I love the New Year and the opportunity it brings to take stock of what one can do better. And there’s always something one can do better. As Benjamin Franklin said: “Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.”
One business skill I will work on in 2016 is giving feedback. Like many folks, I find that this does not come naturally to me – but I also know how important it is, not just to the individual receiving the feedback but also to the health of the organization.
When it comes to giving feedback, the formal review process is certainly important — but it’s far better for managers to provide regular, real-time feedback all year long. The fact that many do not is partly psychological: they fear the feedback will be poorly received. But the truth is that employees want to know how they are doing — and how they can do better. I know that’s been true for me over the course of my career.
One study, highlighted by Harvard Business Review found that people actually preferred “corrective” feedback over positive feedback — by a wide margin. “Corrective” in this case was defined as making suggestions for improvement, exploring new and better ways to do things, and pointing out something that was done in a less-than-optimal way. Nearly three-quarters of respondents said this kind of constructive criticism improves performance — and helps careers.
There was an important qualifier though: the preference was for corrective feedback that was “delivered appropriately.” That’s a key distinction, because there’s certainly a right way — and a wrong way — to deliver feedback. Good feedback should be:
- Specific. It should refer to an actual behavior. “You did not attend our team meeting” is more effective than “You do not contribute to the team.”
- Timely. It should be provided as soon as possible after the specific behavior occurs.
- Relevant. It should be aimed at helping the employee do his/her job, and it should be based on outcomes over which the employee actually has control.
- Constructive. It should be phrased as an opportunity for improvement by providing suggestions for a specific action to take.
Giving feedback is like a muscle — it gets stronger with use. So in 2016, in the spirit of Ben Franklin’s ideal of continuous improvement, I’m resolved to working that muscle more. Happy New Year!