Everybody tells you that your employees need feedback, but what they don't tell you is that doing it wrong can be worse than not doing it at all. Here are 10 things you should never do when you need to tell an employee how he or she is doing.
No matter what you are actually saying when you are yelling, all your employee hears is that you are angry. Whatever you scream is categorized in an employee's brain as irrational. This is not helpful.
2. Give feedback in anger.
Your employee really screwed up at the client meeting. Maybe there were typos on the PowerPoint presentation. Maybe she didn't know the answers to the client's questions -- and she should have. Maybe she was late and frazzled looking. All of these things should be addressed, but don't do it when you're furious. Yes, timely feedback is a great idea. Feedback when you're ready to blow a gasket isn't. Go take a walk around the block, take a breath, and then give feedback.
3. Give negative feedback in public.
Your job is not to humiliate your employees. Sure, a quick correction is fine, ("Jim, can you run back to your office and get the Johnson file?") But, if you need to tell an employee something major, do it in private. Letting the employee's peers -- or worse, direct reports -- hear you criticize him, makes it all the more painful. Your goal in giving negative feedback is to make things better, not worse.
4. Give only negative feedback.
If you evaluate your employees only when they've done something wrong, they'll assume you don't approve of any of their work. It's absolutely critical to give positive feedback when an employee as earned it. Sometimes a manager is caught off guard when an employee gives her two-weeks notice -- the manager had no idea she was thinking of leaving. The manager is even more shocked when the employee admits she started looking for a new job because she figured she wasn't capable in her current position. That's the kind of thinking you create when you don't say "good job!" or "I love how you handled that bizarre client request."
5. Give positive feedback only in private.
Although negative feedback should almost always be done in private, sometimes positive feedback needs to be done in public. A private, "good job!" is great, but offering praise in front of peers can have an even more profound effect. Now, do be careful that you're not singing the praises of just one employee -- unless the rest of your staff is truly incompetent. (If they are, you need to learn how to hire better!) When someone does a good job, say so, in front of anyone who happens to be around.
6. Save up a whole bunch of complaints.
Many managers don't like giving negative feedback, so they put it off until the situation has gotten so bad that a crisis is created. The offending employee is called in, and 14 different things she did wrong are dumped in her lap, some of which happened six months ago! Has this happened to you? It feels terrible. Small things are suddenly magnified a thousand times, and the employee is completely demoralized. What's worse, in most cases it doesn't even accomplish anything, because it's difficult to fix things that happened a long time ago.
7. Give only formal performance reviews.
Some managers not only save up every negative thing, they save every positive thing, as well, presenting them all at once during an annual performance review. Think about how ridiculous that is -- your employees don't know what you do and don't like until 365 days have passed. How is that helping your business? Speak up regularly!
8. Bring up irrelevant information.
Employment lawyers make a living off this. When you're addressing an employment issue, focus on the employment issue, and nothing else. "Steve, you've missed two deadlines this week. What can I do to help you meet those deadlines?" That's great. "Steve, since you had your surgery, you've missed two deadlines. Did you forget how to do your job when you were out?" That's an FMLA lawsuit waiting to happen. Of course, that one statement isn't enough to win a lawsuit, but it's enough to make Steve start thinking that you're upset about his time off. A couple of statements like that can start your company down a road you don't want to be on. Keep to the facts.
9. Give comprehensive negative feedback without documentation.
"Hey, there was a typo on that report" is not a big deal. It can be fixed, and life can go on.
"Your work needs to be typo free. I get that mistakes happen, but this is an ongoing problem with your work. You need to proofread every document before it goes out." This kind of thing needs to be documented, and if the problem continues, the employee need to be put on a Performance Improvement Plan, and ultimately terminated if the behavior doesn't change. Many managers don't document anything, so if they've addressed an issue 10 times, they get confused when HR says, "You want to fire someone because he made a typo?" Documenting things can make the process of termination run smoothly.
10. Forget to say how you'd like things to change.
"Jane, don't do that." Umm, okay. If the "that" is picking her nose during meetings, it's pretty obvious that what you want is for her to not pick her nose. But if the "that" is something more vague, just what is Jane supposed to do? You need to tell her.
"Jane, don't do that. Instead, do this." Now Jane knows what she needs to do to succeed in her job. Otherwise, she's just going to have to guess until she gets it right.