The first article in this three-article series was about guidance — providing people with what they need to know. The second article was about support — providing them with training, resources and backing to perform. This article is about letting them know how they’re doing.
Think about feedback as having radar on ship at night or in the fog. Humans can’t see through the darkness or fog without a tool that provides dependable information about where they’re headed. The person navigating through the darkness or fog needs to trust the information they get; it must be consistent and dependable.
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Even if you navigated the same waters a hundred times, you’re never certain if there’s an obstacle on this transit. If you can’t see the path ahead, you’d likely need to navigate more slowly and more cautiously.
Supervisors and managers must be accountable and provide feedback to team members. A supervisor’s feedback is like the radar screen that identifies obstacles on the path ahead.
Feedback can be positive, neutral or corrective. Used properly, each type communicates something to your team. If feedback isn’t used properly, it can communicate a message radically different from what was intended. For instance, if a supervisor observes inappropriate behavior and takes no action, it’s likely the inappropriate behavior will be repeated, and with increased frequency.
Use positive feedback when you want to communicate that activities the team or individuals have been doing are aligned with your expectations. The biggest problem that occurs regarding positive feedback is that often it’s underused or not used. Make an effort every day to think about things that are going well, and comment on a couple of them with your team.
Make sure the positive feedback you provide is sincere. There are enough good things that happen in every organization that this shouldn’t be a chore. Make sure you recognize positive aspects of each team member over time. You can transform weak performers effectively through positive feedback.
Neutral feedback doesn’t mean “no feedback.” It can be used if you’re not quite sure how things are working out yet. It’s OK to say that you’re thinking about a particular problem and communicate to your team or an individual that you’re unsure. The fact that you’re not sure should result in a conversation about why you’re not sure. Communication always is a good thing, especially if you perceive a gap between your expectations and another person’s. The objective of neutral feedback should be a meeting of the minds, or a commitment to resolve the differences between points of view.
Corrective feedback communicates that activities the team or individuals have been engaging in aren’t aligned with guidance. The biggest problem that occurs here is that non-conforming behaviors aren’t confronted. The lack of corrective feedback leads to an increasing level of dissatisfaction or resentment on the part of supervisors and team members.
Remember that corrective feedback shouldn’t be personal. It should address the actions that aren’t consistent with guidance. If the guidance changes frequently or isn’t consistently supported, the radar picture is unclear.
Before giving corrective feedback, take a few minutes to consider if you’ve done your job to provide clear guidance and support. Are your expectations aligned with the guidance? Have you provided the resources for that person to get the job done?
The most common reason for insufficient feedback from supervisors is that they aren’t comfortable giving feedback. Often this is because they’ve never been trained how to do it properly. The good news is that you can learn to provide valuable feedback. The more you do it, the more comfortable you get with it.
Some supervisors say they don’t have time. My response is that you need to make the time. Start by brushing up your time management skills. If you truly believe that people are the most important assets, you’ll make a one minute detour as you walk across the plant to let someone know, for example, you noticed and appreciate how they always seem to close out work orders properly?
Many managers and supervisors feel the best part of their job is helping others through their coaching and mentorship. Hone your leadership skills and focus on guidance, support and feedback.
Tom Moriarty, P.E., CMRP, is president of Alidade MER. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and (321) 773-3356.