This weekend, my husband and I drove four hours into the mountains to take our kids to church camp. After getting my "almost 8" year old registered, he hugged me and said, "I'm going to miss you, Mommy."
"Really buddy," I asked, feeling a little "aawww" in my heart for such a rare show of emotion.
"No," he giggled. "I just know you want me to say that."
Bammo!! Reality hits hard when it hits!
His comment, though, made me think about something all leaders are responsible for, and some of them don't do very well - feedback. Often, people in leadership positions will tell people what they want to hear (like my son) - a true leader, however, tells people what they need to hear.
Providing feedback to people is tough - you don't want to hurt their feelings; they might perceive it as negative; you're not sure if you're getting through; the feedback might not be specific enough; the conversation will likely be uncomfortable; and your employee might not like you very much at the end of it. Great picture, huh?
Here's a different picture. You start with positive intent - feedback is designed to help a person perform better. You gather specific actions and results related to your feedback; you talk with your employee about these actions and results and what needs to be different; you ask them how, together, you can help others from making the same mistake in the future; and you both leave the conversation feeling like something was accomplished.
In their book Your First Leadership Job: How Catalyst Leaders Bring Out the Best in Others, authors Tacy Byham and Richard Wellins explain the concept of using STARs for feedback (Oracle employees can access the book via Safari). STAR stands for:
- Situation/Task (ST): basically, what was being handled or addressed
- Action (A): what a person did that was effective
- Result (R): the positive impact of the action
The book further explains the concept of STAR/AR for providing developmental feedback, where the /AR stands for:
- Alternative Action (A): what a person might have said or done instead
- Enhanced Result (R): what might have been more effective as a result of the alternative action
A Zenger/Folkman study written about in Harvard Business Review indicates that people actually want corrective feedback, even more so than they want praise (or positive feedback). What employees do not want is "constructive criticism" because, let's face it, any criticism is not really constructive. Additionally, employees don't want feedback that is focused on them, as a person. For example, if you started the conversation with "I can't believe how inept you were in that discussion," the conversation will undoubtedly go downhill from there.
Instead, experts suggest that the feedback you provide focuses on specific actions (like in the STAR/AR model), and when providing feedback, you:
- are timely - you don't wait until performance reviews at the end of the year to address an issue from 8 months prior
- are explicit - you explain exactly what you saw and what you would like to see differently so your employee doesn't have to read your mind
- ask questions - you ask your employee to consider alternativse by asking them how they perceived the situation and what might have worked better
- follow through - the first conversation isn't the end. You need to follow up with your employee to find out how changes are going and how you can continue to support him or her.
Yes, feedback can be uncomfortable, but if you approach it as an opportunity to improve one's performance, it can be well received...much more so than just telling your employees what they want to hear.