Giving constructive feedback to the people you manage is often one of the more uncomfortable tasks you face as a tech leader and yet it’s one of the most important leadership skills to get right.  

Pitch it badly and you could be suffering some severe consequences.
Too soft and you might not get the change required. Too severe and the impact could be very negative with that individual and the wider team. 

But if you learn to give feedback effectively, you not only avoid the drama but you can create a really powerful communication loop about how individual performances can be improved and the team more effective.

Whilst giving feedback is often a daunting and uncomfortable challenge for managers, studies show that most employees want this. 

A 2014 “positive” and “corrective” feedback assessment by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman revealed that more than 50% of respondents want to receive feedback. When addressed properly, it was seen as effective in as much as 90% of cases in improving the performance.

Moreover, those employees who favored receiving feedback also rated their managers highest for being professional and straightforward in their reviews. The point here is that most employees want to know what they can do to improve their performance but people are human and the way you deliver the feedback is so important.

Most people faced with the feedback dilemma go with the soft option, rather than face the tough questions or they focus their time and energy on those they have a positive rapport with and who might be viewed as top performers or easier colleagues.

The challenge is to play a fair hand with everyone and provide all members of your team with an effective platform for constructive feedback.

When to Give Feedback

Providing feedback is not merely a hoop to jump through when the time for performance reviews rolls around. It should be an ongoing process woven into the fabric of everyday work. 

That’s not to say that every behavior warrants input or response. Feedback is most likely to have a positive, lasting effect when its focus is on behavior that the recipient is able to change and its delivery is well-timed.

Offering feedback can be most useful in the following instances:

  • When good work, successful projects, and resourceful behavior deserve to be recognized.
  • When the likelihood of improving a person’s skills is high because the opportunity to use those skills again is imminent.
  • When the person is already expecting feedback, either because a feedback session was scheduled in advance or because she knows that you observed the behavior.
  • When a problem cannot be ignored, because the person’s behavior is negatively affecting a colleague, the team, or the organization.

In other cases, feedback can be detrimental to the situation. Avoid giving feedback in these circumstances:

  • When you do not have all the information about a given incident.
  • When the only feedback you can offer concerns factors that the recipient cannot easily change or control.
  • When the person who needs the feedback appears to be highly emotional or especially vulnerable immediately after a difficult event.
  • When you do not have the time or the patience to deliver the feedback in a calm and thorough manner.
  • When the feedback is based on your personal preference, not a need for more effective behavior.
  • When you have not yet formulated a possible solution to help the feedback recipient move forward.

Bear in mind that when you give positive feedback frequently, your negative feedback, when it is warranted, will seem more credible and less threatening. Offering input only when problems arise may cause people to see you as unappreciative or petty.

Perceptions of pettiness are especially likely if the feedback recipient doubts your motives. Before you deliver feedback, be honest with yourself about why you want to give it. Sometimes you may be reacting to your own needs and preferences, not what is best for the team or organization.

Overcome your Fear of Giving Feedback

Even if you know that giving feedback is valuable, you might still be hesitant to do it. Some reasons for resistance include:

  • You worry that giving feedback will make the employee dislike you, or that it will strain your relationship.
  • You assume that the other person cannot handle the feedback.
  • You recall or know of previous instances when the recipient resisted feedback or didn’t act on it.
  • You feel that the person is already too stuck in his ways and that the feedback won’t be helpful.
  • You fear an awkward or even volatile situation.

Fearing the worst will only close you off from productive conversations. Realizing that these hurdles are often self-constructed will help you clear them. 

Giving feedback on a regular basis will help you get used to having these types of conversations. Understanding the most effective way to prepare and handle a feedback discussion will help you overcome some of the issues that are holding you back.

Remember: Not only is giving feedback worth the risk of straining relationships, but it is also essential to the health of the organization.

Radical Candor

A really popular book and now described as a ‘global phenomenon’ according to its accompanying website is called Radical Candor

It’s a book which provides actionable insights about how to manage, lead and provide feedback to high performing teams.

The book lays out a framework that divides management styles into four categories;

Obnoxious Aggression : The boss who will challenge and criticize but does not genuinely care about employees or outcomes. Praise feels insincere and criticism isn’t delivered respectfully or kindly.

Ruinous Empathy: The boss who genuinely cares but does not challenge their employees to improve. This person offers vague but sincere “surface level” praise and either offers no criticism or sugar coated and unclear (read useless) criticism.

Manipulative Insincerity: The boss who neither cares nor challenges. Offers non-specific praise that comes across as fake and offers criticism that is neither constructive nor kind.

Radical Candor: The magic style … a healthy mix of genuine praise and constructive criticism that is delivered kindly and respectfully.

Radical Candor

CTO Academy Leadership Courses

Here at CTO Academy we provide courses and lectures which look at how you can improve your communication and feedback skills. Find out more here.