I used to be a theatre major – to those who know me, this comes as no surprise – and during those formative years of treading the boards, I learned a valuable lesson: that feedback is essential to growth and personal development. However, giving feedback is hard sometimes and isn’t always received well. I’ve been present for more “glossed over” performance evaluations than I care to mention, and have even left my own evaluations with more questions than I had answers and feeling more like ‘well, I guess that’s over” than burdened with glorious purpose (see, theatre kid).
But in all seriousness, I believe that as practice managers, the opportunity we have to help an employee develop their skills and guide them towards their potential is one of the most rewarding parts of our job. Yet, the idea of giving negative feedback makes most of really nervous. And on the other side of the equation, our employees complain that the only feedback they do get is when they are in trouble. It becomes apparent that we can work on improving how we use and perceive feedback in our practice.
Feedback should be a constant loop and feedback loops can be found in various places including our bodies, product development and organizational processes. There is the action, desirable or otherwise, the effect, and the resulting feedback we give. Simple, right? Not really. Not when it comes to people. Knowing what to say to motivate and change your employee’s performance is challenging. The emotional stakes can be high, depending on what needs to be addressed or whom you are addressing. The risk of an emotional outburst makes most of us dread giving feedback we know we need to during the annual review and some of us may end up giving a less than meaningful evaluation or address those items at all. But we do ourselves and our teams a disservice. Without effective feedback, your employee can have no way of knowing how you see them. Those employee’s that are under performing will continue to do so without your guidance, affecting their success, as well as that of the team, and your top performers may start to become complacent and look for challenges elsewhere. I know I just put a lot on your already heavy shoulders, but it really doesn’t have to be a burden.
Positive & Negative Feedback
Feedback can foster positive change within the practice and increase your employee’s self-awareness (an important component to their Emotional Intelligence). I know that you may be concerned about negative feedback actually doing the opposite, and becoming demoralizing. This can happen, but it shouldn’t prevent us from giving feedback. Being critical of a newer employee that is learning can absolutely end up being detrimental to building their confidence, but if we offer them positive feedback, highlighting when the newer employee does something well, we encourage repeat behaviors. More seasoned employees who are already knowledgeable in their job may welcome negative feedback as a way to sharpen their saw. They may already know what they do well, and are looking for constructive feedback which will take them to the next level. Negative feedback can provide that without knocking their confidence. Of course, there’s a time for negative feedback for a new employee and opportunities to praise a veteran employee, but being aware of the employee’s development is important to the impact the feedback will have on the employee’s performance.
Too much positive praise can lead to the employee mistrusting the feedback. However, a Gallup study showed that the majority of managers are not good at negative feedback, nor are they as free with giving praise as they could be. Positive feedback is not difficult to give, but it has to be given correctly to have lasting impact. Compliments such as “great job with that client” or “good work today” shows your appreciation but it rarely has lasting meaning or reinforces the behaviors we want them to adopt. When giving praise, be specific about the behavior you observed: “Shelley, I noticed how you managed that difficult client today by remaining calm, and working to find a solution to the client’s problem. What you did resulted in making the client happy and let the client know you cared. That showed excellent client service and I was really proud of what I saw”.
Getting to Know You
In any employee conversation, trust is essential. If we are not connected to our team, then the feedback we provide may be perceived as a threat which can trigger the dreaded emotional response. By finding ways to get to know your team, you can make any interactions you have with them go much more smoothly. It doesn’t have to be much – asking your employee about their son’s high school graduation or how their weekend went as they pass you in the hall, following up on a tidbit of information that the employee provided to you such as caring for ailing parent or having their child sent home from school due to an illness… all of these instances are a way to connect with your team in a way that shows that you know them, that you’re paying attention, and that they are seen. It doesn’t take much time out of your day, but can make a difference into how you build a relationship with your individual employees.
Stop, Look and Listen
Have you ever had an employee that hovers outside your office door and makes small talk about nothing of apparent consequence? Or do you have a team member who gives you a look that shows they want to say something more but you excuse yourself before they have a chance to? You may have missed it, but these moments are small bids for your attention. It’s important to recognize them, and act on them. We miss out on opportunities to engage with our team when we’re perceived as “too busy” for them. I am a recovering Busy Bee and Interrupter. I realized I need to make more time for my team in small but meaningful interactions. I also realized that many of my team, even my friends and family, had so much more meaningful, important words to say to me but I cut them off before they could even finish. It was feedback from those whose opinions I value and trust (feedback!) that made me aware of these shortcomings. Stop interrupting your employee’s during these moments from your team, make time for them when you can. Stop, look and listen, and find the connection in each interaction.
2-4-6-8 Who Do We Appreciate?
Our team shouldn’t feel that our office is a place of reprimand and criticism only. It bothers me when my office is referred to as “the principal’s office”. When was the last time you pulled a team member into your office to chat or to give them praise? The ratio of praise to criticism can be hard to navigate sometimes as too much praise can confuse the message we’re trying to convey, however providing appreciation and giving praise when praise is due can foster the relationship with your team member and enable you to have more honest conversations.
Ultimately, giving feedback is another muscle in our manager powerhouse that needs to be used and strengthened before we get really good at it. Start with developing the relationship and really getting to know your people. Don’t avoid having difficult conversations as they don’t have to end up badly. Will we make mistakes as we’re learning? Yes, and we need to be okay with that, recognize it and make the necessary adjustments. We may also depend on the feedback of our team or those close to us to learn more about our leadership style and develop ourselves so that we can be a better manager for them. Encourage and welcome feedback between your team and you’ll be surprised at how much easier it gets.
What is your fear when it comes to feedback? What are your experiences: the good, the bad and the ugly? What tricks do you have to develop your relationship with your team? Share your comments below!