Welcome to #1 in our series "The Business Of". In each piece of this series we will drill down into a particular topic that our community of business owners, freelancers, startups, founders, contractors and one man bands are facing. This month as part of our 'Checking In' series, we are tackling the topic of giving feedback.
Scoff down enough business podcasts/books/magazines with your morning coffee, and you may be left thinking that giving feedback will save the world... or at least your startup. There would be few amongst us that would say more feedback is bad; it makes logical sense that open and honest communication allows you to address pain points, iterate processes and drive productivity with a happy team around you. So what's with all the articles extolling its virtues then? Why are we preaching to the converted?
Turns out this whole giving and receiving feedback thing is hard. So most of us are really bad at it.
"In a survey of 7,631 people, we asked whether they believed that giving negative feedback was stressful or difficult, and 44% agreed."
Understand and nurture your people.
Few people talk about it, but a successful feedback session is more probable when you look at it in the broader context. So, before we tackle the idea of 'the compliment sandwich' (which is bad btw) let's get down to basics.
Everyone wants people to like and accept them; it is part of the human condition which makes both giving and receiving criticism a vulnerable act. Moreover, if you are on the receiving end of this scenario, despite the ingrained desire to improve and grow your skills; your brain generally contextualises criticism as a threat - leading to panicky, anxious, shut-down feelings when faced with it. So what is the best thing to do?
Basically, aim to give feedback with: knowledge, purpose, care and clarity
Give feedback with knowledge : know yourself and your team.
Part of giving hard feedback is understanding how the person will best receive it. If you are an incoming manager, it can be as easy as sitting down with your team members individually and asking how they prefer to receive feedback. Are they the kind of person who prefers feedback in person? Do they wish to have a conversation over email? Would they like input immediately? Alternatively, they may prefer to receive it at the end of the working day or week so they can reflect on what has happened in their own time.
Understanding your team's primary drivers is also essential here. Why do they do the things they do? Why do they enjoy their job? What are the drivers of value and happiness within their role?
You should also as a matter of course, ruminate on the above for yourself. Evaluate if there is a healthy feedback culture within your organisation. For example, how easily could team members raise concerns or questions about you or your organisation within the broader team? How easily could they raise their concerns with you - and importantly, what is your next action? There are different schools of thought about what constitutes a "healthy feedback culture", from giving constant feedback to remove the emotional side of the process, through to the more gentle daily check-in where managers can take a conversational approach. What unites almost all methods is an emphasis on the 'loop' aspect of feedback - in that it is given, received and acted upon and able to be revisited.
Extra for experts: How to understand your current company culture, Employee motivations, The nine types of employees
Give feedback with Purpose: understand the kind of feedback you are giving, and why it is happening.
When you look at the kinds of feedback, you could give or receive, feedback generally falls into one of the following buckets. Evaluation: feedback that ranks you against expectations, KPIs or peers. 'Coaching', which is feedback designed to grow capability and your ability to face challenges - and on the other side of the coin 'Appreciation' which builds morale, camaraderie, commitment, motivation, and engagement within an organisation.
A healthy culture of feedback should create avenues for all of the above types of feedback, remembering that a positive emotional baseline within your team will help you, and the folks you manage to deal with more tricky situations.
Before heading into a conversation with the team member you want to define what kind of feedback you are giving, why you are giving it and if that kind of feedback is being given for the right reasons. Try to view this from both your position and the person on the receiving end.
Give feedback with Clarity: say what you mean, and mean what you say.
OK, so now you know what feedback you are giving, and understand your team member well enough to have a handle on how they would prefer to receive that feedback - that's great. Disregard the 'sh*t sandwich' where you layer critical feedback amongst positive traits - it's sold as a 'trick to giving feedback', and the problem is it absolutely feels like it. Leave your positive feedback for another time. A time where your team member can really soak up that glory, instead of devaluing it by placing it side by side with something that will likely feel incredibly negative. If the conversation is to be a difficult one - cut to the chase and say so.
Lay out the expectation, the issue, the impact, the area of change needed and what you together perceive the next steps to be in the process. You can apply your own flair to this framework, and a great starting point for this can be the Rosenberg Method which focusses on observations, feelings, needs, and requests. This helps you navigate direct conversations with care.
Give feedback with Care: create a safe space for conversations to happen.
We know that people react to negative feedback with a sense of panic, so discussions about work improvement, assessment or discipline should be done in a way that is designed with safety in mind. Think calm, collected conversations, in private spaces - even perhaps a neutral ground away from the prying eyes (and ears) of the office.
In a more general sense, safety means creating an environment where care for your staff is a priority. You should be looking to build a working environment where positive feedback is seen as necessary. A culture where lines of conversation are open in both directions, and where more negative feedback is received as an opportunity for growth and improvement.