Feedback is perhaps the single most powerful tool a leader has at his or her disposal to bring about significant improvement in employee engagement and performance. Ken Blanchard wisely noted, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” That being said, most leaders avoid giving redirecting feedback – feedback that seeks to change negative behavior or performance – like the plague. The reason is simple: redirecting feedback situations are often considered a battlefield, with the combatants armed to the teeth.
It’s vital to remove that image from your mind. Feedback is not a fight. It is a collaboration in every sense of the word. You aren’t looking to defeat an enemy; you want to forge a solid and positive relationship and help your employees grow and improve their performance. Delivered well, redirecting feedback is an empowering experience for both parties.
But it undoubtedly does take courage to give feedback! After all, people tend to get defensive when confronted with redirecting feedback. They often attempt various deflecting techniques: justifying themselves, blaming other people, blaming you, attempting to shift responsibility going forward, etc. That is why it is vital to have a process to follow: the process keeps both of you on track.
There are seven steps to giving effective redirecting feedback. We will review them in brief here; for a more detailed explanation, we encourage you to read our book Leading on Purpose.
Step 1: Give a clear descriptive feedback statement.
If you want to change behavior, you must begin with a very clear descriptive feedback statement. The other person must understand precisely what behavior is unacceptable if they are going to change it.
Example: “I have noticed that your commitment to fine-tuning graphic concepts has led to us missing customer deadlines.”
Step 2: Ask why the person acted in the way that they did.
Don’t assume. Your team member may, in fact, have acted from a very good reason. However, even if the reason is not “acceptable,” per se, you have done two important things by asking the question: 1) you have learned something about how your team member thinks and makes decisions, and 2) you have opened the door to a two-way dialogue. This automatically causes the person to be more inclined to really listen to what you have to say.
Example: “Can you tell me a little about why you think this is happening?”
Step 3: Indicate the effect or impact of the behavior on the organization.
State the effect or impact the behavior has had on the organization. Be specific. Make certain that the person understands the serious consequences of his or her actions.
Example: “I understand and appreciate your desire for excellence; however, this first stage is meant to present the client with graphic concepts only: general ideas, not finished products. Do you mind if I share with you the ramifications of missing these deadlines? We recently lost a client because we did not deliver the required number of concepts on schedule.”
Include your personal reactions to these consequences: don’t be afraid to use emotional words. Don’t act in an unprofessional manner, but if you are angry, simply state that you are angry.
Example: “I am getting quite frustrated.”
Step 4: Collaboratively seek a solution.
Notice that this step is not “Propose a solution.” It is “Seek a solution.” The key to this step is collaboration. Ideally, you want your employee to come up with the appropriate solution. Therefore, introduce this step with a question.
Example: “What do you think can be done to help you speed up your concept development process?”
If the employee can come up with a workable solution, they will have a strong sense of ownership of it and commitment to it. If the employee cannot come up with a good solution on their own, you need to walk them through the process of finding a solution.
This is one of the most difficult steps for most leaders. It is very tempting to state, “This is what you are going to do from now on!” However, such an approach shuts the communication lines down between you and your employee and often leads to the creation of a passive, dependent employee, rather than an engaged performer.
Step 5: Develop an action plan.
Once you have a solution you both agree on, the next thing to do is develop an action plan. This is simply confirming who is going to do what, and when it will be done.
Example: “To review our discussion, now that we have determined how to proceed going forward, you will take the following actions and I will take the following actions.”
Step 6: Agree on a follow-up procedure.
Once you have developed the action plan, you must agree on a follow-up procedure. As with every other step of the feedback process, you must be specific on how and when the follow-up will occur.
Example: “Given the action plan we have created here, I think we can see a substantial difference in two weeks as you work on the next two projects. Let’s get together two weeks from today at 10:00 a.m. and follow-up. The purpose of the follow-up will be to evaluate the effectiveness of the solution and action plan and determine how far we’ve come.”
Step 7: Encourage the employee.
In the final step, you want to encourage the employee. Now is the time to tell the employee what he or she is doing well so that you will end the meeting on a positive note. To make this encouragement believable, you should strive to tie it into the situation and what you are expecting of your team member.
Example: “I have every reason to believe, based on your strong background in these areas, that we will successfully work through this situation.”
Is giving redirecting feedback easy? No, even with a process, it is not easy. That is why it requires courage. But here is the truth: in all our years working with leaders, we have found that leaders who can skillfully deliver this seven-step redirecting feedback process are the most successful leaders we know. They routinely see negative employee behaviors and results transformed for the better. Courageously and skillfully giving feedback separates exemplary leaders from average leaders.