Corrective feedback is almost the same as positive feedback. It’s still short, specific, behaviour focused, and future oriented, but this time it ends with a question. That question is:
“How can you do that better next time?”
Here’s an example:
“Samantha, can I share something with you? When you hand in your weekly report late, this is what happens: I have to stay late to create my report, or complete it without your input which affects the quality. That makes me look bad. It also makes me think that you don’t care about deadlines, or about other people who depend on you. How can you fix it for next time?”
“Greg, can I give you some feedback? When you interrupt, start talking over top of other people, and raise your voice at meetings, this is what happens: It makes the meeting longer because people feel their point of view isn’t being heard and they repeat themselves. How do you think you can get your point across and still do this better in the future?”
Notice that it’s short & sweet. We’re not pulling any punches, but we focus on observable behaviour and its consequences. Not nefarious intangibles like “you have a bad attitude” or “please stop being obnoxious”. My second example was originally longer. It contained consequences such as: “That makes the team less effective because there’s less respect and listening going on. It makes you less effective because the people you’re talking over top of resent it, and are less likely to support your point of view.”, but that was too much feedback. Too much can be overwhelming and counterproductive. Pick one thing, and it’s more likely to be heard.
Self-awareness is so important in a leader or manager. We must dig deep to figure out why somebody’s behaviour is affecting us or others the way it does. Often we’ll skip straight to judgement without realizing that there’s a behaviour or action that invoked an emotional reaction in us. When we can zero in on a concrete action, facial expression, tone of voice, or body language, we can give useful, actionable feedback. We can hold that mirror up to our direct report or staff member and let them figure out what to do about it.
Are they constantly late for meetings or work? Do they cruise the Internet when they should be working? Do they gossip about others? Do they never smile, or make eye-contact? Many times they won’t realize what they’re doing or how it affects others. Yes, things like facial expression, etc. are concrete behaviours that we can give feedback on. Bad attitude is not.
This is the kind of feedback that your best performers are constantly craving. High-achievers are always on the hunt for improvements to themselves and their work. That’s why they’re good at what they do – they want to be better at what they do. Part of our job as managers is to help our people and the organization as a whole become more effective. We can do that by giving them the feedback they crave.
The critical part of this question at the end of the feedback is the “you” part. They must take responsibility for their actions, and they must take responsibility for changing their actions in the future. You can’t make people change if they don’t want to, nor should you try. It’s a waste of your time. You can build a relationship, create influence, reflect back, and point out areas of improvement, but you’ll never make somebody change. Remember also, you already have that big red flashing sign over your head that says “boss”. The moment you have to explicitly use your positional authority, you have lost a little of it.
Don’t tell them how to fix it, and keep it short. If the answer from our two examples above is “I dunno, I guess I could let people finish their sentences.”, or “Sorry boss, I’ll get my weekly report in on time from now on, I didn’t realize it was bugging you.”, then that’s great. They’ve heard you, you’ve helped them become a little more self-aware, and they’ve taken responsibility for changing it.
Next time: when feedback gets you push-back
Bernie works as a leadership and business coach, consultant, and facilitator. He believes there are simple things outstanding leaders do well, and that not to do anything about bad leadership once you know about it is abuse. Check out what he does with RESULTS.com