Feedback on performance matters. It not only maintains quality, refines and hones performance, but it can also improve morale and trust, and build relationships. It can stop minor problems from escalating into major capability issues. It’s something that every people manager or team leader should be doing as standard, and yet it’s so hard to get right.
For some people, giving good feedback is easy. They have no problem telling their team what a fantastic job they have done. They may do this regularly throughout the course of a project, or just at official times during appraisals or probation reviews. Some managers may simply overlook to give feedback at all, particularly where they assume the team member knows how well they are doing. The not-news flash is that people don’t telepathically know they’re doing well or badly. They might assume that any problems would be flagged, but is the assumption that all feedback will be bad, really what you want?
As a manager you have a duty to develop your team members, and this can only be achieved by recognising both their talents and deficiencies. Every single person has areas of weakness and to pretend that they don’t is to do them an injustice. The key to being a good manager is to enable your team members to work towards their strengths, recognise and embrace flaws, and where possible minimise the latter. A feedback exercise which focuses only on the good is merely an exercise in platitude. An exercise which is entirely bad is either a sign of a very poor manager, someone who is totally wrong for their job or, most likely, both.
Delivering negative feedback can be a tricky process so how do you give negative feedback, or (as the much hackneyed phrase would have it) “constructive” feedback?
There are no hard and fast rules, as it very much depends a number of variables: your own management style, the person receiving the feedback, the relationship you have with them and the nature of the feedback, to name just a few. As with most things in life, a common sense approach goes a long way, as does putting yourself into the shoes of the person receiving feedback. Here are a few basic ground rules:
Sometimes it will be easy to give feedback, and sometimes it won’t. Humans aren’t predictable machines, but if you treat people with respect, fairness, integrity and total honesty, you’ll be armed with the best management tools available. Maybe avoid the phrase “Your code sucks” though – probably better phrased as “Your code isn’t very good, and I’d like us to think about how you could do better”.