Your Team Members Can’t Thrive on Feedback Alone
Updated: Aug 31, 2022
“Your employees aren’t asking you to tell them where they stand. They’re asking you to tell them how to get better.” Marcus Buckingham – Global Researcher, Thought Leader and Author
We’ve all been the recipients of managerial feedback at some point in our careers. We’ve submitted a document only to receive back a marked-up version of what should be changed. Or, we’ve delivered a presentation, followed by a sandwiched playback from our manager to discuss what we did well (hopefully), followed by an area or two of improvement, completed with one final “atta girl or boy”. Sound familiar?
What’s so wrong about these scenarios? For those on the receiving end who may only experience the rare occasion of input or attention from their managers, these may sound like invited and welcome interactions. At least we got something back – so we’ll take it. However, this is a far cry from what we as leaders should be doing to maximize the performance of our teams.
Feedback, in and of itself, is a dead-end road that only provides our team members thoughts on what they did well or conversely how they missed the mark. Coaching, on the other hand, is about taking the current outcome and linking it to how to make the person and the result better the next time they encounter a similar or the same situation.
Feedback doesn’t drive improvement – only coaching can do that.
Managers focus on a past situation to unpack the actual vs. desired outcome. Conversely leaders help navigate their team members to a continued future state of improvement. Ultimately, this difference in approach is what prepares someone on the team to step into their next position. This is the proven path to build the bench strength needed to perpetuate organizational depth and continued improvement.
If you see yourself sitting in the “feedback manager” camp vs. the “leader as coach” role, here’s how you can make the transition.
1- Shift mentally to the other person’s side of the table. Feedback implicitly says, “Hey, I’m the manager or expert over here, so let me tell you what you can do differently over there.” This unconsciously builds a wall vs. a bridge to the receptivity and listening needed for your input to be heard. By first placing yourself on the same side of the table as the coachee, you’re empathizing with their situation, as well as helping them see you as a partner in their improvement, which heightens buy-in.
2- Start by asking questions and listening. Feedback is all about telling and one-way communication. Coaching is about engaging the other person in the conversation, so they can have the personal involvement needed to recognize the positives, determine the gaps, and help create their own solutions for ongoing improvement. Here are some 101 coaching conversation starters to merely get the ball rolling.
“How do you feel about the outcome of project X?”
“What do you think went well?” or “What are you most proud of in terms of your contribution?”
“If you could push the rewind button, what one thing would you do differently?” “What is it about that area that causes you to select it?”
(Assuming you agree with the answer and rationale): “Next time you’re in this situation, how will you apply what you’ve learned this time?” “What different outcome/s do you anticipate?” “How can I best support you as a leader in achieving this?”
(If the person is off in their self-assessment and you need to redirect): “As we consider the overall objective of the project, what would you have done differently in your approach to Y?” “If you had taken that path, how would it have improved the outcome and taken us closer to what we were trying to achieve?” “When we were in the recent progress meeting, as you look back, what would you have asked or done differently to get the clarity that you were moving in the right direction?” “In your upcoming projects, what can I do earlier on and throughout the process to support your progress and the overall outcome?”
3- Keep the big picture and the future aspirational state of this individual at the forefront. Where are you leading them to go one to two years from now? We consistently see memes with caveats about what leadership is or isn’t, “Leadership is getting out of the way.” “Hire smart people and let them do their jobs.” As a result of not wanting to micromanage, we often swing the pendulum too far by delegating a project without scheduling check-ins or updates. This robs the other person of the opportunity to get course corrections and coaching that may be necessary to their project and overall success. While we want to allow them space, we also want to make sure they know you’re in this together. Agree from the start what the communication and follow-up should look like.
Here are three of the main roles we can play as a coach, according to Cornell University.
1- Facilitator – As I often remind myself and other leaders who are transitioning into becoming a coaching leader, “We’re not the sage on the stage, we’re the guide on the side.” We ask, explore and lean into curiosity vs. being the expert.
2- Advisor – Even as we give advice, we don’t position ourselves as the all-knowing super star force commander. This is one tool used sparingly in coaching. We can ask permission to share a thought on a perplexing issue. Then, we should check in to make sure it was helpful.
3- Cheerleader – We acknowledge and celebrate insights and discoveries the person has during the coaching conversation. We offer encouragement and confidence in their quest toward continued progress in a familiar area, or in tackling the unknown.
One of the main objections I often hear is, “We like to just be direct here” and alongside that comes something akin to, “It just takes too much time to ask those questions.” As a leader, our time should be built around a people first philosophy. At the heart of leadership is the gift of developing others. If we have the choice to be direct or efficient to survive, or to be effective in driving long-term improved performance along with results and thrive, we all know the less-traveled road a true leader will choose to take.
“Managers help people see themselves as they are. Leaders help people to see themselves better than they are.” Jim Rohn – Entrepreneur, Author and Motivational Speaker