One topic that comes up time and time again in our line manager training and development sessions is feedback.
Managers often say that motivating and engaging their teams is hard. But when we ask what kind of feedback they’ve asked for from their teams on how they are dealing with those challenges, or what feedback they’ve given to their teams to help deal with issues, they’re usually pretty silent.
It’s certainly not a new problem either. Managers have been struggling with this for decades. Why might that be?
Let’s take a look at some of the issues that might be in play.
Our experience is that people in countries like America, Germany and the Netherlands appear much more comfortable giving feedback than people in the UK.
More direct cultures use what linguists call “upgraders” — words preceding or following difficult feedback that makes it feel stronger, such as “absolutely” or “totally”. By contrast, more indirect cultures like the British, use more “downgraders” — words that soften the message, such as “kind of”, “sort of” and “a little bit”.
In Germany, it is common for people to use strong words for constructive feedback to ensure the message is completely understood. If a softer approach is taken in the UK, it can mean the feedback is not acted on. For example, “I suggest you think about [doing something differently]” is open to interpretation. Your team member may indeed think about it and decide not to take any action.
It’s becoming evident that shorter working weeks can boost productivity. So could the opposite also be true? Might longer working weeks have a negative impact on how productive managers can be in their role of managing others?
The UK has one of the longest working weeks in the EU, yet employees seem to be busier than ever. Could this relentless pace of working be the reason managers are reluctant to spend time thinking about and preparing feedback for their teams?
Millennials live in a world of social networking, where feedback is a part of everyday activity. More than any other generation, millennials crave positive reinforcement and seek to validate their value to an organisation.
Older employees may be used to a more formal process (such as annual review) and so are less likely to actively seek out opportunities to give or receive feedback.
The rise of technology and remote working may actually be exacerbating the situation. People are now often relying on emails or conference calls to communicate, limiting their face-to-face engagement and missing out on crucial body language cues — so they may not even realize something needs to be said, or feel like they have the right level of rapport to attempt it.
How can line managers make feedback part of their daily or weekly routine?
Give Them Easy to Use Feedback Models
Here are two quick wins for organisations looking to improve the way line managers give feedback and ensure employees receive it in the spirit with which it was intended.
- Observe/Impact: When you say, “I observed X, and it had Y impact on me,” it’s difficult for anyone to argue with you. They can’t deny what you observed or what you feel. It’s also a good way to give feedback without apportioning blame, as there’s no suggestion that anyone intended for Y impact to happen.
It’s a great way to deliver challenging feedback and get people talking about their differing styles and behaviours. Not everyone finds that empathy comes naturally, so some will find this approach a bit of an eye-opener.
- Continue/Consider: For people looking to solicit feedback, it can help to ask, “What would you like me to continue, and what would you like me to consider changing?” This approach invites both positive and negative feedback, and compels the person giving the feedback to frame it constructively.
Feedback given constructively and regularly can solve and even prevent so many of the problems that arise in the workplace.
So how can you make it part of your organisation’s DNA?
You need to look at whether your organisation is set up to encourage feedback. Is there enough training and support provided to equip line managers and employees in the giving and receiving of feedback? Are there structures to help people give feedback regularly? Culturally, are people afraid to give feedback – and if so, why?
Could technology be used to encourage everyone to ask for more regular feedback? At Atlassian, they are now using a new web and mobile-based solution to encourage real-time 360-degree feedback between employees and managers. Continuous feedback allows colleagues, managers, and executives to check in with employees and provide support without compromising their independence.
Allowing employees to provide managers with upward feedback ensures everyone’s voice is heard and gives everyone the opportunity to develop.
Ensure that feedback is seen as a non-hierarchical activity that drives innovation and creativity, as well as addressing issues. At her agency Portas, Mary Portas has introduced a number of new ways that her team can give feedback to those leading and managing the business.
A member of the senior team holds a weekly meeting called ‘MD for a day’ where they sit with three different people each week and ask them to honestly say what they’d do if they were in the MD’s shoes for the day. A number of new policies have happily come out of these meetings.
Expecting employees to thrive without regular, constructive feedback is a bit like expecting a plant to survive without water — it might struggle on for a while but eventually, it will give up.
Overcoming awkwardness and entrenched ways of doing things isn’t an overnight task — some might even find it painful — but a line manager training program around feedback and culture will soon deliver benefits in terms of improved performance and productivity, and reduced turnover.
How Can Line Managers Handle Feedback?
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