How well are you managing your employees right now?
That’s a tough question to answer, to be sure. Management best practices vary widely by industry, and management style is difficult to disentangle completely from corporate culture. Comparing the performance of your company’s executive and management teams to peer organizations isn’t as easy as it seems.
Perhaps it’s better to resist apples-and-oranges comparisons and focus on management practices that you can actually measure and control.
One such practice centers on employee feedback: how it’s collected, analyzed, and delivered. You know full well that feedback is a crucial component of effective management. What you might not know is how well your feedback mechanisms stack up to peer and competitor organizations’.
Perhaps it’s time to take a look around. These nine best practices can all improve your employee feedback processes — and, by extension, your managerial effectiveness. How many are you using today, and what will it take to get the rest in place tomorrow?
- Define Roles As Granularly As Possible
Before you can deliver effective feedback, you need a permissibility framework — a clear understanding of what’s in- and out-of-bounds on the feedback front.
That requires exceptionally granular role definitions for each and every employee on your team.
Yes, roles evolve and change over time, sometimes in relatively short order. Tough luck. It’s up to you and the human resources point people you’ve tasked with role-definition to keep pace. If you’re not sure where to start, conduct an organizational audit to identify existing roles and gaps.
- Use a Continuous Performance Management Suite
A continuous performance management suite dramatically reduces barriers to effective feedback delivery in real- and near-real-time. Companies like California-based BetterWorks offer suites that facilitate instantaneous feedback exchange around project deliverables, strategic goals, and employee performance, plus robust support for employee performance reviews and check-ins.
- Break Tasks Into Manageable Chunks
Support your real-time feedback-delivery capabilities by breaking employee and team tasks into smaller chunks — ideally manageable enough to complete in a single sitting. Use your performance management system to monitor and plot progress toward these milestones, or deploy a complementary system (such as a project management tool) to keep employees on track. Scale your feedback delivery system to cover each task. If it’s too small to warrant feedback, it’s probably too small to define as a trackable “chunk.”
- Institute an Open-Door Policy
Does your organization have an open-door policy?
Open-door policies are especially helpful for newer managers, says Forbes contributor Lisa Quast.
Open-door policies “demonstrate to others your accessibility as a manager…encourage an open flow of communication…and maintain closer working relationships with employees,” she writes.
Open-door policies aren’t only useful for facilitating communication within the chain of command. They’re also effective peer-feedback mechanisms. While you might want to think twice about mandating an open-door policy across your entire organization, you can certainly encourage lateral communication with relatively inexpensive workspace design tweaks: fewer cubicles and conference rooms, more huddle rooms and workbenches.
- Make Communication Easier
Remove the face-to-face element from casual peer and chain-of-command feedback with workplace chat and collaboration tools like Slack. When you can reach out to literally anyone in the organization without getting out of your chair, it’s hard to come up with a viable reason not to do so. Bonus points if your continuous performance management suite has a robust chat feature or plug-and-play chat tool integration.
- Be Specific With Praise, Not Just Redirects
When it’s time to actually deliver feedback, be as specific as you can. This isn’t much of a logical leap for coaching and redirects — you want your charge to understand exactly what went wrong and what they can do to change course. But it’s just as important for praise. When it could just as easily apply to five different deliverables, “good job” doesn’t cut it. You need to clearly communicate — with snips and screenshots in your continuous performance management suite, if possible — precisely why you’re so pleased.
- Work on Feedback Delivery
How you deliver feedback is just as important as when and whether you deliver it at all. Even if your interlocutor isn’t thin-skinned, it’s better for everyone if you work sincerely to soften the blow, particularly in the aftermath of an unambiguous failure.
Blow-softening methods abound, and not all are created equal. The “sandwich” or “hamburger” method, which positions redirects (the “meat” of the feedback) between two hollow positives (the “buns”), might not work as well as its proponents claim. It’s up to you to find an approach that works well with each of your reports — a prospect that’s likely to involve a fair bit of trial and error.
- Keep Feedback Impersonal
Keeping feedback impersonal isn’t by itself enough to soften the blow, but it’s important nonetheless. Most employees shut down when they feel singled out for personal criticism. While you shouldn’t dole out redirects when they’re not warranted simply to avoid hurt feelings, you want to save your most direct criticism for one-on-one settings and couch it in terms that don’t contradict your stated belief in the report’s potential to do better next time.
- Reinforce Feedback With Specific Examples
Circle back on important feedback — positive or negative — whenever an example arises to reinforce or confirm it. This is an effective way to call out marked improvements in employee performance following a lapse notable enough to warrant a redirect. The inverse is true as well: When a report falls short on a particular metric or deliverable after exceeding expectations on a prior run, it’s easy enough to call out.
Feedback Is a Two-Way Street
You’ve probably heard the expression, “You have two ears and one mouth so that you can listen twice as much as you speak.”
Variations abound, but you get the idea. It’s just as important, if not more so, to listen when your employees bring concerns to your doorstep — and to take reasonable criticism to heart. Think of this as an early warning system: a way to detect potential shortcomings in your own work before they show up in the numbers and processes for which you’re accountable.
Nobody is perfect, and nobody is “better” than honest feedback.