The words “performance review” can strike fear, anxiety and discomfort into the hearts of employees all over the world. No one likes to feel scrutinised or criticised and the act of giving or receiving feedback in the workplace can be a daunting prospect amongst even the most resilient of us. But there is no point in shying away from it. It’s necessary and it’s unavoidable, so you may as well do it right.
Providing constructive feedback is a critical aspect of every leadership position and good leaders need to be good at it. In fact, transformative leadership cannot happen without the ability to give and receive feedback effectively. Equally important is having staff who can listen and take on board good and constructive feedback and grow from it. So, what does an effective feedback process involve? Ultimately, it needs to be constructive, engaged and honest. And most importantly, it needs both parties to let their guards down.
So how do you create an effective feedback process?
In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown points out that “vulnerability is at the heart of the feedback process”. Brown, whose 2010 TED talk on vulnerability received over 6 million hits to date, says that adopting a mind-set of openness, rather than “armouring up” is critical in the feedback process. As I have touched on before, engagement is a big part of what it takes to be vulnerable, as well as passion, a sense of authenticity and a willingness to “fail big”. As Brown says, “being vulnerable, being real, being open is scary; it feels dangerous and it feels unsafe, but it doesn’t feel anywhere near as dangerous as standing on the outside, wondering what would have happened if I showed up.”
The “sitting on the same side of the table” approach
Below is Brene Brown’s engaged feedback checklist. I think it’s a particularly useful tool for leaders to use when they need to give constructive and honest feedback, in a way that keeps them engaged, helps them drop their defences and maintain a growth (or open) mind-set, in light of the feedback. This refreshing approach challenges leaders to “sit on the same side of the table” of staff when giving feedback, which of course means to engage with them on the same level, be empathetic and be willing to share your own stories. Here’s the checklist:
- I’m ready to sit next to you rather than across from you.
- I’m willing to put the problem in front of us rather than between us (or sliding it toward you).
- I’m ready to listen, ask questions, and accept that I may not fully understand the issue.
- I want to acknowledge what you do well instead of picking apart your mistakes.
- I recognize your strengths and how you can use them to address your challenges.
- I can hold you accountable without shaming or blaming you.
- I’m willing to own my part.
- I can genuinely thank you for your efforts rather than criticize you for your failings.
- I can talk about how resolving these challenges will lead to your growth and opportunity.
- I can model the vulnerability and openness that I expect to see from you.
- I’m ready to sit next to you rather than across from you. Ideally, you should pick a neutral spot to give constructive feedback. Go offsite to a cafe or find a quiet, neutral spot in the office that isn’t your desk, somewhere where you are on a level playing field and the perceived power differential isn’t there. If this isn’t possible, simply interpret this as a mindset. If your colleague is sitting across from you in your office, try to focus on having open body language, a relaxed posture and try to eliminate any kind of power differential.
- I’m willing to put the problem in front of us rather than between us (or sliding it toward you). Avoid “you did this” and “you did that” and instead talk about issues as separate from the individual. Try to avoid the focus on the conversation being about the faults and negative behaviour of your colleague. Reinforce you are working together as a team to overcome challenges and work through issues and you are supportive of your colleague.
- I’m ready to listen, ask questions, and accept that I may not fully understand the issue. Remaining open and engaged and asking open questions of your colleague will not only allow them to feel valued and heard but can also reveal further insights into issues that you hadn’t thought of or didn’t previously know of allowing you both to grow and move forward in a positive way.
- I want to acknowledge what you do well instead of picking apart your mistakes. As leaders, it’s crucial we recognise and praise staff when they perform well. When having to give constructive feedback, it is essential you also acknowledge their strengths and achievements to make them feel valued and stay motivated throughout the feedback process.
- I recognize your strengths and how you can use them to address your challenges. Do some preparation before your feedback meeting to structure your feedback conversation around how the recipient’s strengths can help pave the way for their own growth and how they can use their strengths to deal with the challenges they face. It’s also a good idea to encourage your staff to keep an open mind and take time to do some self-reflection.
- I can hold you accountable without shaming or blaming you. Shaming and blaming is futile and will result in staff feeling picked on, defensive, belittled, unmotivated and disengaged. Again, good leaders have the right balance between being understanding, but also challenging. By showing you care about your staffs’ personal growth, you are fulfilling the true intent and purpose of accountability and constructive feedback.
- I’m willing to own my part. By admitting your own faults and mistakes, you are showing a willingness to let your own guard down, learn from mistakes and be vulnerable. This in turn helps others feel more relaxed and willing to see their own mistakes and receive constructive feedback favourably.
- I can genuinely thank you for your efforts, rather than criticize you for your failings. Make sure you are authentic and emphatic in recognising and thanking your staff for their efforts and achievements. It sets an open minded and engaged foundation for further conversation that needs to take place to address challenges and issues.
- I can talk about how resolving these challenges will lead to your growth and opportunity. When you address challenges and discuss them productively during an evaluation conversation, it’s important to address the purpose behind the conversation. Let them know what you feel success would look like for them, what your vision for them is, and ensure the feedback you are giving them is constructive in the sense that is offers a solution for achieving this growth.
- I can model the vulnerability and openness I expect to see from you. A great way to do this is to also ask you colleague for feedback. By inviting open feedback on your own leadership and work, not only are you can you use it for your own growth, but you are setting the right example of how others can adopt the same growth mindset when it comes to receiving constructive feedback.
The process of giving and receiving feedback is something that can be awkward and uncomfortable, but done effectively, it can be a fantastic opportunity to check in, to re-evaluate and to set the foundation for the future growth. It can drive deeper engagement and stronger relationships between you and your team and it’s a leadership skill worth getting right if you want to be successful and allow your staff to flourish.
Could you and your leadership team do with one of my tailored workshops? I’d love to share my experience and fool-proof leadership techniques with you. Don’t hesitate. Get in touchtoday.