As a project manager, you know that no project can go without feedback despite the fact that you probably cringe at this, not so auspicious, ceremony just as much as the team does.
Well, you don’t have to feel like that and it doesn’t have to be that way. Feedback plays a huge role in keeping a project on the right track and that is why it is very important for you as a leader to provide it to your team in the best way possible.
Most of the time, if not always, there is bound to be some negative criticism in a project’s performance review even when everything seems to be going alright, and this is where the problems with giving feedback emanate. It constantly appears that feedback is all about problems and mistakes. It doesn’t help much when the word feedback is defined as helpful information or criticism that is given to someone to say what can be done to improve a performance, product, etc.
So how can you go about providing proper feedback to your team?
1. Regularize the Exercise
This is probably the best thing that you can do from the start of the project. Make giving feedback a regular thing and the anxiety that surrounds it will disappear. Don’t just schedule feedback time when something comes up or when things go wrong. With regular feedback sessions, you will get a chance to provide feedback both when things are going good and bad.
Managers actually started moving away from the traditional performance appraising sessions that only came up once a year, way back. In a research carried out, it was clear that employees needed regular feedback rather than the yearly review. It further showed that among the ‘new keys to success’ was the ongoing effort to develop a culture rich in feedback that encourages your employees to provide each other with feedback.
Regularizing feedback also ensures that you are timely in responding to issues, and thus don’t end up with the problem of accumulated criticism which can be demoralizing when poured out all at once. It is much easier to deal with something that happened last Monday than that which happened last month.
2. Prepare What to Say
Well, you don’t have to make a book out of it, but it is important to go in there knowing exactly what you are giving feedback about. Do not be tempted to improvise during the session as this can see you derailed from the important issues. If you have a large team, you can send emails to them in advance, just to give them a heads up on what to expect and prepare for, and it shouldn’t be a hassle since software that can take care of all that kind of thing is available.
Make sure you address issues that you personally know of or checked on the details, specifics and solutions. Handling projects and managing everyone involved can be a daunting task even for the best of us. There is a lot that goes on in a single project and you will have to have all the facts right for you to prepare factual feedback. This can be best achieved using project management software that incorporates all aspects of the project including what each of the team members is doing. Never give feedback that relies on the views and ideas from other people and that you cannot back with facts and figures.
Adequate preparation will also help you avoid getting personal when things are really terrible, or when someone has done something really bad. Have enough time to remind yourself of the purpose of the feedback you are providing, and that is to improve the state of affairs or the performance and not make grand statements.
3. Balance the Negative with the Positive
The best way to ease tension and thus have a meaningful feedback session is to start with something positive. It is often hard to see the good side of things if we only focus on the bad. Let your team know of everything that has been going right. Don’t sugar coat the obvious, but then again don’t be shy to boast about the big successes.
Move on to the negative aspects decisively and with a constructive attitude, but do not downplay the seriousness of the issue. Be precise with what the problems are all about and where they lay. Illustrate how the problems can be solved instead of just describing how bad they are or how much they’ve cost. Keep one positive feedback for closing just so that the team won’t be left dejected and despondent.
4. Be short and explicit
This is especially important when the feedback is majorly on the negative side. Here, you want to tell your team exactly where the problem is and what needs to be done to remedy or improve. Do not compound a lot of negative issues; leave some for the next time. Be supple, firm and positive, even when things seem really bad.
In the discussion, ‘How Do You Give Negative Feedback to Your Team Members?’ by Jennifer B., founder of PDUs2Go, it is clear that giving negative feedback is never easy. It is the opinion of many in that discussion that the best way is to deal with such situations directly and in a timely manner.
Limit your focus to the things that can actually be changed or made different. Dwelling on issues or behaviors that your team obviously has a difficulty in can only demoralize rather than motivate.
5. Deal with individuals in private
Everyone knows the difference between public recognition and public scrutiny. You will agree that one is highly appreciated and the other is not. You want your team to succeed in whatever you are working on, so no need to further aggravate a situation by criticizing an individual in front of the whole team. Take the person aside and away from other ears and calmly but clearly, point out their shortcomings and provide a way forward.
On the other hand, feel free to praise and commend a person in front of the team and try to make it as much as what they have achieved rather than what the others have not done as well as that person. Always try to point out that the purpose of all that is not to make the team feel better but rather work better. This will help them keep emotions out of the whole exercise.
6. Give specific suggestions, goals and solutions
It is important to make sure everyone knows exactly what they need to do henceforth with regards to the issues you’ve talked about.
Involve the team in setting up goals towards the implementation of the suggestions provided and make arrangements with them on how you are going to monitor their progress. This is a very effective way of ensuring that everyone feels a part of the team that made the changes and improvements.
7. Ask for feedback
That’s right, you also need feedback. Ask your team to give their own opinions and observations to you and to each other. Be ready to accept criticism. It is not only a great opportunity where you can show leadership by example, but also one where you can actually get valuable input towards the betterment of the whole project.
Do not immediately start defending yourself, but take time to first assess what has been said. The best way is to note down all the feedback you get in an organized manner and promise to look into it later, and then discuss it in the next session.
8. Provide feedback of the feedback
This is a kind of follow up, where you make it a point to inform your team about the progress of what was discussed during the last feedback session. This can be done during an active session or through an integrated system whereby everyone can have access to the feedback and check on the progress of the whole project.
The purpose of feedback is always to improve, and if it is working, point out clearly that it is. If it is not, then make sure that you let them know and have a platform where adjustments can be suggested together as a group with your leadership.
Providing proper feedback doesn’t have to be a skin wrenching affair; not to you and definitely not to your team. Get your team to have a positive attitude towards how they perceive feedback and put in place tools that will assist you in managing feedback sessions and, soon enough, it will reflect positively on performance.
Image: Deb Nystrom