I’m constantly telling leaders that probably the most important element of coaching is providing feedback. People need to know what they’re doing well, and they need to know what areas are in need of improvement. This may seem obvious, but research shows that many managers find it awkward and uncomfortable―and even embarrassing―to tell someone their performance needs improvement. So we put it off, hoping the situation will improve on its own. Many times it doesn’t; in fact, it may get worse.
In my coaching practice I’m frequently asked, “Is there a better way to do this?” The answer is yes! Of all the coaching and feedback models available, I do have a favorite.
- It respects the dignity of the person receiving the feedback.
- It’s structured in a positive way to increase that person’s ability to really hear and accept the message.
- There is a future―what you’re going to do differently―that should produce an immediate positive adjustment in performance.
Step 1: Describe the Problem Concisely
For some, this may seem impossible. “But there’s history and context, so I need to build my case.” Don’t. No long-winded build-up, no history, no blame. Keep it in behavior terms and avoid a discussion about attitude. You don’t know “why” the behavior occurred; just describe what was done.
“In our last meeting with several members of senior management, you interrupted the discussion three times to talk about issues you’re experiencing with the reorganization.“
Step 2: Describe the effect of the person’s behavior on others: you, the department, the team, the customer―and themselves.
“In meetings like this, bringing up problem after problem without suggestions, alternatives, or success stories brings the whole team down. And senior management may get the impression you aren’t doing your best to make the changes a success, which can negatively impact your opportunity for promotion. I need you to help me set a more positive tone.“
Then, if possible, say something to minimize potential embarrassment (yours and theirs): “This isn’t like you.”
Step 3: Ask, “What Happened?”
Now give them an opportunity to “explain.” You must listen―really listen―to their explanation. Don’t interrupt. Don’t argue. Even if they get some facts wrong (and they might), and even if you disagree (you probably will), don’t argue. Instead, try to see it from their perspective.
Step 4: Get Their “Buy-In”
Helping this person take a share of responsibility for the situation is key. Notice I did not say their fair share, because who determines what is fair, anyway?
You want different behavior next time, so your goal is to get the other party to accept a share of the responsibility and move forward.
“You are right, it was a new situation for you, the instructions weren’t clear, and there were other people who were also negative. I understand that. Let me ask you, what could you have done differently?”
Step 5: Develop a Plan
Ask, “Faced with the same situation, what would you do differently next time?”
Once the person is aware of the situation, there’s a good chance that he/she will be able to come up with alternatives for the future. If not, be prepared to offer help, but my experience is that they will have ideas.
Resist the temptation to perfect their plan. If they are anywhere close, go with it.
Effectiveness is an equation:
Results = (quality of the idea) multiplied by (the motivation to implement that idea)
The idea may be good, but whose good idea is it? If it’s not their idea, the motivation to actually implement the idea decreases significantly.
Although they may nod and accept your great plan, it is still your plan. (And if it doesn’t work, your fingerprints are all over it.) You’re much better off with an acceptable plan that is theirs to own.
Step 6: Get a Commitment
Most people you work with take their commitments very seriously. So get one. Say, for example:
“The next time this situation comes up, do I have your commitment that you will do this?”
Step 7: Show Confidence
Finally, finish the conversation by stating your confidence in the person. For example:
“I have every confidence that you will.”
This quick 7-step process puts some structure to a difficult and uncomfortable task for many leaders. You won’t use it every day. When you need to approach a sensitive subject and you anticipate a difficult conversation, use this. It works.
About Bill Hawkins
Bill Hawkins leverages the latest research on leadership effectiveness to design and deliver high-impact practical leadership education workshops. He has worked with over 20 Fortune 500 companies in 17 countries, co-authored 5 books on leadership, and is listed in the Who’s Who of International Business.
Bill will be presenting 4 more programs for IMS in 2019: Chicago in September, and Washington, D.C., New Jersey, and Toronto in December.