05 May The Service of Feedback

By Blake Stevens, director of people and culture at The Ōnin Group

Another year is well underway, and with it comes reviews of past performances and plans for future goals. This feedback process is critical, but many leaders shirk from initiating these conversations, and it falls on the employee to open the discussion.

After all, you may figure your employees should be able to tell you what they are working on and detail their plan to achieve the metrics needed to drive the organization forward. And, of course, you assume they have what they need and will come to you if they need help. You are confident you have hired the right person, so letting them do what you hired them to do in the first place should work fine, right? Well, not exactly.

Feedback is one thing we cannot delegate as a leader. Giving feedback is personal and can impact an individual profoundly. Words matter. If you have accepted your responsibility to manage people, you have a responsibility to provide feedback and to develop those who report to you.

Feedback and customer service are similar. You can be great at it, terrible at it or somewhere in between. If you know a person well, you may go overboard to ensure their experience is exceptional, but those you aren’t personally acquainted with probably aren’t getting that in-depth experience.

With two decades of retail under my belt, I witnessed how great customer service can change a person’s day and attitude in a matter of minutes. The ability to anticipate the customer’s needs, connect with them, discover what they are looking for and respond in a way that makes them want to come back is challenging but attainable. Feedback works much the same way, and the process of anticipating, connecting, discovering and responding is the key to success. That said, this process takes time, since you must genuinely engage with people on your team by asking questions and listening.

The art of getting to know your customers is one of the first things taught in customer service training. Knowing who you are serving helps you transition from the anticipation step to the response phase more quickly. We want the people we work with to grow, so let’s take a look at a few different employee reactions you could encounter by using some farming terms.

Landing on Rocky Soil

Do you have that one person who is always asking for feedback, but after you provide it they only change their ways temporarily? Their improvement is never sustainable. For this scenario, setting goals with this person and explaining how the outcome will benefit them is important. Specific follow up times could be beneficial to ensure the employee is on task.

Casting Comments to Thorns

Sometimes people really don’t take your feedback well. Many things could be impacting this person, and there are many potential reasons for this reaction—including mistrust or misreading an approach or tone—but their response might have nothing to do with you at all. They could have just had a bad day, a fight at home or a sick loved one. Identifying this quickly is critical. You should circle back to understand the impact of the feedback and reach out to the person again to ensure the feedback was truly heard the way you intended.

Cultivating Good Soil

This comes when we have earned the right to be heard by connecting and genuinely discovering the needs and ways of the individual. Our ability to create a culture of feedback will allow the individual to grow and become a better employee and person. It will also impact the organization in a unique way.

Feedback is not easy and gets clunky. Anticipating your employees’ needs will come with connecting on a regular basis, discovering what makes them tick, determining how they receive feedback and responding accordingly. 

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