Giving employees feedback is one of the most dreaded tasks a business owner has to do, but it’s necessary if you want employees to grow and improve. You’ve already heard the advice that it must be clear, specific, prioritized, and balanced with both positive and negative items, but here is some higher-level advice to give your feedback long-lasting impact.
Link feedback to its results
Instead of telling someone they have great communication skills, tell them an example in which their way of communicating motivated a positive result, whether a customer mentioned it in a five-star review, or a specific project ran smoothly. From that point on, that employee will prioritize that skill.
Identify patterns, not individual incidents
If someone has made a mistake once but not again, they’ve clearly already learned from it and don’t need you to bring it up. If they have a pattern of behavior that is affecting their performance regularly–like tending to work alone without asking for help, or rushing to meet deadlines at the last minute–they need to see what they’re doing and how it’s affecting the business as a whole. Identify the pattern, then have a discussion about what they can do to change the pattern. If they do make adjustments and you see them breaking the pattern, make sure to let them know you see the progress they’re making.
Follow-up no matter what
The point is to improve, not just check off the box marked “give feedback”. If employees know you’re paying attention and intend to follow up on their performance review, they’ll be more likely to actively engage with your comments. You can do this with an appointment for a new meeting at a set time in the future, or you can set a reminder for yourself to just quickly touch base.
Agree not to micromanage
There’s a fine line between feedback with follow-up, and micromanaging. While the line is small, the gulf between empowered and embittered employees is wide. Lynn Jurich, co-founder and CEO of Sunrun, has a system she calls “impeccable agreements”. Instead of ascribing to the traditional structure of feedback, Jurich follows a model based on mutual negotiation:
“When you say something, either you follow through with it, or you come back and renegotiate it. But I want to explicitly renegotiate it, so that I know what’s changed. You can then run so much faster as a business because you’re not checking on what everybody else is doing. You’re going to count on them, and then if for some reason circumstances change, which they do, they are going to come back to you and tell you. You don’t have to do all this checking up.”
Jurich’s impeccable agreements set up minutely specific expectations, accept that people are going to make mistakes, and present the clear expectation of how those mistakes will be addressed. This trust-based system seems to be working, as Sunrun surpassed Tesla to become the leading installer of residential rooftop solar panels in American in 2019.
Giving your team feedback that empowers them makes you go from their boss to their mentor. It shows them you’re invested in them as long-term team members and also, over time, crafts employees into future leaders.