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Feedback.  The Constant Challenge.

How to get managers to have honest conversations, give feedback and coach their people?

How many L&D teams have spent many years trying to get line managers to give regular, high quality feedback to their people?

Every business we meet is facing this issue of encouraging people to have honest, quality conversations, so what can be done about it? Here we share the common pitfalls of the feedback skills workshops we have seen over the years and how change can be achieved….

Addressing the Fear

One challenge in many workshops is that the focus is on skills alone, rather than exploring the attitudes and beliefs people have. The trainer shows people how to give feedback without acknowledging that there may be a serial people pleaser in the room, two people afraid of being seen as too bossy and four people who hate receiving constructive feedback, so certainly don’t want to give feedback to others.

We need to understand what the specific barriers to giving good feedback are for each person, in order to help people overcome these obstacles.

Avoiding the Monologue

Many of the feedback models used in workshops encourage people to prepare in advance what they want to say. This is incredibly useful, particularly to help the manager stop over-thinking it, and just plan out what they want to say. The drawback to this approach is that it makes it all about what the manager wants to say, which can have the undesired effect of the manager simply giving a one-way speech.

We need to show managers how to make the conversation two-way, why this is so critical to success and how to overcome any more mental obstacles this may raise. It is fair to say that the defensive reaction to feedback causes many people to stop listening, how should you overcome this?

Focusing on a Useful Outcome

When we ask managers what they want to get out of honest conversations they often say things like, “I want him to know that what he did was wrong,” or “I want her to take the feedback on board.” For the conversation to be more useful, we need to go in with the end in mind – “I want him to provide better customer service,” or “I want her to be more organised and deliver projects on time.”

Starting with this end in mind can help keep us focused, so that if we end up caught in a conversation going nowhere, we can remind ourselves where we wanted to get to and re-focus.

Paying People to Think

Why is it that as managers we work on coming up with all the solutions? We pay our people to think so let’s get them doing the thinking. It is a challenge to teach managers to be concise in their feedback and then ask questions, which is why in some of our workshops we work on concise communication first.

Talking around the houses will not help the manager or the poor person on the receiving end of the ramble, so we make improvements here before focusing on questions that can be asked to facilitate the employee’s thinking.

Developing Habits

Finally a downside to many feedback or coaching workshops we see is that delegates naturally zone in on one or two specific challenges they are facing. This means that they sometimes end up walking away with a few ideas on how to challenge this person on poor time management and what to say to that person about their sloppy report writing.

We need to help managers take the higher level tools, attitudes and behaviours away so that they develop more long-term habits and lessons for healthy conversations.

Addressing each of these issues directly in workshops is having a very positive impact. Maybe there is power in simply acknowledging that training in the past has not been as helpful as it could have been, or maybe it is the exploration and overcoming of fears and unhelpful beliefs that makes the difference.

Whatever it is, we’ll keep monitoring the long-term behavioural change that follows from this approach and keep you posted on anything else we learn!