When you are busy running a business, providing a culture of communication is often not as easy as you would think. Working long hours day to day with the same people can breed complacency, which takes away from an environment of great performance. In a fast-growing, fast-moving company, providing ongoing feedback to your employees can fall by the wayside, but it is a critical component to better performance.
The famous psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi proposed the idea of flow as a state of total immersion in a task, and a sense of complete mastery, which translates into great performance. One out of the three criteria needed to experience flow is getting clear and immediate feedback. Which means that you can't achieve optimal performance without some sort of feedback during the process of working.
The most obvious way to give feedback is to start with complete transparency and honesty. This alone allows for flow and great performance to be created. Even in the worst-case scenario, when an employee isn't working out as you had hoped, sharing feedback gives the person the ability to improve or move on.
Assuming you are starting to share feedback, it's best to skip the small talk and go directly to the hard questions--both asking and answering. Though this may seem daunting, as a manager, by addressing these hard-to-ask questions, you will be ahead of the game in catalyzing great performance.
Great feedback allows an employee to know exactly where he or she stands and inspires the person to be honest in return. The last thing you want in a new feedback exercise is fluffy, general, and nonspecific support. Instead, actionable, insightful feedback sends a message that this is valued and part of the ongoing culture, which means your team will more easily follow suit.
With that in mind, here are five questions that your employees are probably wanting to ask (after all, who wouldn't want to know this information?) but aren't. Use the dialogue guidelines to bring these topics to the forefront--and optimize your team's performance.
"Do you see me as a long-term part of the success of this business?"
Manager dialogue: Share your vision of the company along with your vision of where you see this employee fitting into that vision. If, however, you don't see the person as part of your vision, you should share this as well and why. Maybe it's because the person is the best at what he or she does and you see the person doing that in a variety of business arenas, rather than just yours. Either way, addressing this question opens the door to a motivational conversation that engages the employee in a meaningful way about the company's future and the employee's.
"Do I contribute to the culture and environment in a positive way?"
Manager dialogue: Share--often--how much you appreciate this person's attitude and how well matched or not it is with the culture. Provide specific examples of how the employee's contribution is valued.
"How valuable is my specific talent to this company and you?"
Manager dialogue: Discuss the specific talent you see this person possessing and how that is essential to the business's success. Or ask the employee what his or her main talent is and discuss how that is needed or not needed for your business goals now and in the future.
"What are my weaknesses, as they relate to the company's goals?"
Manager dialogue: Share with your employee what you see as his or her weaknesses. For something that can be improved, work with the employee on a plan to track progress. For something that can not be improved, figure out ways for the employee to work around it or manage it in a productive manner.
"Can I work from home--or anywhere else I want--as long as I am achieving great results?"
Manager dialogue: If this employee's role allows the flexibility to work remotely, why not trust the person to create a specific work schedule. If you are feeling tentative about it, allow him or her to work remotely for a short period of time as a test and have the person track the results and present back the findings.
By addressing some of your employees' key concerns head on, you avoid the costs associated with high turnover. In addition, getting into the habit of ongoing feedback and facing difficult issues head on, you build a culture of trust, transparency, and great performance. What business wouldn't benefit from that?