Preparation, preparation, preparation was, and continues to be, the quality standard of bringing our best to work each day. Leaders who are prepared for the conversation, the solution to the problem, the outcome of the situation, the resolution to the conflict, or managing the performance issue will more easily guide others to a satisfactory outcome.
When you are going to give feedback – either positive or negative – preparation is usually more important than the delivery. If I have prepared well (and have, in my mind, anticipated and planned for the many pitfalls and turns the conversation might take), the delivery will take care of itself. To a confident and competent leader, preparation, preparation, preparation is the key!
Here are some guidelines:
Content is what you say: In your first sentence, identify the topic or issue that the feedback will be about. Then provide the specifics that occurred. Stating, “I have noticed …,” “I have observed …,” “I have seen …,” helps to focus the issue, and gets right into the specifics. The specifics are those things that you have actually noticed, observed, or seen.
Manner is how you say it: How you say the feedback often carries more weight than what you say. I talked about this in my previous two posts on “Giving Feedback” (December, 2014, and January, 2015) so reread them to get the whole picture. When providing feedback, I also ask people if they understand everything that I expect. I want to gauge if they are capable or not – knowing this will help me shape subsequent conversations. And, I also tell them that, yes, they will be evaluated, but I am here to help them succeed. Not do their work for them, but to help them do their own work well.
Timing: When do you give feedback for a performance effort worth acknowledging? ASAP – as soon as possible! In real time; as close to when the incident occurs, so that the event and details are fresh in both minds. Giving negative feedback can have a different timeline. ASAR – as soon as reasonable/ready! Sometimes emotions need to settle down, and you need to get your thoughts in order so that your manner displays a tone of concern. Tomorrow, rather than right now, is often appropriate.
Frequency: How often should our staff (teachers and supervisors) receive feedback on their performance? This is really important! It makes all of the other guidelines work. I’m going to repeat myself from a prior blog post, “Everyone in your organization needs to know that someone is observing their performance and will offer feedback in a timely way.” Most of the observations are informal – as you walk through a classroom and note something (either positive or not so). This observation-feedback cycle is simply part of staff development. To be effective, it must happen frequently. Use feedback regularly to acknowledge real performance. Try to catch and respond to your team doing the job right, as much as you catch and respond to them doing something not quite right. This is how a professional relationship grows and deepens – and how you motivate your teams to bring their best to work each day.
Don’t acknowledge how things are going only once or twice a year. People want to know how they are doing – along the way. Giving feedback more frequently allows you and your team to get things back on the track before they have de-railed. Remember, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” from Giving Feedback (December 2015)?
Remember, too, to keep notes on the feedback you give. It helps you to track what’s happening with people’s performance rather than relying on your memory.
And, then, beyond feedback, are the next steps to be taken if performance is really off the mark. If no improvement is happening, then it’s time to raise the stakes. Verbal warnings, written warnings, probation and, finally, termination, are part of managing performance. They are difficult steps to take, but sometimes they are the necessary steps to take.
Much of my consulting is with Directors and Supervisors. I help them to walk through the many different kinds of performance issues they encounter. I help them shape the conversations they will have with their teachers; choose the appropriate words, tone, manner, and timing; and then, ultimately, they practice their delivery. They are ready and confident. Preparation, preparation, preparation!