Feeback Tips for Team Leaders
Many who take a leadership role in their teams find one of the most challenging responsibilities they face is the need to apply firm, fair and effective guidance to a team member through well thought out feedback.
Failing to get this right usually leads to the best of your team leaving (you are not doing a good enough job of leading to earn and retain their respect) and the worst of your team bunkering down (they fear losing their job more than they fear being occasionally mauled by an incompetent or at least ham-fisted leader, and so they’ll hang in there).
The need for correction and guidance is likely to arise where team members’:
- performance falls short at odds of their goals/KPIs or performance standards; and/or
- behaviour falls outside of the enterprise’s Vision, Mission & Values (VMV) or other aspects of its behavioural “guidance system”(Code of Conduct, Team Charter, Customer Charter, etc).
Perhaps second only to the discomfort levels associated with providing correction are those associated with giving praise for good performance or behaviour and so, like correction, praise is often given infrequently, badly and too late.
Ironically, while the two situations may seem like polar opposites at first glance, they are two sides of the one coin, called “feedback” and have a common purpose: Winning more of desirable behaviour and outcomes.
We know from experience that many leaders – old and new – hope that with time they will eventually just “grow out of their discomfort and incompetence”. They are the ones operating on the belief that “practice makes perfect” when in fact “practice makes permanent”. Keep practicing the wrong thing and you get really good at doing it – the wrong way.
Keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result is a quick test of insanity!
So, what do you need to change? Just how do you get good at providing corrective feedback in a way that positively guides, supports and develops people to deliver the types of behaviour and performance that is satisfying for them, satisfying for you, and good for the enterprise? How do you get good at providing praise or positive feedback in a way that avoids making people cringe, or question your sincerity, or take advantage?
Your adopting a system for providing effective feedback would be an excellent start. Sure, you will have to concentrate on following the steps at first (conscious competence) but before long you’ll move into the realm of unconscious competence in which you and the party to whom you are providing feedback will both flourish.
So what is this System?
1. Form a Clear Goal
Before providing feedback of any type, focus very clearly on your desired end result, one key component of which must be how you want the other party to feel at the end of the process, and what you would like them (and others, if there an audience) to do as a result of your feedback.
It has been said that the most important outcome of any meeting is how they participants feel at the end of it. Bringing that to mind for every meeting is likely to deliver you some surprising results, and never less so than when you are providing feedback.
If your desired end result is to have your team member positively accept:
- why (the reason, rule or standard against which) their performance or behaviour is below standard;
- what result or outcome they need to deliver to achieve improvement;
- how they can achieve that outcome (this may entail training, mentoring, coaching or other behaviour modification therapies – your telling someone to “shape up” won’t cut it);
- what if (the consequences, if) they do or don’t bring about the required changes and improved outcomes.
If the purpose of your meeting is to begin the process of moving this person out of the team, be equally clear on that outcome.
As a clarification technique, write out your desired end result as a fait accompli (or affirmation) for yourself, “It is 5pm and as a result of successfully applying my knowledge and training to a challenging situation I have guided one of my team to commit to a positive course of action that will serve them and our company well.”
There’s nothing better to calm and focus your mind than to commit to achieving a clear, positive outcome. The resultant shift in your body language will also have a positive effect on your team member before you speak a word.
2. Consciously Choose your Attitude and Intent
Your attitude and intent will determine your body language and your body language comprises the vast, unspoken component of your communication with any fellow being. So, take as much care in consciously choosing your attitude and intent as you would your clothes, content and words for a key presentation.
Two of the most resourceful attitudes you can adopt in a correctional situation are:
- Optimism. If you believe you will get a positive result for all concerned, you are half way there (the other half depends on knowledge, preparation and skill).
- Empathy. Put yourself in your team member’s shoes, and treat them as you would wish to be treated if you were in their circumstances (but, also in fairness, if you had done or not done what they have done).
Consciously choose your intent. Again, there are some intentions more resourceful than others when providing correction but two of the most useful are:
- Liking. If you choose to like the good aspects of the other person (and everyone has them) this will come across in your body language and soften the situation for your team member without necessarily detracting from the firmness of your message.
- Fairness. Be prepared to listen to the other side of the story first (seek first to understand, before seeking to be understood) Be equally committed to keeping your company’s Vision, Mission and Values central to the situation – and to your conversation – and you will find you won’t lose your way among excuses.
In fact, if there are two ways in which you could explain something and one of those ways used words just like but not the same as your VMV words, use your VMV words instead. Every time you use them, you reinforce and add nuance and meaning to them for yourself and your team.
3. Evaluate the Behaviour, Endorse the Person
Whenever you wish to apply correction to another person be aware that what you are seeking is a correction or change in behaviour and what gives rise to it – not a change in the person per se.
Certainly, you are likely to be seeking a change in that person’s perception or value system, which brings you back to the values upon which your business – and their agreement to work within it – are based.
- focus your negative – but objective – evaluation on their current ineffective behaviour; and
- focus your expression of positive expectation on future effective behaviour(the changes required in what they do – and maybe why and how they do it – but not in who they are).
What Works, Not Who’s Right
Right and wrong are “ego goads”; they provoke the other party at an ego level to prove that they are right and you are wrong and now all of the energy is being directed away from what works and doesn’t work and what needs to change in future actions.
If you modify your corrective language by eliminating judgemental terms such as right, wrong, should, shouldn’t, and substituting neutral terms such as “what works” and “what doesn’t work” you can expect a huge positive shift in the emotional quotient of any feedback scenario.
If your subject senses judgementalism and moves to ego responses ensure you refocus the discussion on what is and isn’t working and what needs to be done differently to win the results required.
In short, move away from emotion and towards action.
4. Use a Wrapper for Correction
A wrapper is quite simply a method of delivering a potentially distasteful request for a change or correction in behaviour in a way that makes it palatable and difficult for the other party to reject your request.
If you want to give your dog medication, you’d probably wrap it in mincemeat; your child a necessary medication, perhaps you’d wrap it in chocolate? So what’s the equivalent in an adult work situation?
A corrective wrapper consists of the following parts:
- Endorse: An endorsement of the person, and reference to their past positive behaviour (a sweet bit), followed by the bitter pill:
- Specify: Give a clear and objective statement of the unacceptable behaviour, of your displeasure at the results of that behaviour, and an invitation to provide you an explanation of what happened and how the situation came about;
- Listen: Actively listen to and evaluate their account (take notes, stay open, listen to the whole thing; note but move them on from blame, excuses and despair/resignation);
- Stretch: Interpret their account of things in terms of what works and doesn’t work, agree what they need to do differently to get a different result;
- Enable: If you agree that resources (training, guidance, support) are required to improve, then you commit to provide them and they commit to take them up;
- Commitment: Ask for their spoken or written commitment to change their behaviour and to pursue the result that has been agreed is required you have agreed deliver on that request; followed by a sweet bit
- Endorse: Provide a strong endorsement of the person and of your belief that they can and will achieve the agreed improvement. You might choose to iron in the moment and the commitment by asking them how they will feel when they deliver on their commitment (another sweet bit with which to close “the wrapper”.)
Stay on Topic
When counselling a team member on an issue, stay on topic! This is where your written goal comes in. Keep it front and centre of your thinking and actions and always be heading towards a commitment to action. Everything in between is process.
To keep the process short, be specific; stay on topic; don’t generalise the behaviour in question to everything else they do (if there are other issues, treat them separately – unless they have a common root cause, in which case that cause is the topic!)
5. Use Praise for Motivation
Praise is the lowest cost, highest value coin must leaders hold in their motivational and emotional purse – and it is the one least used!
Sincere praise that is justified by behaviour is hugely motivating for all parties: The person praised, the person praising (you), and the people witnessing the praise – but only if it is delivered effectively!
It should be easy to praise someone else, and get it right – right?
Often, when praise is clumsily delivered it carries a high “cringe factor” and acts as a disincentive to the recipient. In those cases it is likely to dissuade them – and your audience – from repeating whatever it was that brought them under that uncomfortable spotlight in the first place.
When praising another person, focus your positive statements on the behaviour rather than the person (same rule as for correction) as this will tend to avoid the risk of embarrassing a good performer in front of their peers.
It also ensures that those witnessing your praise will not envy the person but will understand that they too could be receiving the same praise by exhibiting the same type of behaviour and producing the same type of results.
6. Reference your Vision, Mission & Values
When delivering praise or correction, keep it simple!
Keep your explanation simple (ask yourself whether, if an intelligent 12 year old child were to observe the process, would they understand the issues clearly).
Look to your company’s Vision, Mission and Values statements for key words that express the principles that you wish to highlight, and wherever possible, use those words rather than others that mean the same thing (synonyms) or others than mean something else entirely.
The point here is to take whatever opportunities present themselves to reinforce the core principles and beliefs upon which your business is build (and, ideally, they will be enshrined in your Vision, Mission and Value Statements).
In a sentence: Have a small number of rules, repeat yourself often, act in accordance with them.
When praising or correcting a team member consciously and deliberately use the words embodies in your Vision, Mission and/or Values (VMV) statements for guidance and reinforcement. These values (behavioural guides) are non-negotiable, and so cannot be disputed or argued against. If your subject has that inclination, they are probably already headed out the door.
Keep things simple. Achieve all that you can with just your VMVs and you’ll strengthen and endorse them on every occasion you apply them.
 5th Habit – The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey
 For a detailed treatment of Vision, Mission and Values, see “Solving the People Puzzle” by Peter Rowe
 Mastering the Rockefeller Habits, Verne Harnish