Resist the Minnesota Instinct: Give Feedback
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Resist the Minnesota Instinct: Give Feedback

Don't wait for a performance review to tell employees what you really think. Candid and timely dialogue helps individuals grow.

“Feedback is a gift.”  

It’s a common refrain in personal development—one I’ve used myself working with organizations as they build a culture where employee development centers on open and honest communication between employees and their leaders. These organizations understand the link between strong performance management and achieving business results. When employees know where they stand and what they need to do to reach their professional goals, organizations excel.  

That said, when I think of a gift, I think of something unexpected and very satisfying: A beautiful bracelet in a small blue box with a white bow, or a handmade card from my daughter. I also believe that friendship can be a gift.

When I think of feedback, I think of two possible scenarios: hearing something about myself I don’t agree with or am not ready to hear; or, on the flip side, hearing wonderful words or praise that instantly motivate and inspire me. Even in the best of circumstances, though, is feedback a gift?

The biggest difference to me is that gifts are not required, especially at work. Feedback, on the other hand, is a necessity. As an HR professional, I believe wholeheartedly in the magic of well-delivered and useful feedback. Feedback supports individual growth, which has all kinds of benefits ranging from employee retention and achieving business results to greater employee engagement and morale, and company growth. 

To me, it’s not a choice whether to let your team members know how they’re doing, especially if you’re managing others. If leaders expect continued progress, better performance, or exponential growth from their team, they need to let them know what’s working, what’s not working, and what has changed.

Seems simple, right? Well, one of the most common complaints I hear from employees is the lack of regular feedback or feedback that lacks transparency, consistency, or clarity.

With that in mind, here are a few tips to ensure that your feedback is like a gift that keeps on giving.

1. Prepare. Know what your goal is with your feedback and what you want the employee to take away. Be specific and clear with your language. Understand how your own biases (work style, age, gender, etc.) might impact your assessment. Focus on observed outcomes and behaviors, not personality.

2. Practice. Yep—you need to rehearse. Take the time to hear yourself share the messages. You can never really know how someone will respond to feedback, so the tighter you are on your message, the better you can reply to an unexpected response.

3. Check in. Ask questions to ensure your team member received the intended message. For example:  

  1. What did you hear me say?
  2. What does that mean to you?
  3. What questions do you have?

4. Feedback goes both ways. Every member of your team is unique and may require a slightly different version of you to be their best selves at work. The best way to know what someone needs from you as a leader is to ask them. Do so with sincerity and a willingness to adapt.  

5. Share feedback often. Don’t wait for a performance review or mid-year check-in. There is nothing more frustrating to an employee than hearing about something they did right or wrong months after it occurred.

6. Be balanced. Talk about strengths and development opportunities. Be respectful as you share what you have observed. Be aware of the extent of training the employee might have received when they took over the position; depending on the organization, they may be a competent worker but have received very little guidance for their specific job. And remember my earlier point: Be transparent and clear. 

Whether you see feedback as a gift or an obligation, resist the urge to avoid it, and remember that for a team to truly thrive, feedback is a necessity—something your employees and teammates count on you to provide.

Stephanie Pierce is founder of KJP Consulting, a leadership development firm, and stephpierce.com, a community of diverse women inspiring each other to do the work they love. She co-hosts the podcast Her Next Chapter.

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