Managers and teams are breathing audible sighs of relief at the news that annual performance reviews are going the way of poodle skirts. But a new anxiety soon sets in. This means giving feedback more often, in writing, typically in e-mail. Have we exited the frying pan only to toast our toes in the fire?
Give your feedback a positive, tested structure
- Begin with something the person is doing well. Most of us are more receptive to feedback if leaders first acknowledge behaviors that work well. Example: “You relate well to customers. They often comment on your helpfulness.”
- Use the context of positive feedback to state clearly the action the person can take to improve. Example: “If you bring your excellent customer relations skills to interactions with colleagues, everyone will benefit from the more positive environment.”
- As a leader, you support the business goals when you improve the way employees talk to each other. Your essential feedback to the employee is now near or at the top of your email. You have framed the behavior you want to see as reasonable and doable. It’s time to set a goal. Example: “Team members in accounts payable have told me that they sometimes felt disrespected when you have talked with them. With awareness of the problem, I know you can use your strong people skills to generate more positive feedback from AP within two weeks. If you have questions, I’m glad to talk with you.”
Pay particular attention to tone
If you are using e-mail, tone is challenging. Planet E-mail is a cold place. Here are five ways to check your tone:
- Be positive in your word choice.
- Avoid using “you” in an accusing way.
- Clearly frame the target behavior by talking about its effects on the team. Example: “You have already grown a lot in this role. I know that you can transfer those customer service skills to your internal customers in AP.”
- Give an example, if possible, without making the source of the feedback look bad. Example: “Yesterday you generated 5 customer response letters. Your other teammates do 8 or 9 per day, and I’d like to see that volume of work from you.”
- Before you press “send,” read your message aloud. Imagine being the receiver. How does the message sound? Clear yet encouraging?
Rinse and repeat
Constructive, supportive, and actionable feedback via e-mail can become a positive habit for leaders. When people learn that your feedback will be helpful and won’t diminish them, you’ll nurture a positive business climate for everyone on the team.
Climb gracefully out of the frying pan, not into the fire, but into a productive, respectful environment you build every time you send feedback.