Social media may empower us to tell that restaurant what we thought about the poor service or show the shoe store how mad we are about their return policy. However, it does not help us tell our staff that they are dropping the ball.

While providing negative feedback is not the best part of being a leader, it is a necessary part. Here some are easy steps to get started now.

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Step one: decide to start today. One of the biggest obstacles we put in our own way is the fact that we have not been perfect at providing feedback previously.

The problem is we have to start somewhere and the longer we wait, the worse it will become. Instead, if we acknowledge to ourselves and our staff that we were not the best at giving feedback — both positive and negative — previously, and commit to trying to do better, then a few things happen.

First, we have increased accountability to ourselves and our staff. Second, staff is prepared for the change. Third, it further opens the lines of communication around performance. And fourth, it gets everyone on the same page, looking forward to expecting feedback.

Another bonus to calling out the past and focusing the team forward, and the next step in the process, is understanding that giving feedback does not have to be perfect. In other words, it does not have to be a well-thought through compliment sandwich; in fact, it is better to be consistent.

If we focus on giving timely feedback across the team, we create a culture that supports open communication and reinforces expectations.


After we get out of our own way and let go of our unreasonable expectations about being perfect, the next step is to practice. And the easiest way to do that is to pick one or two obvious behaviors that we want to reinforce. While eventually we will want to draw a direct line between these behaviors and the bottom line, the idea for now is to get started with something that is already clear and easily understood by all staff.

For example, a leader in one of my retail clients was getting increasingly frustrated at what he labeled the negative energy of his team. He had tried to call out team members when they were engaging in behaviors he saw as toxic, but when he did, they got defensive and he felt like the team became more negative.

Instead of trying to articulate the varied bad behaviors, we clearly defined good behaviors, starting with something simple: greetings. He decided that if team members could start and end conversations with customers positively, it would go a long way in addressing the negativity.

So, he told them his expectations and began positively reinforcing the desired behavior. With struggling team members, he gave them the benefit of the doubt that it was a new practice and coached them to the desired behavior. Soon, those doing what he asked outnumbered those who were not, the atmosphere improved and it became clear who was willing and capable of improving.

The bottom line is, our past performance should not impair our current efforts, and perfect should not be the enemy of done. Pick just one desired behavior and use it to practice giving feedback; doing so will then become easier each time.