8 tips for delivering difficult employee feedback
Monday, November 04, 2013
Being in a leadership position can be rewarding, but it does require a lot of time and dedication to your people. In fact, one of the biggest responsibilities of a leader is identifying and correcting performance issues.
Because an employee's performance can be a sensitive matter, here are eight tips to help you deliver difficult feedback in a way that produces positive results:
1. Don’t wait to have a tough conversation: If you notice a behavioral issue or negative performance trend in one of your employees, it might be tempting to wait for the "right time" to talk about it. And while you should do your best to choose an appropriate time to have these discussions, you should address an issue as quickly as possible. If an opportunity to chat does not readily present itself, send a quick email to the employee to ask for a time that works for them to have a conversation in future.
2. Discuss performance issues face-to-face: The advent of email and instant-messaging applications has definitely streamlined workplace communication — often for the better — but a discussion about performance should always happen in person. These are sensitive conversations, so do not address challenges in an online setting, where your true tone and meaning can be lost. Taking the time to sit down with a team member face-to-face not only facilitates open and honest dialogue, but it will also give you full control over the conversation and insight into their reactions. You’ll also be able to proactively address any hurt feelings or unvoiced concerns that may have been missed in an email exchange.
3. Be specific: Providing examples in your discussion is important. Specific examples will give your concerns much-needed context. For example, saying "I've noticed you've had issues getting along with team members" is not specific enough. It is unfair to expect an employee to properly address this concern, as it is too vague and open-ended. General complaints can make someone feel attacked, while simultaneously implying that you don’t care about why something happened or their side of the story. And when employees feel like no one is on their side, they are less inclined to be open with their feelings and ideas, which will make it harder to reach a resolution.
4. It’s a conversation, not a lecture: The best way to enable a pivot in performance or behavior is to facilitate an open discussion, wherein both you and your employee talk through the challenge and set goals together. But if you treat your conversation more like a lecture, that won’t happen. Avoid talking at your team member. Ask questions and solicit their ideas on how they can improve or be more successful. This will not only empower them to be independent problem solvers, you will show them you want to see them succeed, and you want to work together to make positive changes.
5. Use positive language: Often the difference between a constructive performance discussion that empowers an employee to succeed and one that doesn't is simply how you frame your talking points. Use positive language to convey that success is achievable and within reach. For example, talk about “a challenge” or “an opportunity to excel” instead of “issue” or a “problem.” The latter terms imply that the obstacles are insurmountable, whereas the former labels imply that you believe they can be successful.
6. Target the situation, not the individual: What makes these conversations challenging is that they can often be perceived as a personal attack. To avoid this, make sure you’re discussion targets actions and specific situations and does not target the employee or put him/her down as person. Instead of telling employees they are bad at their job, talk about the specific metrics where there are shortfalls. Highlighting what they do well can also offset the negative feedback. For example, "You do a great job with talking to customers and connecting with them, which is very important. But one challenge I’d like to work on is bringing down your talk time. Right now, your average is a bit longer than it should be."
7. Ask what you can do to help: While it is ultimately the responsibility of your employee to make positive changes, they should feel supported by you, their leader. Ask them what you can do to help, or if there are any resources you can provide them. Not only will this potentially lead to valuable one-on-one coaching opportunities between you and your team member, it shows them that you want them to succeed. Hearing negative feedback can be difficult, but demonstrating that you’re on their side and are there to facilitate their development and growth can turn their challenge into a stepping stone to success.
8. Set specific goals and follow up: Any discussion of this kind should end with you and your employee creating an action plan. If the issue was performance-related, work with your employee to come up with measurable goals or benchmarks to be measured over a set time period. Better yet, make them a stakeholder in their own success by having them set their own goals.
As a leader, having anxiety about tough performance conversations is understandable — you don't know how an individual will react to your feedback. But you can turn what could be a negative experience into a constructive and positive one by being proactive. The best leaders are honest and direct, but they are also empowering and ready to lend a helping hand.
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