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Managers Give Feedback as a Gift to Employees

The Many Hats that Managers Wear logoIn some organizations, managers give feedback to employees whenever it’s needed. They don’t wait for performance reviews. They don’t withhold it for fear or losing employees or impairing morale.

In some organizations, HR gives the feedback instead of managers. This unnecessarily complicates matters, causes delays, disempowers managers, embarrasses employees (who feel tattled on), and injures the manager/employee relationship.

In some organizations, no one gives or gets feedback. People tiptoe around all the elephants in the room, avoiding even the most obvious issues. These conflict-averse groups may position the lack of feedback as "respectful” or “positive,” but they’re inadvertently limiting employee development.

In some organizations, feedback is a free-for-all. That’s a good thing! Peers give each other feedback. Employees are invited to give their managers feedback. Accountability and support extend up, down, across and throughout the organization. Managers give feedback, too, but they also encourage

In most organizations, there’s a mix. Some managers do and some managers don’t give feedback. Some employees share feedback with their peers, and others aren’t comfortable doing that. Some managers proactively invite feedback while others do all they can do duck, dodge, deny, and distance themselves from it.

What’s the determining factor about how feedback is handled? Usually, it’s how feedback is viewed.

Reframing Feedback: It’s a Gift

If you’re reluctant to give feedback, you’re probably concerned about how others will react to it. They might feel bad, get angry, yell, cry, or shut down. You don’t want to make things worse.

Maybe you’ve experienced the backlash when you offered feedback. You got a firsthand example of how “bad news kills the messenger” even though you were only trying to help.

Or maybe you’ve been on the receiving end of poorly delivered feedback. It was harsh, personal, unproductive, and/or humiliating. You’d never want to make someone else feel the way you did in that situation. You refrain from providing any critical feedback.

These fears about feedback prevent people from giving feedback. Feedback isn’t wrong. The over-correction of not giving it at all solves nothing (and causes more problems than it solves).

Rather than avoiding it altogether, consider the root-cause problem. What’s triggering defensiveness, alienating employees, and humiliating people isn’t the feedback itself. It’s how it’s delivered.

The way it’s delivered is a direct reflection of the provider’s intent.

When a neutral party (like HR) gives feedback, it typically comes across as an objective statement of facts and perceptions. There’s still deniability, though, because HR is so far removed from the day-to-day.

When a manager who genuinely wants to help employees delivers feedback, it usually is received as supportive. When employees trust the manager’s motives, they’re more likely to receive feedback as it’s intended.

When co-workers have a strong team camaraderie, feedback between peers is usually welcome and even invited. Everyone is more receptive because everyone feels safe and respected.

Without neutrality, supportiveness, or safety, it’s only natural to pushback against feedback. It will feel like an attack when someone without the right motives delivers it.

On the other hand, if those key ingredients are in place, feedback is a gift.

Like any gift, we may not immediately embrace it. It may not fit, isn’t the right style, or feels like something we’ve already received. We may stuff it in the back of a closet… And, someday, we might rediscover it back there and realize it’s exactly what we need.

Like any gift, when coming from a caring individual, we know it’s the thought that counts. If we believe that the thought or intention is to help us, we graciously receive the gift (even if it’s not what we wanted!).

Like any gift, the person giving it has taken the time to prepare and borne some cost to give it to us. There’s a risk that the recipient won’t take it well. There’s personal angst in preparing and gearing up to deliver it.

When we recognize that people mean well, it’s easier to take their feedback seriously and consider what they’ve offered rather than rejecting it outright.

To get others to receive your feedback, let them know your intention is to help. Frame feedback as a gift and be thoughtful when you select gifts for each member of your team.

Effective Managers Give Feedback Instead of Expecting HR to Do It

Gallup’s research about employee departures consistently finds that the number one reason employees leave is that they don’t get clear expectations and regular feedback from their managers.

Employee engagement is derived primarily from an employee’ relationship with their manager. That relationship is not like a friendship. It’s not enough for a manager to be nice, friendly, and helpful. Employees expect managers to be supportive.

Being supportive includes providing clarity about what’s expected and how to do it. It includes ongoing oversight to help employees improve and reach their goals. Supportive managers don’t do the work for employees. They equip employees for self-sufficiency, expanded capacity, confidence and competence.

Managers how score high in employee engagement surveys are managers who interact frequently with their direct reports. They give encouragement and positive feedback. They also give instruction and critical feedback to help the employee grow.

These managers understand the importance of feedback and the importance of providing it directly.

  • They don’t withhold feedback in an effort to spare anyone’s feelings. Instead, they learn how to give effective feedback that will make it easy for employees to receive it and respond to it.

  • They don’t procrastinate on giving feedback, stockpiling it for the annual review. They give it in a timely manner while the details are fresh in everyone’s mind.

  • They don’t sugarcoat the feedback in ways that make it difficult to understand what’s being said and what needs to change.

  • They don’t deliver generic, group-wide messages when a 1:1 conversation is warranted.

  • They don’t expect HR or anyone else to give feedback that ought to come from them. They respect team members enough to be candid. They care enough to take the personal risks and to help people improve. They don’t want to add the embarrassment of escalation unless it becomes absolutely necessary. And they take pride enough in their job to do their own job, even when it’s a bit uncomfortable.

Figure assessing another’s workWhen managers aren’t willing to give timely feedback, they’re not “being nice” or sparing anyone’s feelings. What they’re actually doing is allowing an employee to continue making mistakes or performing at a subpar level. They’re subjecting that employee to other’s disdain. The longer they wait to give feedback, the more they’re fostering the development of bad habits.

That’s not very nice at all! Nor is it nice to delegate the tough conversations to someone the employee barely knows and will be “in the hot seat” with when called to the meeting.

Effective managers learn how to give effective feedback so they can do it themselves and do it well.

How to Give Effective Feedback

It doesn’t need to be contentious or cruel. To give effective feedback, you’ll first need to prepare by:

  • Reminding yourself that the purpose of feedback is not to demonstrate your positional power or authority. It’s not to direct your annoyance, anger or frustration at some subordinate. It’s not to blame or shame people. If you find yourself in a frame of mind like this, check yourself before you wreck yourself. Giving feedback that’s emotional or ego-driven will damage your credibility as a leader.

  • Making sure you have the right intentions. You’ll want to say and signal in subtle ways that the purpose of your feedback is to be supportive and helpful.

  • Proceeding in a timely manner. Talk about things when they are still recent enough to be remembered. Give feedback right away so mistakes aren’t made multiple times.

  • Finding a way to talk 1-to-1 with the employee. Constructive feedback shouldn’t be delivered publicly. Try to find a neutral place, too. Take a walk, go into a conference room, or meet in a virtual (cameras on!) setting instead of in your office.

  • Editing your thoughts to eliminate any personal attacks, hyperbole, or ego-driven elements. This is going to be a situation, not about a person. Note: the situation you’ll focus on is for a singular issue, not a list of grievances all at once.

  • Contrasting the feedback with what’s been clearly laid out. Before giving feedback, it’s important to set clear expectations. Otherwise, your feedback may seem arbitrary or unfair. Expectations are the baseline. Feedback is based on the gap between recent performance and the pre-established baseline.

  • Crafting 3W feedback to defuse defensiveness and convey all that’s needed in this conversation.

Illustration of the 3W Feedback  Model.

The 3W Feedback Model is simple and works very well. It’s fair and helps people understand exactly what they need to do differently. It helps them grasp the urgency or importance of what you’re asking, too. Here are the 3 simple elements in 3W feedback:

WHAT: State the specifics of the situation. Be as specific as possible and stay neutral. This is simply an objective recap of the facts. There are no judgments or suppositions. Try to stick to your own observations.

WHY: Describe the impact. Make links to the bigger picture and to the employee’s own goals and interests. If there isn’t any significant impact, you may not need to give this feedback at all.

WAY: Outline or restate the expectations and what needs to change. Stay neutral in your tone and firm in your requirements.

As you deliver 3W feedback, you’ll do it all at once. There’s no need for questions or discussion in between. Before discussing this matter, you’ll need all 3Ws to provide context. Deliver it in one steam like this:

“I noticed that you were 20 minutes late to our team meeting today. Last week, you were 25 minutes late. I’m mentioning this because the team needs your input during project updates. We can’t accomplish our meeting objectives when you’re not there, and we are all too busy to backtrack when you arrive. Going forward, I need you to notify me in advance if there’s going to be a scheduling conflict. Ideally, you’d be at each meeting on time so we can get the full benefit of your contributions.”

3W Feedback is simple to deliver and easy to receive. Effective managers give feedback that supports employees, and this model will help you support them in meaningful ways.

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