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Make Feedback Easier for You and More Productive for Your Team

Updated: May 9

Let’s start off with what not to do as a manager, avoid giving feedback.

Many do and they do so because it makes them, the manager, feel uncomfortable. They’re uncertain of what to say, they fear the employee’s reaction, or believe they’re just too busy to do it. They neglect the point of feedback, that it is intended to improve and help someone’s performance.

In today’s workplace, this is a big misstep, especially with Gen Z workers (born about 1995-2010). Gen Z wants feedback at work and they want it “…timely, collaborative, empathetic and balanced". This is important to know because in short order, Gen Z will make up 1/3 of the employee population at work. If managers keep avoiding feedback, they'll disengage many.

Now, some managers reading this might be rolling their eyes with Gen Z's needs, stuck in the perception that Gen Z is high maintenance and in need of coddling. (Btw, this is where I often point out that we said the same thing in the 2000s about Millennials and in the 90's Gen X was just a bunch of lazy slackers. Getting annoyed with the youngest generation at work is a time honored tradition.)

But, an older Gen Y or Gen X manager's eye-roll over someone's desire for empathetic feedback might be because folks from older generations are quick to tap the feedback experiences they had. This influences what we think others deserve.

For example, many of us when we were starting out received opinions and corrections from our bosses that were hardly helpful. I experienced this when I was 24. My boss’s boss did a walkthrough of my department with me and at the end of it told me “You’ll never get promoted from your current role. You’re too much of a cheerleader. People think cheerleaders are naïve.” He saw my blank stare and my face turn red. He quickly followed it up with, “Don’t take it personally. It’s just work.” He walked off and I nearly ran to my office and burst into tears.

This experience was hardly helpful (despite it being true). It embarrassed me and made me angry. I ignored it. My point, most leaders model the leadership they experienced early in their career, it's called social learning or observing and imitating other's behavior. I later learned that boss told stories about getting torn down by his bosses early in his career.

Fast forward 25 years and now I know that Gen Z is onto something. Delivering feedback that is timely, collaborative, empathetic, and balanced are feedback best practices that not only result in someone hearing the feedback and taking action on it, but also create work productive and meaningful workplaces. What most managers need is some basic guidance on how to follow those best practices.

If you find yourself in this camp, here are a few tips to make giving feedback easier for you and more productive for your team.

Talk about feedback before you must give it

Part of the reason feedback can sting is because it’s often given unexpectedly. Talking about it before it comes up helps make it expected (and thus take some sting out.) So, as a manager, when you talk about feedback as a typical and necessary aspect of work, you then lay the foundation for productive performance conversations.

First, talk to the team as a group and begin by defining feedback. Here’s a definition to use:

Feedback is specific and genuine information based on past work or behaviors intended to encourage or improve performance.

Then, discuss the importance of it and how it helps everyone achieve results. No high performing team exists without feedback. Share stories about good ways of giving and receiving feedback and bad ways. Acknowledge that feedback can sometimes feel embarrassing or disappointing but that the goal is to help everyone advance in their work. Including you – the boss. This is where you also invite feedback from the team.

Then, in your regular one-on-one meetings, ask each person how they want to receive feedback and when. Give people the freedom to choose. Would they like it first in an email with a face-to-face follow-up? Or maybe right after something was observed, in the moment? Or, unless it’s urgent, wait until your regularly scheduled one-on-one’s? As the boss, also describe how you like to receive feedback.

Give good feedback liberally

The word feedback must be associated with both positive and critical information. So, give good feedback regularly, normalize the word "feedback". This means to acknowledge someone’s contribution in a meeting by telling them they had good ideas or caused you to think differently about the issue. Notice and praise when they make the right decision. Catch your team doing things well. This will reinforce to your team that you respect them, and you value their contributions. This makes people feel more secure, certain, and confident around their boss. As a manager, you'll get better results too. People perform their work better when their boss genuinely appreciates them.

Allow for self-evaluation first   

When the time comes to give feedback, allow the person to evaluate themselves first. In situations where someone makes a mistake or drops a ball, often they know they did. Ask what happened and then ask, “How do you think that went?” or “Would you do anything differently next time?” Give them the chance to talk about their missteps. Allowing them to evaluate first relieves you from giving any feedback. It’s the easiest way to engage in a corrective feedback discussion without having to give corrective feedback.

Speak from your perspective and invite dialogue

If you still need to give corrective feedback - even after self-evaluation - then discuss it from your perspective (using “I” and “my” language) and invite dialogue by asking questions along the way. Here is a framework that illustrates it. This is a situation where a direct report fumbled a couple meetings by way of starting late and being unprepared.

Growth Partners Consulting

Giving corrective feedback is done best when it takes place in the form of a conversation, a back and forth of perspective sharing - not a directive.

Praising, acknowledging, and correcting past work and behavior are essential leadership and teamwork activities. Doing this well not only improves performance but it creates meaningful, challenging, and rewarding work experiences for all. Talking about feedback before you need to give it, giving positive feedback freely, allowing for self-evaluations and engaging in a conversation are the tips that will put you on that path.

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Until next time!


Amy Drader is a management consultant and credentialed coach with over 20 years’ experience in HR and operations. She knows first-hand the joys and challenges of leading people and is dedicated to helping managers and teams advance their performance. She is the owner of Growth Partners Consulting, a boutique leadership and team development consulting firm that provides customized training, coaching, and professional development resources.


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