Delivering performance feedback to employees is something that few business owners or managers enjoy doing, nor are very skilled at. Being able to give effective feedback is one of the most impactful skills that you can develop to manage your staff. The purpose of feedback is to strengthen or reinforce behaviors that contribute to good performance and eliminate or change behaviors that detract from performance. It only makes sense then that the better you are at delivering feedback, the more effective it is at improving both the performance of your staff and your business. Delivering effective feedback requires both preparation and practice. The following framework for constructing and giving feedback will strengthen your confidence, delivery and effectiveness.
Why we avoid giving feedback
Giving effective feedback is not easy, and studies highlight that many managers delay or avoid giving it all together. It’s possible that in the past you’ve given feedback and felt like a nagging boss, or that your words were falling on deaf ears. Or even worse, you’re afraid that if you give feedback, your staff won’t like you or they’ll leave to go work someplace else for someone who’s not as picky or demanding.
One of the major reasons we avoid giving feedback is that we have a belief that all feedback is received as bad or negative. When we believe that feedback equals conflict and we’d rather avoid it, or sugarcoat it (which makes it ineffective), we’re allowing poor performance to perpetuate or good performance to go unvalidated. The truth is that most people, especially high performers, crave feedback. The burden then is on the deliverer of the feedback to make sure it’s specific and actionable.
Reframing your view
First, let’s dispel the myth that all feedback is bad or that it has to be confrontational. Instead, imagine that feedback is neutral. Think of feedback as a mirror. Feedback is simply information that you need, but don’t have, in order to achieve a desired result. Feedback can be used to both correct behavior (think: coaching cue) and reinforce positive behavior (think: celebrating goals achieved).
You’re already an expert
As trainers and coaches, you already know and understand that effective feedback is an extremely important part of how you work with your clients. As a matter of fact, in your role as a coach or trainer, you are on both sides of the feedback coin on a daily basis.
While you’re training your clients, you constantly deliver feedback (coaching cues) to help them remain safe and get the most out of an exercise. Without that information, they may get injured or not receive the intended benefit from the exercise. You give them suggestions or reinforcement on what they’re eating as their diet either moves them towards or away from their goals. Your clients receive your feedback and make adjustments so that they stay on the right track.
You are constantly receiving feedback from your clients: their weight, the information in their food journal, progressions, goals, etc. You take this feedback from your clients and then you create a plan for them based on that information so that they can reach their goals. Without that feedback, you’d be guessing at what their plan needs to look like and whether what they’re currently doing is working.
Based on the example above, you can see that you’re already a pro at both receiving and delivering feedback. Your staff needs to receive feedback so that they know what they need to do to improve their performance or what they are doing well. You need to be able to observe their behavior and performance and then create and deliver meaningful feedback to them so that they can make those changes. The combination of those two things keep your staff and business moving forward. Approach delivering feedback to your staff like you do your clients, and you’ll become a pro in no time. Effective feedback follows a formula There are specific components that must be present in order for your feedback to be effective. Giving vague or untimely feedback is almost worse than giving no feedback! Here's a simple framework to help you understand and begin incorporating quality feedback into your management workout regimen:
Prepare — The first thing you need to do is to prepare your feedback. In your feedback statement, include where and when the situation occurred; the behavior you observed; the impact on you, on others, or on business results. Be concise but specific when describing the situation, expand a little more about the behavior, and deliver the most information about the impact of the behavior. To be effective, your feedback needs to be well put together and specific.
Practice — After you construct your feedback, take the time to practice your delivery. Role play is great for this, but if you don’t have someone to role play with, delivering feedback in front of a mirror works well, too. Think about the reactions you might get so you can be prepared to manage the conversation after the feedback is delivered.
Deliver — The best feedback can be rendered completely ineffective if delivered poorly. Feedback needs to be timely to be most impactful and it should be given as close to the occurrence as possible. The longer you wait after observing the behavior, or the more individual situations you try to combine, the more vague the feedback becomes. Pick an appropriate time and place to deliver feedback. If you’ve done steps one and two well, you’ll be ready to deliver your feedback in the appropriate place, with the appropriate tone at the appropriate time.
Discuss — Deliver your feedback and then stop talking. Don’t undermine your feedback by continuing to ramble after you state the impact, or worse, by not giving the person a chance to hear what you said and respond. Create the space for a response and then guide the discussion to an outcome. Be sure to confirm clarity with the person you’re delivering feedback to in this step and then work together to design a plan to reinforce change going forward.
Create and maintain a culture of feedback
As the owner or manager in your business, you’re responsible for creating and maintaining a culture of feedback. You can do this by encouraging your staff to give you feedback and then modeling how feedback should be received. You also need to deliver effective feedback often and create safe conversations around it so that everyone understands the intended outcome of this type of environment. It’s up to you to make the environment in your organization one where it is safe to speak up and where feedback is encouraged from all directions.
Delivering effective feedback can seem like a lot of work. However, the more feedback you deliver, the better you’ll get at it and the less time that it will take you to work through these four steps. The results you’ll see in your staff and your business will make the investment in getting good at delivering it more than worth it.
Kelly Berry is the co-owner and VP of Operations of Fitness Revolution, a firm specializing in helping fitness business owners grow high-performing businesses. She has a BA in Advertising Design and Marketing from Western Kentucky University and an MBA from Bellarmine University. Kelly is passionate about helping fitness professionals and entrepreneurs become effective leaders through timeless principles and real-world management practices. When she isn’t running an award-winning fitness consulting company, Kelly can be found pursuing her own love of fitness as an endurance athlete.