Feedback is one of the most effective tools you can apply to develop direct reports. However, if applied incorrectly, at the very least it will be ineffective; if implemented poorly, it can have detrimental impact on direct reports’ development. Effective feedback starts with trust, which ensures that direct reports view positive feedback as genuine and constructive feedback as developmental. It’s important to start by thinking of feedback not as an assessment but rather as a tool that provides direct reports with valuable information regarding their behaviors that can ultimately lead to a good assessment. Therefore, you should provide feedback in a safe way so direct reports can learn from it.
Behavior-based feedback is based on job-related behaviors you observed the direct report perform, and it is important for the following reasons:
- It focuses on tangible data or observations. Subjective feedback sets you and direct reports up to debate the feedback. Basing your feedback on facts and observations removes the subjectivity about what actions the direct reports demonstrated—they own it. The most common type of performance development feedback is behavior based, which involves observations you made of direct reports’ actions.
- It focuses on behaviors and actions, not on the person. Referring to actual behaviors lessens the likelihood that direct reports will feel defensive about the feedback.
There are two kinds of feedback: positive and constructive. Positive feedback ensures that you get more of the behavior you observed. Providing positive feedback when direct reports do something good and focusing that feedback on the behavior they demonstrated increases the likelihood that you will get more of that behavior. If you fail to recognize positive performance, direct reports may assume it’s not important and change their behavior. Constructive feedback changes behavior in a positive way by suggesting a better way to do something. Constructive feedback should never cause direct reports to feel bad and should never be a form of “tough love.” Rather, it should help them be more successful.
A key aspect of effective feedback is timing. The closer you can provide positive and constructive feedback to the time you observed the behavior, the better. This ensures that direct reports better understand your feedback and associate it with behavior they just performed. Some schools of thought feel that positive feedback should always precede constructive feedback. However, if you always comment on something positive first, you teach direct reports to expect this method, and they don’t take the positive feedback seriously. The best approach is to observe the behavior and then candidly share your observation; if they did something well, provide positive feedback. If they did something they could improve, provide constructive feedback. As they say in baseball, “Call them like you see them.”
Feedback is one of the most powerful tools you have for developing direct reports to accomplish meaningful results. Use it wisely to ensure that your direct reports engage in their development and grow in their positions.