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Constructive Feedback and Business Coaching

Constructive Feedback is a Key Component of Business Coaching

An integral part of the whole business coaching process is the giving of constructive feedback to an employee as to how they are performing. One of, and perhaps the most important, objectives of business coaching is to develop a person and enable them to maximise their potential in the workplace. This is done primarily through the individual and their business coach discussing the issues that the person has and setting goals and objectives which work towards breaking down these barriers.

Receiving Feedback on Changes Implemented

Between the business coaching sessions the individual will try and implement the changes that were discussed. It may also be the case that the person is being given more responsibility and authority, such as having a task delegated to them. In either case the individual will need to receive constructive feedback on how they are performing and to what extent they are satisfying the objectives set. It is of little use in simply receiving praise or criticism on its own; it must also be accompanied by the reasons as to why the person has done a good job or not done so well, as they will either need to carry on as they are or make some changes in what they do.

Give Feedback Before Too Much Time Passes

It is also important that the feedback is given in a regular and timely manner. If too much time passes and the individual is going off at a tangent and not doing the task correctly, not only will it be a waste of their time but can cost the company a lot of money in wasted resources if the whole thing needs doing again.

Delivering Feedback in the Right Way

Giving good and effective feedback often goes hand-in-hand with a proficiency in the communication skills of the coach. Most especially when it comes to giving negative feedback, delivering it in an abrasive or belittling manner can be extremely discouraging and cause a major rift between the coach, who is often a manager, and the employee which will make working together in the future difficult.

When to Give Feedback

Don't Let Too Much Time Pass Before Giving Feedback
A female manager and worker conducting a business coaching and feedback session

It is best to give feedback as soon as possible and as close to the event that has brought about the feedback - whether positive or negative - taking place. This is to ensure that the correct facts and reasons are given before they are forgotten due to the passing of time and other tasks and situations cropping up. It may also be the case that the actions of the employee need correcting urgently before they make the same mistake again.

Obviously feedback sessions will need to take place at a time when both parties are free to break off from their workplace activities and attend the meeting, but they need to be scheduled as soon as is reasonably practical rather than just an arbitrary date in the future.

Sometimes a Little Time May Be Necessary

The only possible exception to the "as soon as possible" rule for feedback is when the manager intends to give strong negative feedback. This is because it is likely to come as a result of the employee doing something (or not doing something) which has had a serious detrimental effect upon the business or its reputation in some way.

If this is the case, emotions may still be running high which could not only cause the manager to give unobjective and biased feedback, but can also quickly develop into an argument or shouting match which gets neither side very far in putting things right and ensuring that lessons are learned and the same mistake does not happen again in the future. It may be a wise choice to delay the feedback session until at least the next day to give everybody time to cool off and be in a more objective frame of mind.

Effective Communication and Feedback After Business Coaching

A Lot of Managers Micromanage...

Employees in a business often resent it when everything they do is scrutinised as if they are not trusted. This can lead to low morale and reduced performance, which can become a vicious circle as the more mistakes and poor quality work they produce the more a manager will feel they need to supervise them!

...However Some Do Not Manage Enough!

At the other end of the spectrum though, employees can also become a bit disillusioned if they are given no guidance or feedback on what they have done and what they should be doing. They can feel as if what they are doing is of no importance if managers aren't bothered enough to take the time to review what they've done. Also, workers may be going off at a tangent or concentrating their efforts on trying to achieve results which are not completely aligned with the objectives of the business, and failing to provide feedback will mean they carry on going in the wrong (even if only slightly wrong) direction.

Managers Who Receive Business Coaching Can Often Strike The Best Balance

A manager who has received business coaching training will understand that communication and feedback between management and worker is essential for a company which is serious about achieving meaningful goals. Not only will this communication allow managers to let employees know where they are going wrong, but it also allows an opportunity for employees to raise any issues or concerns, and say what assistance they require. Making this a continuous and regular process will ensure that issues can be resolved in a timely manner, rather than being saved up until yearly staff appraisals or team meetings.

If they are performed in the right manner, regular business coaching sessions between managers and those they are responsible for will allow for better two-way feedback and communication, as well as enabling issues and problems to be tackled in a timely manner.

From Negative Feedback to Business Coaching

A Manager Needs to Provide Feedback

Whether it is tackling substandard work or maybe trying to address the issue of poor timekeeping and attendance, there will be many occasions when a manager will be required to provide negative but constructive feedback to one or more employees. We have already seen in articles such as "Why Workarounds Do Not Work in the Long Term" how small issues can soon develop into significant problems which have grown to such an extent, and become so engrained into the way of working, that they are now extremely difficult to correct. At the very least they will require significant upheaval and disruption, and for this reason they need to be nipped in the bud and sorted before they get to this stage.

Not to be confused with praise and criticism which do little to motivate a worker to make the changes that are necessary, providing positive and negative feedback in a constructive manner will get far greater results. Constructive negative feedback will portray the manager's opinion in that they are not satisfied with the work produced by the individual, but rather than just criticising and walking off, a manager providing constructive feedback will attempt to work with the employee in order to bring about positive change.

Business Coaching May be Needed when Constructive Criticism has Little Effect
A one-to-one executive coaching and mentoring session

Often the negative constructive feedback will be all that is required for performance to change to the level that the manager expects. However, if it frequently has to be given, there may be a requirement for business coaching sessions to be scheduled for that employee, as it is obvious that they are not learning and permanently modifying their behaviour and/or approach.

These business coaching sessions will typically be conducted on a one-to-one basis between the individual and an experienced business coach who has come across this type of problem many times before. During the meetings, the business coach will discuss in detail the issues surrounding why the employee is finding it so difficult to make the changes that would satisfy management's requirements and expectations. Once these issues have been identified, methodical action plans can be devised for the tackling and overcoming of metaphorical barriers which prevent the person working to the desired standard on a permanent basis.

With the help and support of the coach, the individual can begin making these alterations and evaluating the effectiveness of their changes. The alterations they make are unlikely to be easy to do (if they were then they probably would have already made them), but with the assistance of the business coach they can be accomplished. When they are, the person will be a much more effective worker for contributing to the achievement of the organisation's goals and objectives.

Be Direct When Giving Feedback

Asking Questions in Business Coaching

The asking of questions can be a powerful weapon in the business coaching armoury as it stimulates the thought processes of employees and encourages them to come up with solutions to queries themselves rather than disturbing the manager and taking up their valuable time. Obviously they still need to be approached when a major issue occurs, but there will be many smaller queries for which the employee could deal with themselves rather than bothering the manager with it to seek an answer.

For those managers who are utilising business coaching processes to develop their employees, it is important that they only use the questioning techniques at appropriate times, for example when engaging in constructive two-way discussions or idea generation with them.

Feedback Needs to be Clear and Direct

One situation where it is not particularly appropriate is in the giving of feedback to an employee. In these cases, it is important that managers give feedback which is clear and definitive to avoid misunderstandings and ambiguity. The manager needs to provide clear observations on the performance of the worker. After they have done this they can then begin discussions to hear the employee's point of view and engage in two-way dialogue to generate ideas and plans for the future, but in the actual giving of feedback, either positive or negative, it will be necessary to provide the feedback in a clear and direct manner.

Obtaining Feedback from Colleagues and Managers

Progress Reviews are Vital for Business Coaching Success
A manager and employee having a business coaching progress review meeting

We have already seen in the article "Performing Regular Reviews in Business Coaching" how important progress reviews are as part of the business coaching and professional development process. Without these reviews it will be difficult for the coach to monitor the progress of the individual, especially if the coach is an external business coach as opposed to a manager providing the coaching for their team members. Consequently, the person could be going off at a tangent with regards to implementing the action plan devised during the coaching meetings, or perhaps not even bothering to put in the effort necessary to make the required changes to working practices.

A vital element for evaluating progress and reviewing the actions taken involves feedback. For the business coach, this will usually involve feedback from the individual themselves; listening to the success and problems they have experienced and providing encouragement, suggestions or even alterations to the original plan. Business coaching is an ongoing and continually-evolving process, often needing to change according to shifting market and operational conditions.

Feedback from the Person's Colleagues and Managers

However, one frequently overlooked source of feedback during business coaching review meetings is that of colleagues and managers. Whilst it is crucial, and indeed the primary component of the review sessions, for the individual to provide open and honest feedback, what they say may not be 100% accurate.

Whether it is exaggerating certain truths, leaving out problems, or even bare-faced lying, the coach will have little way of knowing whether what the individual says is accurate or not. This is where the feedback from colleagues and managers becomes extremely useful.

Obtain Many Opinions for an Accurate State of Circumstances

Although the coach will still need to exercise some discretion as there may be issues between the individual and their colleagues or managers which has facilitated the need for business coaching in the first place - and may mean that these people are not telling the complete picture - the feedback and opinions of managers and other members of staff will typically provide a much more accurate and un-biased opinion of the overall situation.

Assuming that they are not biased or prejudiced towards the individual in question, they will be able to offer an objective appraisal of how successful that person has been in both implementing and maintaining alterations to their working practices, relationships with others (those within the business, external clients or members of the public).

Their opinions can be used in conjunction with the feedback proffered by the individual being coached in order to acquire an accurate picture of the situation and whether the desired and necessary changes to the person's working life are being successfully made.

Business Coaching - Giving Feedback in Person

How Feedback is Given is Just as Important as the Content

Part of the business coaching process between a manager and an employee involves the giving of honest and substantiated feedback to that employee. A significant element to the success or otherwise of this is the manner in which that the feedback is delivered, and in particular the tone.

Try and Avoid Written Feedback if Possible

This means that giving feedback in a written format such as a letter or email is not a good idea. Everybody has received an email, letter or text message where the way it is written can be misconstrued and appear rude, abrasive, condescending, sarcastic etc when in fact it was not meant to at all. This is because it is impossible to gauge the tone that the sender intended from written words. For example the sentence "Can you please do this now?" could be interpreted as the sender getting exasperated or unhappy at the lack of action, or as a stern command, when in fact it could simply be meant as a gentle, friendly reminder.

Written feedback does not allow for the two-way dialogue which is also an important factor in business coaching and giving feedback effectively, as it can take hours or days for one side to reply to the points that the other is making.

This means that really the only effective way of giving feedback to an employee is in person. It is possible to do it over the telephone, as there is still the opportunity for two-way communication, but it will not be as good, as it will be impossible to read the other person's body language, and it can also be more difficult to have a smooth dialogue as there may be a delay on the phone line or the signal may be poor which makes it difficult to hear every word that is said. Having to repeat words or sentences can interrupt the flow of the conversation and disrupt the coaching and feedback process.

Business Coaching and Feedback

Making Written Records of Business Coaching Sessions
Making written notes in business

Business coaching sessions are designed to be informal discussions by nature, but this does not mean that written notes cannot be made. In fact, it is recommended that a manager who provides business coaching to their employees does in fact make a small written record of the feedback that they give to their workers, especially after the completion of a significant project or task.

This written record will provide a much better way of keeping track and monitoring the progress of an employee than the manager having to remember it all in their head, which will be particularly difficult if they are responsible for a large number of people. Not only will it be useful for tracking their development, but it will also be extremely handy when it comes to writing annual performance reviews as the manager can simply refer to these written notes instead of having to rack their brains trying to remember things that people have done throughout the year! It will also greatly reduce the potential for confusion or people being attributed with the wrong actions like they could easily be if the manager had to try and remember who did what all those months ago.

From a manager's personal point of view, keeping a record of the constructive feedback they have provided to the employee in previous business coaching meetings will enable them to track how the employee is attempting to change, and how different they are behaving or acting in the workplace now compared to back then.

How Frequently Should Feedback Be Given?

A Manager Needs to Find The Right Balance with Each Staff Member

There is no hard and fast rule when it comes to business coaching and the frequency with which feedback should be given to employees. Too much and the employee may feel like they are being constantly watched and micro-managed, whereas too little can give them the impression that their manager does not really care about what they are up to, which can lead to them thinking that the work they are doing is not that valuable to the organisation. It may be the case that they are so trusted by the manager that they are comfortable leaving them largely to their own devices, but it is still nice to hear occasionally that what you are doing is good and of value to the business.

Giving Timely Feedback and Scheduling Future Business Coaching Sessions

Generally, giving feedback is a good idea after a significant event or completion of a project, in order to tell the employee what they have done well or what could have been improved. This is likely to be far more effective than doing it at a randomly scheduled date in the future when many of the key points may have been forgotten. Also, it may be a good idea to schedule more feedback sessions with employees who are new to the company. Those who have been there for a long time will have a much greater understanding of what is expected of them, the correct procedures and channels etc, and so are unlikely to require as much coaching or feedback sessions as a new employee who may need some guidance on how to do things in the manner that is desired.

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