BY AMY COOLEY
With the ongoing recovery in our industry, you may be working hard at rebuilding your team—bringing some people back and hiring some new employees. And having a team means another aspect of your role as operator is back: You’re a people manager again!
One important component of the management role is delivering feedback. Whether it’s good, bad, or even ugly, giving constructive guidance is a primary way not only to enhance performance, but also to motivate and develop your team. But before we get started on the types of feedback, let’s review the basics of giving feedback: the why and the when.
Why Is Feedback So Important? Giving feedback is not only an opportunity to correct issues, it’s also a way to reinforce good work. More than that, engaging your employees in conversations about themselves and their work shows that you value your team and their contributions to your business. We know that employees tend to perform better when they feel positive about their jobs. So if some coaching shows that you value them and makes them feel good about being at work, then that alone is going to increase productivity. And it also probably means less turnover, which is a long-term benefit to your operation.
When Should You Give Feedback? As a manager, part of coaching your staff is giving guidance and direction, ideally close to the time of the work you are responding to. The details will be clearer in both of your minds, and the information will be more easily associated with the incident, good or bad. If you’re doing this frequently, you can be fairly casual and relaxed about it, which will put the employee at ease and make them more receptive to what you have to say. The purpose of your feedback is to guide the employee to continue with what they are doing well, and to improve on areas where they need to develop. If you save it all up for annual performance reviews, you’re not really coaching your team or giving them the best chance to improve—not to mention wasting both of your time.
Many managers have a feedback preference: maybe they love to praise, or they see constructive criticism as the main form of commentary they give employees. But managing a team means you have the opportunity to offer a range a feedback, from the good to the bad to the ugly.
The Good. It’s important to provide feedback when you see good work, and not just when you identify an error or a need for improvement. Leaving good work unnoticed or unremarked can make your employees feel unappreciated or uncertain. If they only hear from you when something goes wrong, your team is likely to be anxious or fearful every time you approach them. You need to let them know what they are doing well, not just with a generic praise like “good job!” If they don’t understand what was good about their performance, they may not be sure how to replicate it the next time.
The Bad. Likewise, with negative feedback, the sooner you respond, the more likely you are to nip poor performance in the bud and give them an opportunity to improve before a small concern develops into a serious issue. When a mistake is repeated several times because constructive criticism came later, it can become a habit that is harder to break and may be more difficult to undo. When you need to deliver negative feedback, try to do it privately, or at least quietly, and avoid humiliating the employee. But it is also important to be direct and constructive in your feedback. Try to avoid chastising or adding emotional commentary. Instead, keep the conversation neutral and focused on the facts. What specifically went wrong, and what should be done next time to make it better? Explain the negative impact of the behavior—doesn’t meet the excellent standard of service promised to your clients, does not fit your code of conduct, lost business, required vehicle repair, etc.
If possible, apply the “compliment sandwich” method: start with a compliment, move to the correction, and end with a compliment. It might look something like this:
“Andy, I’ve noticed how efficient you are when you are taking reservations. You get all the needed information from the clients not just quickly but also accurately, which is great. You know, our clients who call in want that personal touch that they don’t get from our competitors, so while you are being efficient, just remember to be friendly and warm as well. You are a really great receptionist, so thank you for all of your hard work!”
The Ugly. Sometimes a pattern of poor behavior develops and the employee doesn’t show improvement. Or the conduct is so severe that it requires discipline or even termination. When this happens, the conversation is likely to go much better if it doesn’t come out of the blue. If you’ve been a coaching type of manager all along, the employee will be less surprised when you cite a list of ongoing errors or infractions. They will have a better idea of your expectations and likely are already aware they are falling short. Before conducting the conversation, make a plan and know what you are intending to do. Is this a written warning? A final warning? A termination? Prepare your documents and stick to your talking points.
In my early days as a staffing coordinator for temporary personnel, I had the good fortune of working alongside an experienced colleague who could have taught a master class in delivering feedback. He readily gave coaching-style feedback, good or bad. And when things did get ugly, he remained sincere and empathetic, while delivering the bad news in a direct way. More than once, I watched him terminate a temporary employee from an assignment, or even from employment with the agency, and then get a handshake and a “thank you” from the former employee on their way out the door.
Final Thoughts. Coaching can be a truly effective management style. Show genuine interest in your employees, get to know them, talk with them about their work. Give constructive and timely feedback, good or bad. In most cases, you’ll see a motivated team who continues to improve. And in the worst case scenarios, it doesn’t have to get ugly.
Cheer on your team, set high standards, make your expectations clear, give opportunities to improve. And if the relationship has to end, you might just get a “thanks, coach” on the way out. [CD1121]
Amy Cooley is HR Administrator for The LMC Groups. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.