June 1, 2018

How to Train New Managers on Microfeedback


You’ve watched this employee for a while now. She consistently hits her goals, asks for more responsibility, and proves she can be trusted. That’s why you gave her that promotion — and doing so has been great for the team.

Or has it? Excelling as an individual contribute doesn’t always translate to excelling as a supervisor. This employee is now responsible for the success of not just herself, but of her entire team. To help her team thrive, she is going to need some training on how to deliver feedback properly.

Feedback matters to employees. In fact, 92 percent of them believe that even negative feedback, if properly delivered, can improve performance. Use this fact to your advantage. Instill in your new manager that feedback is wanted, needed, and nothing to be avoided.

Before turning a new manager loose to do whatever they’d like, give them a proper training in delivering microfeedback.

The 5 Keys of Microfeedback

1. Keep It Focused

As the name suggests, microfeedback is small and focused. Microfeedback occurs in a brief, one-on-one exchange focused on one particular situation. This is not a performance review that covers an employee’s entire job to date.

A microfeedback session should stick to one thing at a time and stay there. Don’t let the momentum of the meeting open the floodgates for general performance advice or unrelated anecdotal examples. Stay focused and wrap the session up once the issue has been addressed and understood.

2. Move Quickly — But Not Too Quickly

Waiting for the annual review to discuss an employee performance issue is too late. If employees are to correct their behaviors and build good habits, they need feedback before the problem has time to get worse.

Feedback should be timely in the sense that it should be delivered while the situation under discussion is fresh and remembered clearly. However, giving feedback on the spot can be a risk, as managers may overreact in the heat of the moment.

Instead, teach managers to implement a waiting period before delivering feedback. It doesn’t have to be more than a few hours long — just enough time for tempers to simmer down and for managers to prepare their feedback with clear heads.

3. Prepare in Advance

Giving constructive feedback might seem simple, but in reality it can be tough for a new manager to get the hang of it. In fact, 37 percent of managers are uncomfortable giving feedback, and 69 percent are uncomfortable communicating with their employees at all!

Train managers to prepare for feedback conversations. Conversations should not happen with no warning. Employees should have a few days’ advanced notice. Asking a subordinate to address an issue out of the blue can cause the employee to panic.

Encourage your new manager to clearly explain the purpose of a meeting when arranging a time so that the employee will be prepared when the time comes. Similarly, ensure managers take employees’ schedules into account when planning meetings.

4. Give SMART Feedback

According to Gallup, “just one out of five employees strongly agree their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work.” Managers can boost these numbers among their own teams by offering feedback that follows the SMART framework.

Train managers on delivering feedback that is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based, or SMART:

Specific: Feedback should be clear about exactly what transpired. Identify the date, who was involved, and what happened so there is no ambiguity in the conversation. Vague comments about performance can lead to misunderstandings and misguided course corrections.

Measurable: Feedback should be as objective as possible, and the outcome of the feedback should be measurable against some agreed upon metric or goal. Use as many concrete numbers and examples as possible. The intended outcome should be clear so the employees know what success will look like.

Achievable: When setting goals during a feedback meeting, work collaboratively with the employee. The objective should be one that both the manager and the employee agree on. Also remember to follow a realistic timeline. Employees should have enough time to achieve the goal, but not so much time that the goal seems too distant to motivate them.

– Relevant: Objectives set during a feedback meeting should align with the strategic direction of the company. Uncertainty or doubt about how a target contributes to the organization’s mission can lead to confusion and disengagement.

– Time-based: As mentioned earlier, set a clear, realistic timeline for when the target should be met.

Be sure that employees are also aware of the SMART framework. This will allow for fuller, clearer, more productive conversations between employees and managers.

5. Stay Positive

Giving constructive feedback well requires skill, but so does taking it. Hearing how one has failed isn’t the easiest pill to swallow. Train managers to end all feedback conversations on positive notes to remind employees why they are trusted and valued members of the team. Managers can use the previously strong performance of the employee as an example to emulate moving forward.

One way to ensure that microfeedback is balanced rather than combative is to follow the “Oreo method” in which constructive feedback is sandwiched between a positive opening and a positive closing.

 Training new managers to deliver feedback well has powerful benefits for your organization. According to Gallup, employees who feel their managers hold them accountable are 2.5 times more likely to be engaged at work, and employees who feel adequately recognized are half as likely to say they’ll quit in the next year.

Just as your new managers are evaluating their employees, you are evaluating new managers. Praise them for giving quality feedback and offer constructive help when necessary. Monitor the early performance feedback of new managers so that you can reinforce good habits and stop bad habits before they can grow into full-blown problems.

A version of this article originally appeared on the iRevü blog.

Michael Heller is the CEO and founder of iRevü.

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Michael Heller has 20+ years of experience in strategic human resources, talent management, and technology consulting. As an HR executive at Washington Consulting, Digital Management, and Deltek, Michael led teams to develop innovative human capital management programs and initiatives. Previously, Michael held a variety of positions at American Management Systems and Booz Allen Hamilton where he executed on talent acquisition, total rewards, performance management, strategic HR partnerships, and philanthropy strategies. Michael serves the community as a board member of Teardrops to Rainbows, an organization dedicated to supporting the families of children with cancer. Michael has a master's degree in human resources from Georgetown University and earned his bachelor's degree in economics from the University of Connecticut. Michael resides in Gaithersburg, Maryland, with his wife and daughter. He enjoys cooking and college basketball.