This article was originally published in the Huffington Post.
Imagine you’re working on an important project. You’ve invested months of your time, and there’s more to go before it’s complete. You want to succeed. A colleague close to the project has noticed something that might prevent your success. He is trying to decide whether to tell you what he’s noticed. What’s your advice to him? Do you want to hear what he has to say? What if the information is specific to your leadership of the project or related to something you’re doing?
My guess is that most people reading that scenario would answer “YES!” You’d want the information so that you could address the situation. Hard though it might be, you might even say “yes” to hearing the information specifically about your leadership, especially if it would move you toward success. Most of us want to know when something we’re doing is putting our progress at risk.
Now imagine you are the colleague with the information. How do you feel when you imagine sharing your perspective that something isn’t working? Are you hesitant? How about when the feedback is specifically about your colleague’s behavior? It’s uncomfortable, right? Many of us, when faced with sharing feedback, feel some hesitation that can lead us to withhold or avoid giving pertinent feedback.
This is the dilemma of team life. We may want the information others have for us, but feel hesitant to share that same information with them. The hesitation may stem from the underlying frustration we feel when we see work that hasn’t been done the way we want it done. In a perfect world, others would know exactly what we want. They would deliver it to us without a lot of explanation. In reality, successful delegation rarely happens with a hand-off. It usually takes a few iterations to communicate what we’re looking for so we get the work completed the way we want it. This awkward situation is called the “training phase” of delegation where the person we’re delegating to –and we — are learning by doing. For the learning to take place, feedback is essential.
To be effective, the feedback must be:
Specific — Be detailed and specific. Open-ended conversations can be disorienting and even deflating. Use specific examples that provide clear guidance. When you are clear they are more likely to grasp what needs to change and use the information productively.
Timely — Provide feedback while it’s fresh. On the sports field, coaches don’t wait until the end of the season to review plays with their teams. They do it in every game, and during every practice. Timely feedback sends the signal that you’re interested in coaching your team member to success, and that the work they’re doing right now matters.
Actionable — The right kind of feedback gives the other person a better understanding of what they need to do differently. Giving feedback without action steps can be frustrating for the recipient. Most often, it’s not that the recipient isn’t aware of the issue – it’s that they don’t know how to respond. Pointing out that they have a problem isn’t enough to be helpful. To improve performance, constructive feedback must go one step further to provide — or help them think through — potential solutions and the action steps they can take.
Related to the Goal — One of the best ways to keep feedback from being taken personally or feeling like criticism is to relate it to the goal. What’s the person doing that supports the goal, and what are they doing that’s getting in the way of meeting the goal? Thinking about the goal when framing up your feedback will help you separate irrelevant differences of opinion or style from mission-critical adjustments that need to be made.
Remember that for hand-offs to be effective, the right kind of feedback is needed to close the delegating loop and ensure success for all parties.