Closing the gap between goals and performance is a continual challenge for leaders. Mastering coaching skills can help close that gap. One of the most important skills to master is giving effective, and potentially difficult, feedback to others. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t born with natural talents in delivering challenging feedback, so some level of skill development is usually necessary.
Leaders with great coaching skills are adept at offering feedback that encourages learning, development and change — in good times and bad. They can deliver difficult information in a way that encourages behavior change. Feedback, as a core coaching skill, is delivering information and perspective to another person about an observable behavior.
How feedback is received, and whether it creates change, is all about how it is delivered. Many of us have a tendency to take challenging feedback personally. But most of us prefer feedback that is simple to understand, straightforward and presented in a non-accusatory style.
Here are some feedback delivery tips:
- Consider timing. Feedback should be delivered as close to the observed behavior as possible. The year-end performance review is too late. Most people aren’t able to hear critical feedback (without getting defensive) when they are highly emotional or reactive. It’s much better to wait until people calm down and can hear it.
- Prioritize critical behaviors. Too often, managers focus feedback on what bothers them in others versus identifying specific behaviors that drive performance. Or they give too much feedback at one time, which can overwhelm the person. The 80/20 rule applies — 80 percent of performance comes from about 20 percent of our behaviors. The best coaches identify critical behaviors, focus on key expectations and review specific behavioral changes that could significantly improve performance.
- Be behaviorally specific. Encourage the employee to take responsibility by focusing on acts, not attitudes. State the information in a way that cannot be misunderstood. Effective feedback doesn’t leave the employee wondering what you meant. To be a great coach, you need to be a great observer. The best feedback is factual — what a video camera would have recorded. Just like playing the game tapes in preparation for the “big game,” managers use observable behaviors and patterns to help clarify the issues and identify behaviors that require change.
- Identify change as a process versus an event. The most effective coaches provide ongoing feedback and encourage people to learn from their successes and failures. They set the expectation that feedback needs to be a two-way communication process; they are open to and encourage reciprocal feedback.
- Identify impact. Great coaches illuminate “blind spots” so people see themselves as others see them. They provide feedback that identifies the consequence, feelings or impact of the behavior in question. It is not uncommon for individuals to be oblivious to the distress a simple comment or action can cause.
- Define expectations. Feedback includes offering suggestions, direction or identifiable goals. What do you want the employee to do differently? An effective challenge can be to identify what you want more or less of: “I want more suggestions for solutions and fewer complaints during our meetings.”
Best-practice coaching and feedback requires different approaches for different situations.
Coaching the most talented people can be tricky. Providing feedback to high-performers often requires a different skill set and approach. By their very nature, high-performers are different — they get bored easily, and when in trouble may be difficult to challenge without negatively affecting motivation. High-performers tend to run at light speed while generating the kind of results that senior management loves — they require a specialized set of coaching skills to keep them challenged and on track.