“Make feedback normal. Not a performance review.”
~ Ed Batista
You’re in the middle of busy season, with multiple engagements in play and the team running in fifteen different directions. Are you giving feedback to the people working on your jobs, in your groups or assigned to you? If not, you’re missing an opportunity to deliver the information your team members need to truly improve and grow. By the time annual reviews arrive, you probably won’t remember how pleased you and your new tax client were over the analysis that the Senior on the job delivered. You’ll also forget the frustrations you experienced on a different job with that same Senior – or you’ll remember but won’t be able to help her understand what specifically could have been better because so much time and too many details have since passed.
In an ideal world, you would share observations about successes and failures on a day-to-day, in-the-moment basis. We call this midstream feedback and believe it’s an essential element for accelerated people development. If you’re truly committed to helping your team members get better and grow, then you must make the time for midstream feedback to happen, no matter how busy you are. When midstream feedback is happening on a continuous, real-time basis, and being delivered in small bits and pieces that can be actioned and assimilated into the daily work, then your team members will make the progress you’re hoping for and you’ll experience the leverage and smoothness of work flow to which we all aspire.
Good midstream feedback is:
- Candid – the best feedback doesn’t beat around the bush or hint at the issues. If there’s a problem, or something isn’t going well, the concerns are clearly laid out for the two of you to work through. Before you deliver the feedback, you’ve considered where you might be as much as 100% responsible for what happened so that you’re ready to have a collaborative discussion about how to fix the issue.
- Balanced – the Harvard Business Review recommends a balance of five positive comments for every criticism. If that’s a tough sell for you, set a goal for noticing at least one positive thing each week. Take time to praise your team members when they go above and beyond, deliver insightful comments on a job, or shift their performance in a positive way. Regularly recognizing the positive will empower you to deliver constructive criticism when needed.
- Actionable and specific – the best feedback offers specific strategies for improvement, including tactics that the receiver can put into action. This applies to constructive feedback as well as praise, because positive feedback is also more effective when the receiver understands the specific actions or behaviors they demonstrated that were effective or helpful.
- Timely – midstream feedback should allow your staff to get back in the moment and examine their thinking and processes. When you offer feedback in a real-time manner, they are more likely to remember what happened and be able to make a change in the way they are operating.
- Written in an email recap (or captured in your feedback system) – ensure that your meaningful feedback is captured for your annual or semi-annual review process. You’ll want the data when a team member isn’t making the improvements you expected and you’re ready to shift the conversation from “remember, you committed to delivering on-time” to “this is the third time this month that you’ve delivered late – what do you think is causing that?”
Midstream feedback works best when you have rapport with the person, which means you’ve spent time together and developed a relationship. Take the time to regularly check on how the work is progressing, what they enjoy or dislike, where they are struggling, or what support or resources they need. Find ways to show that you care personally about them and understand the other things they have going on in their life. Ask for their feedback on you, too, and encourage a two-way street of sharing successes, new ideas and improvements with your team members.
Feedback is most effective when it’s delivered live. For some of us, that means in-person, but don’t wait for a chance to be in the same room with each other. You can also successfully deliver feedback in a phone or video call. The ConvergenceCoaching team is 100% virtual, so if we waited for a chance to be in-person, critical feedback and information wouldn’t be delivered. The least effective method for feedback is in writing - email, review notes or your performance evaluation platform - because it’s missing the context and problem solving that happens live. That said, you’ll still provide written feedback but be sure you’re deliberately making time for live conversations, too.
To build rapport and deliver feedback more often, consider scheduling huddles, which are short, more frequent meetings where you touch base with your career advisees or engagement staff. On our team, we call these check-ins and assign responsibility for scheduling them to the assignee or staff person on an engagement. The practice has become critical to furthering our projects, communicating essential information and delivering feedback both up and down the chain of command.
Be unstoppable! Build a new habit and deliver effective midstream feedback to your team members all year long, no matter how busy. By doing so you will demonstrate your true commitment to your staff’s growth and development. Start today, right in the middle of your busiest time of year. You and your team members will reap the benefits of this new, more communicative way of operating!