What separates the best managers from the rest? Our research shows that they coach more and manage less. In other words, they support, teach, and challenge their team members to achieve their goals.
One of the key skills of being an effective coach is the ability to deliver helpful feedback. However, giving good feedback at work is a challenging skill to master. Not only do you need to clearly articulate the points you want to make, but you also have to create an effective back-and-forth. To accomplish this, you must understand the person you are coaching. That way, you know when to be direct, when to be positive, and when to challenge them for best results.
These seven strategies will help you refine your approach and determine the best way to give feedback to each of your team members:
1. Pay Attention to Frequency and Tone
Regular feedback should be the norm. If your goal is to make feedback a positive experience, you can’t just give it when something goes wrong. If you do that, you create a negative, almost Pavlovian response in your team members: As soon as you begin to give them feedback, they will immediately assume they’ve done something wrong.
Regularity helps team members accept feedback and view it in a positive light. Over time, feedback becomes part of the normal work flow because it is given when people succeed and when they fail.
2. Provide Timely Feedback
Feedback that is given shortly after performance, rather than delayed, helps team members make changes more readily. It also helps team members more clearly see the connection between their performance and the feedback. The memory is still fresh, so specific details about the event can readily be recalled.
On the other hand, delayed feedback hinders the growth process. When the task being evaluated happened months ago, both the employee and the manager may be hazy on the details. Confusion or forgetfulness can lead to ineffective or even inaccurate feedback.
3. Be Clear and Specific
When we ask team members how feedback from their coaches could be improved, the most common responses indicate a desire for increased clarity and specificity. Too often, a coach’s comments are general, and team members don’t walk away with an understanding of exactly what they need to do differently. Make sure the feedback you give your team members is full of actionable advice.
4. Describe Behavior Rather Than Evaluate It
The quickest way to put someone on the defensive when giving feedback is to place judgment on their performance. If you tell someone they did something wrong or poorly, they are likely to immediately become defensive of their actions and less open to feedback.
Instead of evaluation, stick to describing the work in a fact-based way. For example, rather than saying, “Your strategy doesn’t seem well thought out,” say, “As I read your strategy, I noticed it didn’t contain certain elements.” If you just describe what you saw or heard, it is harder for the employee to take issue with your account. This allows the feedback conversation to proceed in a much more collaborative manner.
5. Focus on Behavior Rather Than the Person
One of the most difficult aspects of delivering effective feedback is helping someone feel like they can actually improve. Simply put, change is hard; you want to make sure your team members leave feedback conversations feeling like they can actually apply the advice to get a better result. By focusing on their behavior rather than who they are as a person, you send the message that it is simply their actions that need to be different. They don’t have to change their personalities to be more effective.
6. Avoid Self-Indulgence
You are a coach, but you are also human. That means you may at times focus on yourself more than on the team member you are coaching when giving feedback. It is fun to share your experiences and it feels good to show off your knowledge, but when you are more focused on proving your smarts than on helping your team member, you are not offering any meaningful feedback that can help a person genuinely improve.
7. Create Aha Moments
As a coach who is trying to help others grow, you must challenge yourself to create at least one aha moment every time you give feedback. Your team members should always leave a feedback conversation with valuable information they didn’t have when the discussion began. They should have learned something about themselves or their work, and they should have a new idea or strategy they want to try. This is what makes your feedback truly a gift to your team.
Bill Eckstrom, founder of EcSell Institute, and Sara Wirth, vice president of client services at EcSell Institute, are coauthors of The Coaching Effect: What Great Leaders Do to Increase Sales, Enhance Performance, and Sustain Growth.