At some point in our professional lives, most of us have found ourselves on one, or both sides, of feedback. When the feedback is great — you know, the kind that’s full of praise and validation — the person tasked to deliver and the recipient, come away feeling empowered and relieved. But what about when the feedback isn’t so great? This conversation can be, and oftentimes is, uncomfortable, anxiety-ridden and ultimately interpreted by the recipient as a personal attack on their professional capabilities. That said, since the objective of the exercise is to improve performance — offending your team with poorly constructed and delivered feedback — clearly works against the goal.

Traditional feedback communications, fail your team.

And by “traditional,” we mean the kind that has for decades, enabled managers/team leaders/directors to believe that their title, alone, qualifies them to coach a teammate through the less than stellar feedback — the Improvement Focused Feedback (IFF). We see this title-based confidence as a professional delusion of sorts. One that is likely completely outside of a manager’s awareness yet empowers him/her to provoke animosity and resentment within your team inadvertently — and once a team leader falls into this IFF failure trap — it can be hard to climb out. So, we’ve identified the top 3 reasons Improvement Focused Feedback (IFF), fails — and offer our own feedback to get you back on track.

#1 | Focusing on Weaknesses

Eroding a team member’s self-esteem, isn’t an effective IFF strategy. In fact, it’s an invitation for them to disengage. Managers should consider that when team members find themselves on the receiving end of an Improvement Focused Feedback (IFF) talk, they are instinctually defensive, from the start.

Most people want to feel appreciated and needed, even when they’re not giving their best performance. We didn’t make this up! It’s actually data supported…

Quick Stats:

– 69% of employees say they would work harder if they felt their efforts were being meaningfully acknowledged.
– 39% of employees feel like they are unappreciated at work.

These numbers are high for a reason. Most company IFF communications rely on the all-purpose “When you did X, the result was Y, so next time, please do Z.” model — while reinforcing it with “exhibit A, B, C” styled justifications. Basically, the team member hears “You’re a loser. And this is why…”

Effective IFF always includes a strategy that highlights the positives, abbreviates the negatives, and offers solutions:

“Hey, John! Did you know that as a result of your strategies and commitment— lead generation has gone up 9% since last month?! Thanks so much for that! Moving forward, let’s keep that exact energy around lead generation, and begin focusing on how we can improve overall conversion — which is actually down 7% from last month and needs some rethinking!”

In this style of communication, there is no criticism – only acknowledgement. When Improvement Focused Feedback (IFF) isn’t personal, it isn’t offensive — and creates the lane for confidence-based improvement, which is exactly the outcome you what!

#2 | You Get Too Personal

When a team member has eccentric personal habits or behavioral quirks that could potentially, or currently, create challenges around teamwork and customer interactions, addressing them can be particularly precarious. Yet, as in most cases, managers simply apply the go-to, all-purpose (traditional) “When you did X, the result was Y, so next time please do Z.” model for IFF.

While this model seems straight forward, because it is — it’s also ineffective at creating and sustaining the change you’re looking for. Offering IFF around personal habits/behaviors requires a deliberate, strategic approach constructed around empathy and positive reinforcement. This can be accomplished by identifying the impact the behaviors are having on performance, determining how this performance is impacting the team, then offering the team member a holistic, motivational audit of how their behaviors have fallen out of alignment with team goals/company culture.

You want to completely avoid saying things like “Your coworkers have complained that…” or “Customers are telling us that you…” These communications, while they may be true, will absolutely cause an emotional reaction— even if it’s not obvious in that moment.
Keeping the focus on continuing to work toward team goals while acknowledging their positive contributions, will allow them to reflect without feeling attacked and identify how they can modify, with their confidence intact.

#3 | No Follow-On Plan

So, you gave your feedback, what now?!

Feedback is only helpful to the extent that it’s implemented. Managers need to be proactive in providing a follow-on to team members they’ve engaged in IFF, or as the old folks used to say— it goes in one ear and right out the other! If you see improvement, make a point to acknowledge it. If there has been no improvement, plan to have a follow-up conversation to address. In either case, follow up!

This could look like a quick catch-up at the close of business, the end of a shift, the end of the week or just before some downtime. Managers should consider what effect the discussions will have on the team, and always be aware of respecting privacy. These follow-on discussions, when they’re intended to give a remindful nudge, can be especially uncomfortable. A great way to offset this is to put the team member at ease by coming to their workspace. This neutralizes things by eliminating the dreaded “principal’s office” energy!

Remember, behavior is hard to change, so you need to set reminders and revisit what you talked about, periodically.

There’s a recurring theme…

Managers are using mid-century-modern models to devise and deliver Improvement Focused Feedback (IFF). And it’s not their fault. Organizations have just recently begun to realize that as we migrate to a human connectivity driven culture, the rinse and repeat management training strategies that worked when office day drinking was believed to promote productivity — are long outdated and expensively ineffective.

Ultimately, managers are coaches. Great team management, like coaching, requires an individual assessment of the team’s strengths and weaknesses — and is most effective when strategies are drawn from a book of winning plays — yet thoughtfully structured with each player’s specific learning style/profile in mind.