One of the essential skills leaders often struggle with is how to give effective feedback to team members ~ and by “effective,” I mean feedback that…
- accurately reflects the good and bad of a team member’s performance,
- identifies specific ways they can improve,
- inspires them to do better, and
- doesn’t shut them down or leave them so deflated they just give up.
I believe there are 10 essential steps to giving great feedback. (I know, 10 sounds like a lot! But if giving great feedback were easy, everybody would already be doing it, right?). Here goes:
1. Check your attitude. Are you angry at your team member for dropping the ball or letting you down? If so, process through those feelings first on your own before you meet with them. A feedback conversation is supposed to be developmental, not punitive. Don’t set up a meeting with a team member on the pretense of giving them helpful feedback on their performance when it’s really about letting them know how upset you are. That may make you feel better in the short run, but it won’t inspire better performance in your team member, and it won’t build trust in your team.
2. Do your prep work ahead of time. Before you meet with your team member, make a list of 2-3 things you think they are doing really well, and 2-3 things you want them to improve or do differently.
Make sure these are all specific actions, not just vague ideas. This is critical. For example, “Susan, I love how positive you are around the office,” is a nice thing to say, but it’s vague feedback. Rather, focus on the behavior Susan is actually doing that you want to affirm. For example, “Susan, I love how you walk around the office every morning and greet everyone with a smile and a kind word. It does wonders for morale, and it’s one of the ways you lead this entire department. Keep it up!”
Same goes for the 2-3 things you want them to do differently: Make your feedback specific and actionable. Bad: “John, I need you to do better at keeping your deadlines. A lot of people depend on you getting your work done on time.” Good: “John, I want you to practice getting better at keeping your deadlines. So here’s my request: I want you to commit with me right here to meet or beat the next five deadlines on your calendar. I want you to email me a list of your upcoming deadlines and report in each time you meet or beat a deadline. Will you do that?” The thing is to give them a specific, clear, actionable way to succeed.
3. Meet in private. Almost goes without saying, but just in case you think giving a team member performance feedback in front of their teammates is okay, it’s generally not. The only exception is when the team collectively decides they want to do feedback that way.
4. Start with a general statement of positive feedback. Keep it simple, but authentic: “I’m so thankful to have you on our team,” or “Good job on this last project. I want to spend some time reviewing it with you if you don’t mind?” or “Wow, we got through another one. Way to hang in there all the way to the finish! I’d like to check in with you about how it went for a few minutes, okay?”
5. Check in with their experience first. Ask your team member: How did this project go for you? Where do you feel like it went well? What would you have liked to have done differently?
Make this a developmental conversation. Be genuinely curious. Encourage them to really look for the learning themselves. What do they think they did really well? Where did they feel unsteady? What do they want to do differently next time based on what they learned this time around? Many times the team member will identify the very same things you plan to point out, which is awesome because then the feedback is simply you agreeing with their assessment.
6. Give them 2-3 specific ways you thought they did great. (See #2 above.)
7. Give them 2-3 specific things you want them to work on, or approach differently next time. Make sure these are actionable and measurable. (See #2 above.)
8. Check in to see how your feedback is impacting them. How is this landing for you? What are you hearing? Where do things still seem unclear or confusing? Work with the team member until you’re confident you both understand exactly what’s being said and what’s being asked of them.
9. Zero in on one or two specific actions (from #7) they will take to improve their performance. Set up a structure of accountability to mark their progress. Usually I recommend you have them take the initiative to report back to you each time an action step is taken or completed.
10. As an added accountability step, set a reminder for yourself to check in with them in a few weeks to see how their action steps went. I usually set up a simple note in my calendar a few weeks out, reminding me to check in with the team member about their action steps. If they’ve already checked in with me, I just delete the reminder. But if they haven’t, it’s a great reminder to check back in with them to see what’s up.
You can’t control how other people are going to react to feedback. Sometimes you can do everything right and still leave a team member spiraling into discouragement or defensiveness. But in my experience if you faithfully implement these 10 steps, giving feedback will almost always be a positive and effective experience for both your team member and for you.