Every six months or every year, HR begins pummeling emails to leaders reminding them of the upcoming performance management cycle, extoling them to review the performance of their directs reports (DRs) and provide them feedback to facilitate completion of the appraisal cycle. Various “communicating activities” are repeated every time to increase awareness of the process and to impart knowledge of its nuances to leaders.
Why does HR need to do this? Why do leaders need constant reminders to repeat the same thing? After all a feedback is an essential aspect of running of an organization. Feedback, when given properly, helps improve performance. A person who travels by a local train network never forgets the distinction between a Fast train and a Slow train on the same route as the Slow train could take 50% more time for the same journey! Similarly, low performance, if not addressed adequately through proper feedback will limit the results a team gets. So why do leaders forget giving feedback to their direct reports and require reminders to do so?
Perhaps the answer lies in a familiar response – that this is a “HR process” and therefore HR should do whatever they need to do to get it done!!
The implication of Fast and Slow local trains impacts people personally, so they don’t forget to do what is in their best interest. Feedback is perceived to be for “others” so perhaps leaders give it less importance! Feedback is not merely telling someone how well they have done, it’s much more than that. It requires an effort on the part of the leaders to have a meaningful discussion with their employees regarding their performance. Many leaders tend to find an escape route from this effort and avoid giving proper feedback. Giving feedback to those who work for you is a part of the process of caring for those people, so why would you not initiate and complete it yourself?
It’s not an annual event!
Reflecting on my experience of managing large teams and processes, I strongly believe that giving feedback has to be a regular and essential activity just like eating food and sleeping are. These are important for us to survive. Similarly, feedback is important to cultivate, guide, and motivate those who work with us so that they can deliver their best. It’s an essential for the success of an organization! Hence, feedback has to be a continuous process. Leaders need to be constantly letting their employees know what they have done well, what they can do better and what they have not done well. This feedback is not a chore and has to be a way of life!
How do we do so? I don’t intend to dwell on the correct setting for giving feedback (in private, appropriate setting, no disturbance, adequate preparation, etcetera) as enough material is available in this regard but will point out 3 edifices of effective feedback which I have found useful over the years:
1. Build Trust
It is essential to build a good relationship with your direct reports. The bedrock of a good relationship is trust. It is built over a period by the behavior and actions of the leader. Listed below are some behaviors and actions that leaders can adopt to build trust:
- Support your DRs in resolving issues/challenges that they face.
- Walk your talk – ensure that commitments you make are honored; if for some reason, they cannot be, circle back to your direct reports with an explanation.
Update your DRs about business developments regularly, and in time.
- Give credit to those to whom it is due – don’t hog it yourself!
- Ensuring recognition of the work of your DRs and promote their good work.
- Provide opportunities to them to take up new projects/assignments.
- Back them up in case they make a mistake.
- Be and appear to be fair in your dealings.
Once you have built a relationship of trust with your DRs, giving feedback becomes a way of life and is no more a drudgery!
2. Share Your Thoughts
Like I mentioned earlier feedback is not simply telling an employee “you are good” or “you are bad”. Sharing effective feedback is a skill that most leaders need to learn.
Some guidelines that are useful in sharing feedback are:
- Be honest and share your observations candidly – clearly call out what went well (accomplishments), what could have been better (opportunities for improvement) and what did not go well. Do not sugarcoat your feedback.
- Provide facts and instances to support your assessment.
Express your feelings – happiness, delight, surprise, disappointment, worry!
- Don’t cook up stuff – if there is nothing negative, don’t create something (many are familiar with the “you need to increase your visibility” comment)!
- Share your views in time – provide immediate feedback and do not maintain a “black book” which records entries and is opened only once a year!
- In case of a problem, focus on the issue and not the person.
3. Show Commitment
A leader must put his/her skin in the game. Before demanding commitment to perform, the leader has to show commitment to support performance. Corporate leaders are very well versed with monitoring and controls. They will ask for “reviews”. And these reviews are many a times used only for telling people they did not deliver on the task. That is why reviews are normally dreaded!
How can a leader show the commitment to the performance of the team member?
Below are some key points.
- If you give feedback for improvement, help your DRs determine how to improve and don’t simply ask them to go figure out on their own how to change. Work closely with them.
- Show your involvement by providing practical guidance – what can the DRs do on their own, what you can do personally for them and what can you help facilitate for them.
- Follow up on progress – check how the change plan is going and if a course correction is required, work diligently with them to change the plan.
If leaders are able to imbibe the above, I can vouch that providing feedback will change from becoming an annual “event” or burden to an interesting process of sharing, developing and building, besides changing your relationships with your direct reports. The above pointers are not complex to implement but are simply a way of life to interact with those with whom you work closely at a human level. But they certainly require effort………and effort results in success.
About the Author:
Anup Bhasin is a passionate business leader with a strong amalgam of business, commercial, financial, legal and operations expertise built over 33 years of deep and diverse experience. As a CXO he has built and led large teams & organizations. He is a Mentor partner at CRESKO Consulting. He is also a mediator and arbitrator.