Imagine you are just about to share some feedback with an employee. The feedback could be very positive, or it could be – as HP often used to say – a “development opportunity”. After you have asked the employee to come into your office, there are two ways they might react to your request. Their line of thinking could be either;
- “Oh my God, this could be bad, what have I done now?” or,
- “Here we go again, another rant on its way, good job I am used to it.”
In the first case, the result is stress. Your employee’s thoughts create a chain reaction; they imagine the worst, they change their physiology, and get prepared for a defensive response, while their mind begins to close down to any possibility for learning.
In the second case, they have already switched off any opportunity to really listen, their engagement takes another downward notch, and again, the possibility for learning has gone.
Both types of response are possible if your relationship is weak, and trust is low or missing altogether. In other words, they are not likely to listen, even if the feedback you want to share is positive.
But it doesn’t have to be this way, because when trust is strong, you know that they are going to be receptive to feedback, and they will act on it in the most constructive way. Likewise you know that you have their interests, wellbeing and professional development in mind and that you are not simply using your position to build yourself up and to put them down at the same time.
Feedback, when used by leaders in the right way, helps to build trust and to build a culture of organisational learning, and you can use it as a way to recognise and build on strengths, as well as to point out areas for improvement. Feedback is also a great way to start a conversation that leads to growth in the employee’s skills and abilities, it can lead into a coaching conversation, and you as the leader need to prepare for it.
Here is a model that you can use – SBI: Situation, Behaviour, Impact – which is simple and effective;
Situation: Think here about the environment, the venue, the people involved, the customers involved, the business scenario, the original intent. For example, it could sound like: “last week, we were meeting XX to explain our sales promotion, hoping that this would lead to ££ of orders.”
Behaviour: It’s essential here to focus on labelling the specific behaviour(s) and not the individual. For example, “during that meeting, I noticed that you were rushing through your presentation, and didn’t respond to the customer’s questions in the best way.”
Impact: Consider now what happened at the time you observed the behaviour, as well as what could happen in future as it affects the organisation, the business, and the relationships. For example “I noticed that you missed a couple of key points and the customer was still not clear about our sales promotion and has not submitted any purchase orders yet.”
It is your responsibility as a leader of people to share feedback, and though you may have opinions and judgments about what you observed, I suggest that you might not be able to make accurate judgments about the person in question, his thoughts, emotions, motivations, fears etc until you inquire.
And this is why a focus on behaviour(s) is essential as a foundation for coaching conversations, during which you have the opportunity to explore different ways for your employee to think and feel and get motivated, to put plans in place so that they can learn and adapt. Then, it’s in the follow up conversations that you can enhance trust further, by showing your continued care and interest in their development.
After all (as Marshall Goldsmith has said), “Leadership Is a Contact Sport”, and you may just appreciate some feedback yourself too.