Being able to give effective feedback is a crucial part of a leader's skill set.
It helps to create a better working environment, improve productivity, apply new knowledge, achieve more and helps teams to get along better.
But giving feedback has become more challenging during the past year as remote working removed some of the meaningful access leaders have to their teams.
At the same time, leaders know that many of their employees are still trying to overcome the challenges presented by the new way of working.
The great homeworking experiment is different for everyone.
Many are enjoying the benefits it offers and others are yearning for a return to the office.
For those who are struggling, one of the common issues are feelings of isolation and disconnection.
Providing regular positive feedback is a great way of helping workers to overcome those feelings. And to build and maintain team spirit.
You don’t have to wait until your weekly team meetings. Messaging tools like Slack and WhatsApp are a great way of quickly acknowledging and celebrating successes.
In an ideal world, you would give your feedback face-to-face.
But with that off the table currently for all but essential workers, the next best option in most situations is a video call.
Video also works best for delivering negative feedback, but it should only be delivered one-to-one to avoid any embarrassment.
But leaders shouldn’t restrict one-to-one calls to delivering this type of feedback, otherwise, their teams will begin to dread every meeting they schedule.
Stay clear of written feedback in emails. It feels formal and can too easily be misconstrued or misunderstood.
For feedback to be beneficial, leaders need to be specific.
Whether it is something that has gone well or something that needs to be improved, generalities will not help anyone.
"Good job" may initially feel nice, but it is vague. Adding detail on what the person did well makes is more meaningful and personal.
If the feedback is constructive, ambiguity needs to be avoided.
It should be clear, timely, concise and focused on outcomes - skills and behaviours the person receiving the feedback can do something about.
Asking questions is a crucial business coaching technique for leaders and it plays a role in giving feedback.
Instead of leaders diving straight into what they thought went wrong, they can introduce the subject through questions.
"I've had a look at your report, what did you make of it?" or "I've just seen your thoughts on the project, was it difficult to put together?", sound natural and less confrontational.
But they also encourage the employee to give their thoughts first. And they may well admit that they struggled, didn't feel confident or were unsure about the work they produced.
Even if they suggest it went well, the conversation has started and leaders can use what they say to get to the points they want to get across.
They could say something like "I'm pleased you enjoyed working on that, but what I would like to see you include in future is...".
Leaders need to take time to reflect before they give feedback.
If something has annoyed them or not met expected standards, it is vital leaders don't rush into a video call to share their thoughts.
They need to give themselves a little time to regain composure and collect their thoughts so feedback is not emotionally-charged.
Work has changed. And even though most of us have been doing it for around a year, there are still challenges.
The technology may still not be as good as in the office. People may be facing family pressures. Some will be working in cramped flats, while others can enjoy a garden office.
Some may be feeling lonely, isolated and insecure. Others may be thriving working from home and dreading the day it might come to an end.
Everyone's lockdown working experience is different and it is something leaders need to consider with feedback.
This doesn't mean they should sugar-coat what they need to say. But leaders should be supportive and empathise with different situations and obstacles people need to overcome.
Difficult times call for more sensitivity.
Despite its name, feedback should actually be forward looking.
Rather than focusing on what has gone wrong, leaders should view it as an opportunity to re-establish expectations and create clarity on what should happen next.
They suggest or point to areas of improvement that will have a positive impact on future performance.
And ideally, they should include the person they are talking to in that process by asking them business coaching questions. What would you do differently? What needs to happen next? What will be your next step?
What is particularly good about this method, is that the actions feel like they have been identified together, rather than being handed down by a leader.
As well as delivering feedback to their teams, leaders should also encourage their teams to provide their thoughts, opinions and suggestions on how the teams and the business can achieve its goals.
This is another way of helping remote employees to feel connected and understand how their work helps the organisation.
And their thoughts and opinions can provide a different perspective, which helps everyone.
Providing quality feedback may be more challenging for leaders during these remote times. It can certainly feel more tempting to put off those difficult conversations at the moment.
But, if anything, it is more important than ever and can play a key role in maintaining motivation and boosting productivity.
The BCF group has been helping organisations develop their talent, inspire their people and overcome obstacles and challenges for the past 25 years.
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And that means the skills needed to communicate on them effectively have never been more important.
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