Corrective feedback: are you making one of these 3 mistakes?

Cartoon faces - happy, sad, angryAs a leader, giving feedback to your people is part of your job. And while we all enjoy giving “yay, you!” feedback, it’s safe to say that no one likes having to deliver correction. That said, it’s still part of the job of developing your people and ensuring they deliver top-quality results.

Here, then, are three mistakes and myths you may have encountered about giving feedback that can get you in trouble – demotivating employees instead of motivating them, or creating disconnects about what you really want and need from them.

(Note: these tips assume that the employees in question are generally performing well, and you’re coaching them to improve and / or correcting a specific, but not massive, problem. For tips on managing more difficult situations, click here to get access to the mini e-book The 5 Most Challenging Employee Types – and how to manage them.)

Fairness for all

In an effort to “be fair,” many leaders strive to treat everyone exactly the same.

But your employees aren’t all exactly the same.

In giving feedback to someone eager to learn and open to correction, you can be far more direct and blunt than when giving feedback to a perfectionist who’s afraid to do anything wrong. Being direct and blunt with the perfectionist causes them to close down and become even more likely to make mistakes. On the other hand, offering delicate feedback to the eager-to-learn may cause them to completely miss your point.

What to do instead

Giving effective feedback requires you to be sensitive to the individual personalities on your team. Take the time to ask yourself some simple questions about each of them. Are they introverts, or extroverts? How open are they to coaching and guidance? How do they react when you make suggestions or offer correction?

And it never hurts to simply ask (privately, of course), “What’s the best way for me to coach you and give you feedback?”

“Why” questions

When someone makes a mistake, especially a particularly big mistake, there’s always a temptation to ask, “WHY did you do that?!”

But “why” leads to defensiveness, which means a tightly-closed mind and resistance to new ideas and learning.

What to do instead

Employee errors often originate from a lack of understanding or a lack of resources.

Ask questions to learn more and review the lead-up to the mistake. Then you’ll discover whether the employee needs additional training, or if there wasn’t enough time, or they didn’t have the right materials.

Often it’s a combination of multiple elements. Customer service errors, for instance, can arise from a lack of training on empathetic listening plus time pressures.

The feedback sandwich

The feedback sandwich: start by saying something encouraging, then deliver the correction, and close with another round of positivity.

I’m not sure where this technique originated, but the fact is, it doesn’t work.

That closing round of positive feedback sends the employee away feeling good about themselves – which, let’s face it, isn’t what you want. Of course you don’t want them to feel miserable, but you do want them to think seriously about how they can improve.

What do do instead

Use the tips from the previous two sections to understand your employee and learn what might have led them to go astray. Make it clear that you want to support them in improving, but that their performance right now isn’t acceptable.

A few more notes

Corrective feedback should always include specific action steps for improvement and a schedule for checking in to evaluate whether that improvement has happened.

And note that positive feedback should be just as specific as corrective feedback. While “thank you” is good, “thank you for … ” is better. Check out the article “Why ‘thank you’ isn’t enough” for more on this.