My clients have been discussing the topic of ‘how to give effective feedback’ recently. Interestingly when I dig into what the challenge is, often it’s not giving feedback that’s the problem. Leaders establishing agreements up front with their teams about how to work together and what is expected seems to be missing. Gallup found in a recent survey that only 50% of employees know what is expected of them:
It’s no surprise then, that when it’s time to give effective feedback there is nothing to base this on and conversations become difficult. This is true whether you want to congratulate someone on a job well done or course correct when something may be off track.
Foundation for high performance
Setting expectations is an art in itself and it’s the foundation of any high performing team. Following a specific approach to this can help and I often think about this the way I would with goal setting. In essence, it’s the same thing. When you’re setting goals with your team there are elements that must be in place to ensure success. There are various formats for this like SMART, SMARTA, SMARTER etc. These are definitely important. Beyond this, however, leaders must master the subtle nuances to setting clear expectations in order to ensure they set their team up for success.
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Poor communication is highly destructive
Natalie Hahn’s article, “How setting expectations can erode your position as a leader”, on Forbes.com speaks to this. The theme here is leaders making assumptions about how and what they have communicated in addition to how well their team has understood and interpreted it. “You can make all kinds of assumptions about your team’s listening skills, motivation or ability to manage a fast-paced work environment. You can also make all kinds of assumptions about what you actually communicated to them, and therefore what they actually took away from the discussion.” When leaders make incorrect assumptions about how well they have communicated it can be highly destructive to building high performing teams.
Leaders must ensure their teams understand objectives
Someone, I can’t remember who but it has always stayed with me, once said that most problems in a team revert back to the leader. I firmly believe that how a leader explains or communicates is often the root cause when teams don’t meet an objective. Yes, the individual responsible for executing has a part to play, but it is up to the leader to ensure that the objective is understood. The leader must create clarity, measurability and accountability.
Hahn goes on to note that the key reasons why expectations go unmet are:
1) Clarity – we make too many assumptions about how well what we’ve communicated has been understood.
2) Listening – we’re generally not good listeners and as such we often miss what our team has to say. Instead when we don’t get what we want we just ask again in the same way
3) Blame – when things aren’t going according to plan we assume that it’s the team’s fault ….if only they were more ….. motivated, eager, talented …..etc etc
Hahn continues that the impact of this happening over the long term is a lack of trust. “You don’t trust your team to follow through on your projects, and they aren’t trusting you as a leader to provide clear direction.”
So what’s the solution?
Hahn has created a list of 6 best practices for ensuring expectations are clearly understood.
1) Know what you want. Get clarity on your goal and ensure you are crystal clear on what outcome you want. “Before unloading your own confusion on your team, take the time to get clear on your goal.”
2) Clarify. Be specific about what you mean and what it looks like, give examples and follow up to ensure you have been understood.
3) Consequences. If the goal isn’t met, be clear what the consequence will be.
4) Create time for discussion. Put importance on this goal and don’t allude to it in fly by meetings. Scheduling time for a discussion underlines it’s importance.
5) Support. Ask how you can help or what part you can play in a successful outcome.
6) Listen to understand. You and your team both want a successful outcome. If your team raises objections, listen to understand what the challenges are and hold the space to find solutions together.
Read the full article here.
The 5 Ws
For me, it’s critical for leaders to discuss and agree the why, what, where, who and when of any objective, the 5 Ws, to ensure the team has full understanding and clarity about what is expected.
Why – be clear on the purpose, what’s at stake and what is important about the activity.
What – be as specific as possible about what is being asked or required and what success looks like. A good way to articulate this is to think about the desired outcome.
Where – clarify where the work is intended to be done
Who – it’s critical to be clear when you are communicating with a team who owns what and that can relate to specific activities, sign off, decision making, review etc
When – again being specific about the timeframe is critical
The other thing to think about is the ‘how’. The level of detail required here depends on the experience and competence of the person taking on the assignment and a good leader will adapt their approach based on this. For more information check out the article by Mary Ellen Sailer here.
So, to make giving effective feedback easy, first, make sure you have set clear expectations from which to measure success and base your feedback on.
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