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Closing the Feedback Loop

Two female colleagues and a male colleague cheerfully talking together

Don’t save all of your input for formal performance reviews.  Create a culture of feedback by keeping an ongoing dialogue with employees.

An annual or bi-annual performance review can be a useful tool in helping a manager and employee move forward together, but when the manager is adept at providing feedback regularly, the formal meeting can be more of a formality, with few surprises, because both parties are already in sync.

The trouble, of course, is that offering feedback can be a delicate business, combining the art of the critical conversation with the science of human behavior. How do you say what you need to say in a way that is productive? The key is to build trust with your employees by making regular feedback expected and helpful, because employees who trust their managers are much more accepting of criticism, says Julie Turchin, Acting Associate Vice President of Talent Management & Workforce Strategy in University Human Relations.

Your Goal: Help Employees Improve
“The best feedback is specific and actionable,” Julie says. “And it’s delivered in a way that is palatable so your employee knows that you are genuinely trying to help them improve.”

For example, let’s say an employee leads a meeting without preparing an agenda ahead of time, and the meeting goes off track. When the manager comments, “That meeting was a disaster,” it is neither specific nor actionable, and it certainly isn’t helpful. A more productive response would be: “I noticed that we didn’t have an agenda for the meeting, and as a result, I don’t think the group was as productive as they could have been.” Or, the best approach, Julie adds, is when you first ask the employee, “How do you think the meeting went?” and let the employee draw his or her own conclusions. The goal, after all, should be to help the employee run meetings better, not just to point out flaws.

Make it Timely and Private
Timing can be everything, Julie says, adding that criticism should not be made publicly. But a conversation should happen within a day or two, rather than waiting until the next formal review. Six months from now, if you tell an employee that he should have made an agenda for that meeting, he may not remember what you are talking about, and there may have been many meetings since then that he could have run better.

A good rule of thumb is to train your team to expect feedback regularly, following all large projects and initiatives. Starting the conversation could be as simple as asking three questions:

  • What did we do well?
  • What can we do better?
  • What do you need from me as a manager to improve?

The last of the three questions illustrates another critical point, Julie says. Managers who are truly interested in building a culture of trust should also be open to receiving feedback.

To learn more on how to create a culture of feedback, visit the Cardinal at Work website for more information.

Manage & Lead