One of the things that gets me excited at work is the whole area of feedback. We think we know what we’re doing, that we’ll offer feedback at opportune times, that we’ll deliver it with respect and sensitivity. That every piece of feedback we offer will help our employee build an amazing career. At least that’s what we learned in that feedback course we took, and it’s what our human resource manager reinforces. But then we get back to our workplaces and the fires are stoked, and those good intentions are left behind. Completely.
My cat’s pretty good at giving feedback. She lets me know when she is hungry by meowing and batting at me; when she’s bored she claws at anything and everything; if she’s cold she on my bed curled up in a ball. If I am too slow to feed her, she works herself into a howl. If I don’t pull our the laser pointer to entertain her, she stretches against my legs while sinking her claws lightly into that first layer of skin. But seriously, she’s a cat. She is aware of nothing other than her own needs, and so I expect her feedback to be like it is. Frank and slightly painful.
But what about all those workplace leaders who behave in the same way? They only reach out to us when we do something wrong. They tell us that we’re too late, making mistakes, missing steps, or not giving it our all. You might have a good boss – or maybe you are a good boss – who also reinforces positive behaviour by offering positive, constructive feedback, and if you are I applaud you. And I also think you are a rarity to be modelled, because I just don’t see the right kind of feedback happening very often.
Remember that course on feedback that you took? The one that provided you some practice in performance review conversations, and what it means to offer meaningful, sensitive feedback that is on time, appreciated? Pull it out and dust it off, or better yet, go again for a refresh. Ask your employee how you can help them do better. You just might discover something that you never imagined, that makes your relationships with staff better, or that helps the work flow better. Very few of these ideas cost a lot to implement, and to ignore them can be at the detriment of your business.
If you continue to offer feedback that is really nothing more than a negative conversation about why you can’t give a good performer some credit, a thank you, and an annual raise, you are behaving more like the cat. Instead, I’m challenging you to be the person that your dog thinks you are. Brilliant. Kind. Loving. And you usually have some kind of a reward nearby that everyone wants.
If you'd like to do some learning about feedback, check out the soft skills courses offered here.