Joanne Trotta
Managing Partner & Founder
Leaders Edge Inc.

By Joanne Trotta, Managing Partner & Founder of Leaders Edge Inc.

Providing constructive, actionable feedback is a major challenge for many leaders. Leaders recognize the importance of providing feedback to their teams; however, they don’t always know how to go about doing it. Some may go through the motions, while others delay, thinking they’ll find time to give feedback “someday.” And in other cases, leaders provide what they think is solid feedback, only to find that the person on the receiving end fails to apply it. In fact, research shows that people who receive feedback apply it just 30 percent of the time.

Leaders can and should do better when it comes to offering feedback as it is essential to an individual’s and a team’s ongoing growth and development.

I’ve written in the past about the biggest mistakes leaders make when giving feedback. Today I want to explore the ways in which leaders can improve their ability to provide meaningful coaching, advice and direction to their people.

To me, it’s not about the actual act of giving feedback. Instead, I feel that leaders need to look at the issue on a deeper level. The success or failure of feedback within an organization all stems from its culture. If an organization does not have a culture that prioritizes communication and coaching, feedback may appear non-impactful and meaningless. Employees may not take it seriously because the workplace culture primes them to place a low value on coaching.

When an organization is built on a foundation of a communicative, coaching culture, feedback becomes more essential and valuable. In this type of culture, leaders provide ongoing feedback as part of a larger conversation. Furthermore, leaders in this type of workplace understand that feedback should flow in all directions.

So, what can you do to help transform your organization’s culture to value coaching and communication? And how can you approach the act of giving feedback once you’ve engaged these cultural shifts?

I have some ideas, so let’s get started!

Soft Skills and the Coaching Culture Revisited

Earlier this year, I published an article that urged leaders to stop focusing so much on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) skills and place more emphasis on soft skills. To me, this is absolutely important.

Because our society and culture at large value technology and data so highly, it’s easy to assume that our workplaces should do the same. That’s why we have so many organizations that tout cutting-edge technological methods and data-driven “solutions” while ignoring the human side of business. While business models that place little to no value on soft skills, human connection and communication may generate buzz and flash, they fail to sustain themselves, and they fail to convey meaning and purpose to their employees, clients and customers.

I’m not saying that technology and data are not important, nor am I suggesting that they shouldn’t be significant factors driving modern business. My contention is that too many organizations overlook soft skills and the implementation of a coaching culture in favor of hard data and the advantages technology can provide.

It’s a case of the head versus the heart. Individuals need both and so do organizations.

As I wrote in the earlier article, a coaching culture puts people first. In this type of workplace culture, people don’t just exchange information; they talk to each other and have real conversations. They recognize each other as human beings with rich, full lives inside and outside the office.

In a coaching culture, leaders practice self-awareness and continuously hone their emotional intelligence. This allows them to keep the flow of conversation moving at the proper pace. And it gives them the ability to impact their people in a much more meaningful way through feedback.

In a coaching culture, employees know their value and they are eager to implement feedback because they know it’s been given to them genuinely and authentically.

Of course, creating a coaching culture cannot happen overnight. It must be molded and nurtured into existence through the guidance of conscious and grounded leaders. It takes time to do this. If you’d like some recommendations on how to start building this sort of culture, consider downloading Emergenetics®’ eBook: Building an Effective Soft Skills Training Program.

Communication improves when this type of culture has been established, but that doesn’t mean leaders should wait to start practicing more effective communication techniques, especially when feedback is concerned.

What Feedback Should Look Like in a Coaching Culture

If you want your feedback to be more effective and constructive, creating the right culture will do wonders. One of the most powerful ways to transform your culture is to start engaging in communication more consciously today. When you apply these techniques — and do so from a place of authenticity — you show your people that feedback is not something to be feared, ignored or taken for granted. Instead, you show them that feedback is part of a larger system of open communication, and you make it clear to them that their voices matter in the process.

Create a Communication Comfort Zone

If your people are primed to fear you and your feedback, they probably won’t be too inspired to act on your advice.

However, if you show people that conversations and feedback sessions are beneficial, they’ll look forward to your recommendations and be much more likely to implement your feedback.

It’s all about treating people with respect and dignity. Providing feedback is an opportunity to have a discussion, ask questions and remember that you’re speaking with a human being, not an employee number in the corporate machine. Go into these interactions with openness and a desire to learn more about your people. They will take notice, and they will respond positively.

Considering your employees’ Emergenetics Profiles can help guide how you give feedback. When your employees have different thinking and behavioral preferences, taking the time to look at their Profile will help you to approach your team member based on their needs.

For example, if your employee has a Structural preference, they may prefer practical, clear guidance, so consider providing a written copy of your feedback and suggest an action plan to course correct. If your employee has a Conceptual preference, they likely enjoy future-oriented conversations, so provide ideas on how the employee could use this feedback going forward.

The bottom line is that you set the tone with your behavior. Make conversations comfortable and safe, and focus on the needs of your employees. You’re there to build confidence, not to tear it down.

Remember That It’s Not About You

Feedback fails when it comes from a place of ego. Unfortunately, some leaders approach it in this way, asking employees to adhere to their personal preferences or beliefs, regardless of whether they are aligned with the organization’s mission.

Encouraging your people to perform in a manner that’s more conducive to your personal values is a surefire way to guarantee that your feedback will be ignored or misunderstood. Instead, take your personal preferences out of the picture. It’s not about you! It’s about the organization and the organization’s values and how you can best utilize each individual’s unique gifts and individual contributions.

When you approach feedback in a more holistic, organization-focused fashion, your people are more likely to act on it productively. They see you not as a domineering boss. Rather, they will see you as another individual on the same team, who cares and is working toward the same goals.

Don’t Wait for the “Right” Time to Give Feedback; Do It Now!

If you see something, say something. Feedback is meaningless when it’s saved for some idealized date and time that will probably never come to pass. Remember, you want to maintain an ongoing conversation and feedback is a part of it. Whenever you have something to say about an individual’s performance, the best time to say it is immediately in the right environment and setting.

Ask First; Advice Later

You don’t know what you don’t know, right? Instead of correcting an employee’s behavior or offering your two cents right away, approach each feedback opportunity with questions. Why did the employee make a specific choice? What is their perspective? What factors may have influenced the behavior? Understanding these aspects will help you give more effective feedback and advice, and perhaps you will learn a new thing or two.

Be Specific and Factual with Feedback

Don’t just tell someone they did a “great” job; tell them what, exactly, they did that impressed you, and be as specific as possible. Otherwise your feedback will ring hollow and may be forgotten quickly. The same is true for when you must provide constructive criticism. Employees can’t correct behaviors unless you tell them exactly what needs to be corrected and why.

Let’s Keep the Conversation Going!

The ability to provide effective, constructive feedback is vitally important for today’s leaders and it should be done in a conscious, grounded and a people-focused manner. Creating a culture that’s conducive to solid communication and the flow of feedback is the key to improving, and the tips I presented above can get you on the right track today.

How have you approached feedback in your organization? Do you find that the underlying organizational culture helps or hinders your ability to communicate with your people? Have you implemented any other tips or methods that have improved your ability to provide feedback? I want to hear your stories, so please reach out.

You can leave a comment below or email me at joanne.trotta@leadersedgeinc.ca. I’m looking forward to your feedback!