17 Rules for Giving Developmental Feedback
As business and sales leaders, we all know the importance of giving developmental feedback to our people. As we’ve mentioned in earlier articles, developmental feedback is a gift that many leaders find hard to give, but when done properly, it can make a huge difference in the performance of individuals and the organization. Here’s a quick list of some important guiding rules for giving developmental feedback that support the coaching process.
- They Talk First
- Balancing Developmental Feedback — Positives and Areas for Improvement
- Increase the Amount of Positive Feedback Upfront
- Have Courage
- Be Specific
- Focus on a Few Key Things — Don’t Overload
- Close the Door
- Be Open and Honest
- Be on Time
- Don’t Be a Go-between
- Don’t Abdicate
- Trust — and Be Trustworthy
- Love Feedback
- Give Praise
- Take Your Anger Temperature
- The “Feedback Conversation”
- Be the Model
Developmental Feedback Examples
1. They Talk First
By asking the salesperson to self-assess, before giving your view, you not only gain insight into the salesperson’s judgment and knowledge but also can put the responsibility for development on the salesperson.
2. Balancing Developmental Feedback — Positives and Areas for Improvement
Start with the positives (strengths) — even if people say they only want to hear the negatives. Why? People learn as much (or more) from positive feedback as from negative. Without hearing positives, people might misinterpret the negative feedback and think it is your total feeling about them. You must make it clear it is not.
3. Increase the Amount of Positive Feedback Upfront
You need to increase the amount of positive feedback the give upfront. By doing so, you can start out a coaching session by sending a message that you feel the salesperson is competent or at least is doing some things right. This builds a positive foundation that makes it easier for the person receiving feedback to accept the areas for improvement. But the heart of this is the feeling that the person is good or has the potential to be good. This in turn forms the foundation for trust.
4. Have Courage
People deserve feedback. They have the right to try to fix things. They can’t do that if they are not aware of what to fix. You need the courage to say the “hard” things and have an obligation to give feedback. You can give feedback on any business topic the salesperson can correct.
5. Be Specific
As you prepare to coach and give feedback, take the time to line up specific examples so the person getting the feedback can understand the message. Find current examples; don’t rely on “ancient history.” Avoid giving general feedback. For example, don’t say, “You have a bad attitude” and stop there. Focus on specific behaviors — actions, inactions, words, tones, body signals, facial expressions, etc. — that in your mind manifest “bad attitude,” and discuss these instead. Describe when, where, and how often you have seen these behaviors.
6. Focus on a Few Key Things — Don’t Overload
No one can work on 20 things at once. If you don’t limit your feedback, you will overwhelm and overload the receiver. Everyone has a saturation point: people can absorb and work on just so much. Therefore, developmental feedback is incremental. Focusing on one point at a time also allows for “short hand” coaching in which we can coach during the action in about two minutes. Limit the areas for improvement to one or two key points per session, at most, so that the person can work on those before tackling the next obstacle.
7. Close the Door
Reserve individual, in-depth, negative feedback for one-on-one sessions. Feedback in a group setting is not appropriate for in-depth feedback directed to one person. Group feedback is appropriate only if it impacts the team and if the team is ready for group feedback. You can say almost anything to someone one-on-one. But, if you embarrass someone in front of others — you cause someone to lose face — you risk creating a long-term enemy and causing irreversible damage to your relationship.
8. Be Open and Honest
The ultimate goal of coaching is to have an environment to be open and honest. This kind of acceptance starts with a coach who in privacy is open and honest with his/her people or colleagues. Pulling punches does not usually help anyone. You must have the courage to say what others might be afraid to bring up. Give feedback on anything the person can conceivable fix that relates to the work at hand.
9. Be on Time
Coaching is often approached as a series of isolated incidences to correct a problem. Or it may surface in now-or-never “triage coaching” which is used when things go out of control. The goal of coaching is to give developmental feedback often and in a timely manner, close to the event. When giving developmental feedback on a specific event, unless people are upset and need time to cool down, give that feedback as close to the time of the event as possible. If not, problems will fester.
10. Don’t Be a Go-between
Whenever possible, don’t fight battles for your people when a third party is involved. This doesn’t mean that a coach shouldn’t support his or her people. On the contrary, support is vital. But, for example, if a sales peoples complains about someone internally, the best strategy, although it often is met with resistance, is to coach the salesperson on how to give the feedback directly to that person.
11. Don’t Abdicate
In developmental coaching the goal is to have the salesperson learn how to identify his or her own obstacles. While this might appear to release the manager from responsibility, in fact, the primary role of the manager is to guide a person to discovery. This is a far cry from abdicating the role of coach. When asked for guidance one manager said, “Do what you think!” His people read this as disinterest. Had the manager who responded with the words, “Do what you think” inverted the words to “What do you think?” he could have coached. This question might have opened all sorts of doors to learning.
12. Trust–and Be Trustworthy
Unless the sales manager is a good actor, he or she won’t be able to fake trust and engender it in others. Sales people in general form fairly accurate judgments about who is “for” and who is “against” them. If a coach has a positive attitude and a desire to help, he or she will get on that first “list” and—with good coaching skills—stay there.
13. Love Feedback
Effective coaching is a matter of know-how—knowing the coaching process and having the skills. Great developmental coaching is a combination of knowhow and attitude. Again, if the coach is uncomfortable getting and/or giving developmental feedback, he or she will undoubtedly project that discomfort. A negative attitude is contagious—and so is a positive attitude. The coach has to be truly committed to and open to giving and seeking feedback.
14. Give Praise
Everyone needs to feel appreciated and recognized. By taking the time to acknowledge a job well done—an effort beyond the call of duty or an important victory—a coach has a chance to create a team of excellence and empowered salespeople. Most people are resigned to not being appreciated, to feeling as if no one really cares, and to being treated like a cog in a wheel. Great companies and coaches take the time to recognize good work and good people and encourage their people to ask for recognition when it is not forthcoming.
15. Take Your Anger Temperature
The giver of developmental feedback has to do everything he or she can to deliver the message so the recipient gets it. The more confrontational or attacking the manner, the less likely the person will be open to receiving feedback because panic or resentment will set in. This does not mean being dishonest or indirect. However, if the coach is very angry, then that will be the predominant communication, not the issue itself. The anger will block the coach from listening or problem solving and prevent the receiver of the developmental feedback from hearing and growing.
16. The “Feedback Conversation:
Since most people are not used to developmental feedback, a coach would be wise to have a “feedback talk” to prepare people for developmental coaching. The coach should discuss why and how he or she will be giving feedback. Most important, the coach should say he or she wants and needs feedback back!
17. Be the Model
You are the role model. During coaching sessions and day to day, it is important for you to be open to receiving feedback as well as to giving it. Be open and honest. Say the hard things that others won’t say. By your own example, you can teach people how to give and take developmental feedback.
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