Be Clear with Your Feedback

October 27, 2011


Be Clear with Your Feedback

Most managers have good intentions when it comes to delivering feedback to employees. But the reality is that most of them aren’t very good at it. What’s the cause? Few role models combined with few training opportunities.

It’s something that Phil Reynolds, a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies, runs into all the time.

“After almost every class I give on feedback, I will have participants come up to me and say, ‘I wish I would have gotten this type of feedback when I was an individual contributor.’ They can see the value in learning the skill because they realize that they can make a bigger impact on their people by using it.”

The Importance of Clear Expectations

One of the biggest issues that Reynolds sees with feedback as it is delivered in most work environments is a general “fuzziness” that doesn’t change or reinforce behavior.

This fuzziness usually starts with managers not setting clear expectations of what a good job looks like in the first place. These managers are often surprised later when they find out that their people aren’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing.

Why the fuzziness? The response Reynolds hears most often is, “They should know what they need to do.”

As Reynolds explains, “Leaders often think that people should know something through their own devices and so they don’t give them feedback, or clear expectations, or redirection toward the target that they are looking for.”
Striking the Right Balance
By avoiding the situation and not addressing it early, managers will tend to create a lot of emotion around the issue when they finally deal with it. At that point, the tendency is to come down hard, and say things like, “You’re doing this wrong; fix it!”

The basic mistake here is not separating the performance from the person. Now the feedback sounds like a personal attack. Once that happens, resistance goes up.

With newer managers, Reynolds will often see behavior swing to the other side of the scale. Now the emotion centers on the relationship and how the feedback may damage it. As he explains, “Younger managers want to project a positive image and have people like them. When feedback gets tied up with emotion, these younger leaders find it difficult to give corrective feedback or to hold people accountable.”
Feedback and Trust
One negative aspect of poor feedback is the impact it has on trust. When managers give feedback poorly, or avoid it entirely because they are unsure about their ability, it causes problems.

Feedback is an important part of a healthy relationship. When a direct report is not soliciting feedback and a manager is not giving feedback, that’s a pretty clear sign that there’s a lack of trust in the relationship.

Our closest friends, for example, are the ones who usually serve as our truth tellers, the people we can talk to about anything. At the other end of the spectrum are the people we never share anything with. These are the people we don’t trust with information about ourselves.

When a manager is not confident in his or her ability to give employees straight feedback, employees can feel as if they are not getting the complete story. This lack of trust impacts the leader’s ability to lead and influence employee performance.

Three Ways to Improve Feedback in Your Organization

As a leader, there are a couple of things that you can do to help improve feedback in your organization and get conversations happening again.

Feedback Pays Dividends
A focus on feedback is an essential ingredient in today’s work environment. People want to work for managers they trust and who will be honest with them and tell them what they need to know. It can be a challenge at first but it’s worth the trouble, says Reynolds.

“Feedback is not for wimps. But the bottom line is that there’s going to be better performance. When you are getting more effective feedback and trust is being built, there is a higher possibility that an individual will open up and share what is going on with their job. That lets the manager be more helpful in providing individual employees with the direction and support that they need.”

What kinds of conversations are occurring in your organization? Are people having the type of performance-related discussions they need to be having? If not, take a look at the skill level your managers have with feedback. It’s a great way to make a big difference in everyone’s performance.


By Patrick Pila

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