Wednesday, August 1, 2018

A Proactive Approach to Tough Feedback

One of the hardest things a manager has to do is sit down with an employee and discuss a serious behavior or performance issue, especially when if it’s going to be an unpleasant surprise to the employee.

Tough feedback is just that . . . tough! And while we may not ever get to a point where we look forward to sharing difficult information, there are ways to make these conversations less difficult.

One of the biggest reasons tough feedback is so tough is that we realize what we are about to share will shock, disappoint, or even anger the employee. However, usually it’s not necessarily the information that causes the shock, disappointment or anger, it’s the fact that the employee never saw it coming. The difficult news seems to come out of the blue and completely contradict the employee’s perception of the circumstances.

A common myth of management is that people can’t handle bad news. WRONG! People can’t handle news that contradicts their frame of reference. If you want to make tough feedback less tough, focus on how to eliminate the shock and disbelief factor. Here’s how:

1. Clearly define and set the employee’s and your expectations up-front.

People don’t go from star performers to poor performers overnight and they definitely shouldn’t become aware of this fact for the first time at their annual review. Expectations should be clear and agreed upon up-front. Employees should know exactly what you expect from them, what they can expect from you, and what needs to be done to make improvements.

2. Give feedback throughout the year.

Don’t just stockpile your feedback for the formal review. Again, no one likes surprises, especially bad ones, so don’t keep people in the dark. If an employee has been reminded about a specific behavior issue eight times throughout the year and has failed to make an improvement, the feedback and lower rating will be less shocking (and less difficult to deliver) during the annual review.

3.  Focus on the task and the expectations around the task – not the person.

Give clear examples of actions that don’t meet your expectations. The feedback should focus on the task, behaviors and expectations, with specific examples.
Here’s two examples:

- Too personal and general: “You are too controlling and need to calm down.”

- Specific, behavioral, and relevant to the job: “In today’s meeting, when you interrupted Dan, Jane and John to share your ideas, you made it difficult to gather full team input. Please let others complete their thoughts before you share yours.”

4. Make a plan with dates to discuss and update expectations – and document it.

Tough issues should be documented and managed throughout the year. Keep checking in with the employee to re-state and clarify both your expectations and his or hers. Keep an accurate understanding at all times about how you both feel the person is doing relative to the performance issues. This understanding can only happen if you schedule planned meetings throughout the year to review and discuss.

Whether spoken or unspoken, expectations have a powerful impact on our thoughts, feelings, and actions. They play a key role in driving our attitudes. Research shows that employees who have clearly defined, well communicated expectations find more satisfaction and success in their work than people whose expectations remain vague and unspoken.

Believe it or not, the more you give feedback about uncomfortable issues, the less uncomfortable the sessions become. The sessions only become tough if you’ve been avoiding the issue.

Take a proactive, not a reactive, approach and you will help strengthen your relationships with your employees and head off many of those dreaded “sweaty palmed, sick stomach” discussions.
Feedback sessions are tough when an employee is caught off guard. Taking a proactive approach to tough feedback eliminates the shock and surprise.

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