A couple of recent midway reviews with coachees and their manager have reminded me of the need to be as clear as possible when providing feedback on performance. In both cases, my coachees were given feedback that some things were not going well and improvement was needed. The difficulty for both of them was the fact that their respective manager was not able to provide sufficient clarity about what he/she was looking for.
Fortunately, as I was there as their coach, I was able to probe a bit to gain some clarity for my coachee. Had I not been there (as will be the case most times feedback is given) my coachees would have been left in a position where they were looking to improve something without being clear what the expected performance looks like – a difficult place to be.
If you are a manager of people and something in the above example strikes a chord with you, here are a few ideas you might want to try, to ensure that you are able to communicate clearly, what you want:
- Be as specific as possible about the cause for concern. The SBI (Situation; Behaviour; Impact) feedback model is useful for providing specific examples of what happened and the effect. Consider using this approach when giving feedback (both constructive and positive) to provide the level of clarity that is needed.
- If you find it difficult to explain what you want that is different, paint a picture for the individual that describes how you would like things to be when they are working well. Tell them what is going on; what they are doing; what you are doing etc. in the ‘new world’ where things are working the way you would like them to. That way you are giving them a view of what ‘good’ looks like for you. They can then determine how best to deliver this, or ask you questions to clarify certain aspects.
- Think of where they have done things well on previous occasions and give these as examples of things you would like them to do more often.
- If you find it difficult to find such examples, think about the other people in the team who perform well in the particular area of concern. What is it that they do? Think through what is different about what they do. Do they seem to ‘get’ what you want better than the individual who is causing you concerns? If so, perhaps they could help the individual to understand what you are looking for?
- After you have given them the feedback, check in with the individual to see if they have understood what you want them to do differently. Simply asking them to summarise their understanding of what you have asked will give you (and them) the chance to see if they have truly understood or to realise that you have still not been clear in your communication.
- Look for opportunities to provide positive and reinforcing feedback in the days and weeks following, when you notice that they are doing things in the way you want.
Taking the time to get clear in your own mind what it is that you want to communicate, and doing the communication in a way that works for the recipient will give them a much better chance of being able to make the desired changes than some general, not very clear, feedback that they ‘just need to do better’.
As a result, you can save stress (for you and the individual); improve performance; and in the most serious cases, avoid costly (time and money) performance management and redundancy / rehire costs.