If you’re a typical leader-manager, a few of your team members are coasting along, doing a good enough job but you know they’re capable of more. Another couple could do with improving their performance because it’s only just barely acceptable. You’re busy and the thought of beginning a performance management process with them, with all the angst that can entail, makes you cringe. So you carry on, and so do they, and not a lot changes.
Imagine what it would be like to easily, and relatively quickly (compared to a formal management process) turn the situation around and have them all performing like stars. You can, and here’s how: You do it with a continuing dialogue of information about how they’re doing. (I don’t like the word ‘feedback’ because to too many people, it means ‘criticism’ and who do you know who enjoys giving or receiving ‘criticism’?)
Here’s your guiding principle for a continuous dialogue with team members: They need, and deserve, to know:
- how they’re doing
- that you notice and appreciate their efforts
- whether they could do what they’re doing more easily, quickly or better and if so, how.
To achieve this, you’re going to provide two types of information: constructive and positive.
Constructive information helps people improve what they’re already doing quite well: ‘Here, let me show you an easier way to do that…’
Try saying ‘could’ instead of ‘should’, ‘not wise’ instead of ‘wrong; ‘a valuable lesson for next time’ instead of ‘a mistake’. Think of how best to offer an improvement suggestion rather than telling someone how to do something better. That makes it an invitation rather than a push and much easier to accept and act on.
Positive information. Most people don’t equate silence with approval, and it’s a mistake to ignore performance that meets expectations. Positive feedback is a great way to build relationships and a positive working climate and make sure people keep on doing good work.
You can make your positive information specific: ‘Thanks, that really hit the mark, particularly the way you presented the data in graphs; it made it much easier to understand.’ This tells people what you appreciate and why and practically guarantees they’ll keep doing it. It’s perfect for new recruits and when training people on something new and while people are building their skills and confidence. Use it liberally while people are learning and gradually reduce it to maintain the new behaviours once their established.
You can also make your positive information general: A friendly smile, a cheerful hello, a ‘Thanks, that’s great’ is a quick and easy ‘feel good’ for everyone.
Make the information you provide balanced because overusing any one type soon makes it meaningless. Even constant ‘Good on yas’ wear thin. And don’t be predictable; intermittent (irregular or random) information works best.
The more you give constructive and positive information, the more your team members come to expect it and appreciate it. They’ll feel noticed, supported, encouraged and valued and as a result, they’ll produce more. They’ll thank you for helping them hone their skills and they’ll thrive in the positive working climate and open, honest communication culture.
Pretty simple, really, isn’t it!
(We’ll deal with how to improve ‘just barely acceptable’ performance next week.)