As a leader, how much time do you set aside to put out fires? You know what I am talking about. The unplanned moments when someone walks into your office and says:
- “I need to talk to you about what Jim said in our meeting…”
- “Susan didn’t provide the reports to me again and now I’ve got to run them…”
- “Their department is clueless! They have no idea what they are doing and how it impacts us!”
These moments enlighten you to a performance challenge or a relational tension the team member is experiencing. If you are anything like me, my typical reaction to these moments is either to jump in and fix the issue or avoid and dismiss it. These two reactions can have serious negative consequences for personal and team health!
Though done with the best of intentions, jumping in to fix the issue can lead to personal burnout and promote team dependence on you as a leader. The leader (you) becomes the one that has to understand the problem, ideate solutions, network with relevant parties, communicate and equip others with the solutions and follow through to maintain accountability. As a reward, you feel “helpful” at the moment, but soon realize that you have not touched the important work you needed to accomplish and your employee has learned “solutions come from the top, not from me.” (Sidebar resource: Stephen Covey explores how to get the monkey off your back)
Avoiding and dismissing the issue is not a solution either. You may think “they can solve it themselves” or “it is really not that big of an issue,” or “I don’t have the time or energy for this.” Reacting this way communicates a lack of care and concern to the individuals involved since they are voicing a felt tension.
Avoidance of the issue also directly affects the team’s performance. Patrick Lencioni addresses this pitfall by saying if you (as the leader) dismiss a performance or relational issue as unimportant, it gives team members the same permission to avoid points of friction, tension, confusion, and poor performance.
It doesn’t have to be this way!
What if you could:
- Clarify expectations
- Increase communication
- Build strong trusting relationships
- Improve performance quickly
- Reduce drama
- Promote personal responsibility
The skill of giving and receiving feedback can improve all of these!
As a leader, coaching your team to see feedback as a gift will pay dividends for culture and performance.
Equipping your team to give and receive feedback is a tool that can empower team members to address the relational tension and performance issues they experience.
The Oxford Dictionary defines feedback as, “information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement.”
Naturally, there may be resistance. Too often people associate “feedback” with harsh criticism, personal attacks, sanctioned character assassinations, passive-aggressive means of undermining credibility, or a “power move” by peers or authority figures. “Feedback” given in these ways can wound!
Four Ways to Give & Receive Feedback Appropriately
As a leader, it’s vitally important to coach and teach our team to give and receive feedback appropriately. Four ways we can begin to do this:
1. Coach the appropriate perspective of feedback
Clues a leader may hear from their team that indicates an unhealthy perspective on giving good feedback:
- “I don’t want them to think I do not value or appreciate them.”
- “I am just going to tell it to them straight. They are a jerk and need to know it.”
Clues a leader may hear from their team that indicates an unhealthy perspective on receiving good feedback:
- “I cannot believe they are attacking me and my character!”
- “There is no validity in what they are saying. Completely useless feedback!”
Coach your team to a healthy perspective of what good feedback is and is not.
|What Feedback Is||What Feedback Is Not|
|Information||Platform to air grievances|
|Perspective given from an outside source that provides insight into blind spots||Attempt to undermine competence|
|Tool to encourage, improve performance, and promote the right behavior||Manipulation|
|Way to help maintain team and personal alignment||Tool to question authority or belonging|
|Objective and subjective||Judgment and criticism|
A healthy perspective of what feedback is can promote individuals to give and ask for more feedback. It becomes an acceptable informational input from others as a caring and meaningful means of improvement!
Seeing feedback with this perspective allows team members to have difficult conversations about performance and relational issues without a defensive and personally offended posture.
2. Equip them to create clarity and solutions
Feedback grows awareness of misalignment with expectations. Expectations could be desired outcomes, communication channels, what respectful and appropriate behavior is, etc.
Too often feedback only identifies problems, challenges, and failures. The giver shares then leaves. The receiver is left with no alternative behaviors and bears the responsibility of finding solutions and changing behavior without continued support from the giver.
Good feedback identifies what was expected or hoped for, communicates the areas of misalignment, the consequences of the misalignment, and provides solutions, support and reaffirms expectations going forward.
Practice providing feedback by filling in the blanks:
“We agreed to/I thought ___________ (original expectation or hope). I saw/heard ___________ (misaligned behavior) and it impacted/caused ___________ (consequence). Going forward I would like to see/what can you do ___________ (solution). So that ___________ (new expectation or hope). Here is what I/What can I support you in ___________ (support).”
3. Practice behavioral feedback
Good feedback is behavioral. “You are a jerk,” “You are passive-aggressive,” “You are always late in everything you do” is not behavioral feedback. Coach team members to test character-based assumptions (like those above) and identify the observable behaviors that lead them to make those statements.
Coaching team members to identify the expected and misaligned behaviors helps weed out cognitive biases like the Fundamental Attribution Error or the Availability Bias. This helps focus feedback on the real and relevant expectations and behaviors.
Questions to help identify the relevant behaviors:
- What did you observe/hear?
- Was this aligned or misaligned with what you expected?
- How often do you observe it (is it a pattern of behavior or one-off)?
- Do you have a realistic expectation or hope of this person?
4. Identify the correct feedback process
Back to our situation at the beginning. What Jim said in the meeting… Susan’s performance let down… the tension with those “clueless” folks in other departments. How do you know when to take the monkey or put out the fire?
First off, check with your organization’s HR or Talent Services department for policy or training! The simple answer may already be there. If no answers are found, I recommend this process:
- Coach the team member to have a 1-1 with the other party
- If no appropriate resolution is found in their 1-1, offer to mediate/facilitate a second meeting (alternatively, have your team member identify an appropriate mediator/facilitator for the follow up)
- If no appropriate resolution is found, then you or a representative member of the organization steps in with an appropriate level of authority to provide guidance, clarify expectations, and correct behavior.
The final step is when you, the leader, move from coach to authority/leader in providing feedback.
Feedback, when used appropriately, is an excellent tool to increase positive communication, reduce drama and improve performance.
A leader has to be the first to model healthy feedback. They have to have an appropriate perspective of what it is, be clear in its administration, and be open to receiving it.
If you and your team, like many others, find feedback difficult to give and receive, start by creating a space for open dialogue around good, healthy, and appropriate teaming. Read Team Work together to generate a common understanding of healthy teamsmanship and identify the role feedback can play in improving your team’s performance and relational quality.