How to provide feedback employees will value

With the recent launch of SpaceX Falcon Heavy, Elon Musk may have one of the best quotes for taking advice. He said, “I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better.” So as a leader what is the best way to provide feedback to a team member?

Here are three simple things about giving feedback every leader should remember.

People avoid the negative

As a leader it’s important to understand that the way you approach a team member is critical. It’s not just about elevating a person’s performance, but it’s also about your continued relationship. According to research by Harvard Professor Francesca Gino, employees who received negative feedback were 44 percent more likely to drop a relationship with the colleague who criticised them. As their leader, an employee may not have the authority to drop their relationship with you, but they can undermine you, disengage, and distrust you.

People focus on the positive

When employees are asked what their boss could do to inspire them to create great work, 37 percent say, “recognise me.” Although that might not seem like a massive number at first, “recognise me” was the number one answer given—and it was given three times more than any other answer, including “pay me more, give me autonomy, and promote me.” Beyond that, research shows that when employees are recognised often, they are four times better at talking to their outer circle. Positive advice to employees like, “You’re really good at that. You really should see if you could take that to the next level because you might be one of the best I’ve ever seen,” can go a long way.

It’s okay to challenge, redirect, and stretch

Sometimes as leaders we need to correct people. However, that doesn’t always mean our communication is negative. In their latest book, The Power of Moments by bestselling authors Chip & Dan Heath, they quote a paper by the psychologist David Scott Yeager. The paper describes a study conducted where 44 students were given an essay to write.  All papers were collected and randomly divided into two piles. “They appended a generic note, in the teacher’s handwriting, to each essay in the first pile,” Chip and Dan wrote. “It said, ‘I’m giving you these comments so that you’ll have feedback on your paper.’ The essays in the second pile got a note reflecting what the researchers call wise criticism. It said, ‘I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know you can reach them.’ After the papers were returned, the students had the option to revise and resubmit their paper on the hopes of earning a better grade.”  What was the result? “40 percent of the students who got the generic note chose to revise.  Nearly 80 percent who received wise criticism revised their papers, and in editing their papers, they made more than twice as many corrections.” Basically, the second approach wasn’t viewed as negative feedback, but instead a push, stretch, or nudge toward excellence.

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