3 tips for giving authentic and timely feedback

feedback breakfast of champions“Tell me why you didn’t say anything to Katy about her performance problems.”

“I didn’t want to hurt her feelings.”

This exchange occurred during legal discovery in an unlawful termination lawsuit. Fed up with an employee’s ongoing failure to meet job requirements, the supervisor had fired her. Having not received any feedback about her job performance, the employee believed she had been let go because she was the oldest person in her department.

If you supervise, manage and/or lead others, talking to them — candidly, caringly — about their job performance is a must-have skill in your leadership toolkit.

I remember the first time I had to tell someone their job performance was missing the mark. I mentally postponed the discussion at least a dozen times. The time lag only made me more and more uncomfortable. Plus, it dashed my secret hope the employee would somehow read my mind and miraculously start doing a better job.

As the possibility of that miracle receded further and further, I talked to a respected colleague. He asked me what I was afraid of.

“I’m afraid of hurting his feelings.”

“What will happen if his performance doesn’t get any better?”

“I’ll have to let him go.”

“What about his feelings then?”


My colleague went on to tell me really good leaders talk frankly and frequently about performance with their employees. That those discussions come from a place of caring, not  out of belittlement or forced obligation (like the mandatory annual performance review).

3 tips for giving authentic, timely and meaningful feedback

As a leader, you own developing the skills of your team just you own production or sales numbers or whatever other metric is used as the yardstick to assess results. To make that happen:

  1. Give your employees regular, ongoing coaching about how they’re doing.  In the absence of feedback, we naturally assume what we’re doing is OK. If you don’t tell me how to be better, I’m missing out on a big opportunity for personal and professional growth. If I am doing a good job and you tell me so, I’ll keep up the good work and be glad my boss shows me she cares.
  2. Be specific in describing in good work and what needs to improve.  Saying You need to be nicer to customers isn’t descriptive enough and is open to interpretation. Say instead, Smile and make eye contact when you greet customers. Use a friendly tone of voice and ask how you can help them. This comment paints a much clearer picture of what performance is expected. Saying Good job! is meaningful recognition yet lacks the details necessary to develop particular skills and/or behaviors. Say instead, Great job on that presentation to the boss! You had all your facts, had analyzed them well, had anticipated her objections and was able to deflect her pushback with appropriate humor…well done! See the difference?
  3. Give feedback often.  Make it a normal part of your work routine. Build a culture in which your employees give feedback to each other as well. There’s nothing that says that feedback can only come from the boss!

As for that employee who was my first “feedback guinea pig” — he thanked me for being upfront with him and went on to become a star performer.

What’s the best and/or worst feedback you ever received?