accountability is creating a feedback-friendly environment. A feedback-friendly environment is one where all levels of employees feel safe to give and receive feedback. Creating such environment requires the support of senior management in endorsing that constructive feedback, whether positive or negative, will not be used personally against anyone in the Organization except for improving the individual’s work performance. Once support is available, the following 5 steps can provide a guide for giving and receiving feedback in your organization.

1. Set a clear performance goal

If giving and receiving feedback must be effective in your team, you must clearly communicate the exact performance standard that everyone must achieve. Do not assume that your people understood what they should do, instead let them know what is expected of them in black or white. The point I am making here is to help your staff to clearly understand “what a good performance standard looks like” in your team or organization. They should equally know who is responsible for what actions, and how you plan to measure the actions and results. It is only after employees have understood the level of performance you expect from them that you can hold them accountable through feedback. Until then, you cannot appraise, judge, and even punish anyone for poor performance.

2. Make feedback on-going

It is surprising how many managers still conduct the traditional “365 Days” annual appraisal system and expect their employees to produce great results. If you still conduct a 365-day appraisal in your organization, odds are you are keeping records of your employees’ errors and mistakes until such a day in the year, when you discuss them. A more productive approach to giving and receiving feedback is making feedback ongoing. Have a conversation immediately following an incidence, but be careful not to do so when the staff is feeling hurt or angry, tired, or in the middle of an assignment. The moment you have had the initial conversation, you can help the staff to set a goal to work towards improvement; agree a timeline for achieving the improvement also. Then hold brief weekly review conversations, say 30 minutes, to check on the staff’s progress.

3. State the feedback purpose in clear terms

The goal of giving and receiving feedback is improving the other person’s performance or behaviour. It works better to start a feedback session by stating that purpose early enough in your conversation than leaving the staff guessing until the end.

For example, you can say:

“The general manager has complained to me twice about the several errors on your report in the past two weeks. I want us to discuss the development with a view of finding ways to improve your performance in that area.”

If you are conducting the feedback conversation to acknowledge a job well done, you could say:

“After reviewing our last quarter’s performance report, I noticed a jump in your sales figure; and you know sales is such a key performance index in this organization, so I want to appreciate you and your team for putting up such superior performance and result.”

4. Focus on the staff’s area of control

It is extremely important to not beat around the bush when giving feedback. Be sure that the issues you are feeding back on are those that your employees have control over, and can work on immediately afterward. Before having a feedback conversation, I recommend that you review the staff’s job description to ensure that the issues you want to discuss fall within his or her job control. It is important also, to not overwhelm the staff or inundate him or her with too many issues in one sitting of your conversation as that could frustrate them. Focusing on irrelevant matters will lead to waste of productive times.

5. Communicate appropriately

Giving and receiving feedback can lead to creating and sustaining high performance if managers can learn to communicate their observations more appropriately. For example, focusing too much on an employees’ mistakes without acknowledging their past achievements,  no matter how little, can be counter-productive to an effective feedback. Be careful also when making a generalizing statement. It is advisable to ask more questions, listen actively, and then, comment on the specific areas impacting on your staff’s  performance than making generalizing statements. Generalizing statements are those containing such phrases as “You always…..”, “You never.….” or “Everybody complains about your…..” These sweeping statements can cause more damage to your staff’s emotions than meeting your high-performance expectations of them. So, if the point you want to make is based on your personal perception, make it clear that it is your perception and seek clarification from the staff.

For example,

You can say:

“I perceived some frictions between you and two members of your team last week, and I fear that might have a negative impact on your deadlines; do you see it that way?”

Finally, giving and receiving feedback can transform a person’s behaviour, improve his or her performance, and lead to increased productivity. High achievers understood that they have to give and receive feedback regularly to improve their own performance and skills.

Author: Nkem Mpamah
Nkem Mpamah is Nigeria's #1 business coach, leadership, and strategy consultant for the services industry. Nkem coaches successful entrepreneurs to improve performance, increase competitiveness, and expand their entrepreneurial freedoms. He is the founder of Cognition Global Concepts, and creator of the Growth Syndicate Program." Nkem is author of "The ART of Achievement and Fulfillment", and "The Entrepreneur".

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