5 Mistakes Leaders Make When Giving Feedback (And How to Avoid Making Them)

Providing constructive feedback might not be on the list of your favorite things to do as a leader but it’s an essential aspect to leadership and your employees development. Developing a culture that promotes the giving and receiving of feedback starts with you as the leader. Imagine an organization where everyone felt safe to offer positive and constructive feedback. Conversations would be more worthwhile and the level of trust would grow, allowing for everyone to engage in the supporting of one another not only as colleagues, but as human beings.

Feedback within an organization is a critical form of communication that must be initiated and maintained by you and all leaders inside your organization. And that’s a heavy responsibility that should not be taken lightly. Sadly, the brutal reality is that leaders struggle so much with feedback that it’s become one of the major causes of employee dissatisfaction and disengagement.

According to a recent employment survey from Leadership IQ, just 20% of respondents said their leaders always provide constructive feedback that has improved job performance. 57% of respondents said that their leaders provide great feedback only occasionally, rarely, or never.

A Different Approach to Feedback

Fortunately, the feedback problem is one that I think can be improved upon if there is ownership and commitment from the individual leaders within an organization. I see leaders making the same mistakes repeatedly when it comes to providing feedback. But I’ve also helped them correct those mistakes, which has improved engagement, satisfaction, and productivity considerably.

Let’s look at some of the more common feedback mistakes and how to fix them.

#1 — Waiting for Formal Performance Reviews

Too often, leaders avoid giving feedback until the formal performance review process takes place across the company. As a result, employees are forced to perform “in the dark” most of the time, not knowing how well they’re performing and how they’re impacting the organization. Problems are allowed to fester, grow, and potentially turn into issues that impact performance and results. In addition, the impact of praise is reduced significantly because it’s not being offered in the moment when the action has taken place. It loses its zest appeal and can often reduce the level of trust between the employee and leader or zap it altogether. Employees in work environments like this feel stuck, uninspired, and disengaged.

What You Can Do Better
If you’ve been guilty of making this feedback mistake, you’ll be glad to know that it’s easily correctable by approaching feedback as an ongoing conversation. Yes, it’s important to deliver formal performance evaluations, but constructive feedback is something that needs to happen on a regular, ongoing basis. Talk to your people. Ask them how you can support them. Understand the challenges associated with their jobs. Assure them that their voices are just as important as yours in the ongoing feedback conversation.

#2 — Being Overly Critical

I see this one far too often. When managers make this feedback mistake, employees dread interactions with their leaders, start second-guessing themselves, and lose confidence in their abilities. This can lead to a stressed-out workplace where people are more focused on fighting failure than creating success. The underlying issue that often causes this to occur is that, without even realizing it, leaders try and turn their employees into clones of themselves instead of focusing on their unique talents and strengths. The brutal reality is that being overly critical is not helpful to anyone’s growth and development.

What You Can Do Better
Managers need to see performance in a holistic fashion. While it may seem efficient to focus interactions with employees on the correction of mistakes and flaws, criticism only works when it’s provided as part of a larger conversation. That conversation needs to include praise as well as efforts on your part to understand why the employee has underperformed in certain areas or at specific tasks. Have some empathy for your people and the challenges they face. And then turn your interactions into opportunities for growth instead of occasions for criticism. Lastly, be mindful and ensure your not trying to re-create your own unique species by turning everyone into you.

#3 — Stockpiling Complaints

This one is closely related to the first two feedback mistakes listed above. Leaders sometimes save all complaints and criticisms, so they can be addressed at a single time. If you want to completely demoralize and deflate someone’s self-confidence this is a way to do it. It seems convenient to the leader to do so, but it’s quite deadly for quality communication within your organization. Under this scenario, an employee feels like a dump truck has been backed up to them, letting loose an avalanche of negativity. Ouch! Furthermore, when leaders save complaints, it denies them the opportunity to correct mistakes as they happen and provide a guiding hand. Instead, employees are left feeling like that are fighting an uphill battle and that they must address a long list of issues all at once – and we wonder why employees lose their confidence and desire to perform.

What You Can Do Better
Simple — deal with complaints and areas of opportunity as soon as you can. Treat them as opportunities to help your employees grow and learn at a pace that ensures much higher levels of engagement and productivity. Start to offer near real-time feedback rather than waiting until you have enough ammunition to launch a missile – no one operates well in this type of environment.

#4 — Being Vague

I’ve noticed that leaders who struggle with feedback tend to avoid specificity when communicating with their people. They address issues in broad, vague terms, never really going into the details that might otherwise help an employee perform more effectively. Employees leave these kinds of interactions feeling confused and unsure of where they stand. Others may ask clarifying questions, only to receive additional nonspecific and unactionable feedback.

What You Can Do Better
Part of being an effective communicator is ensuring you’re understood. Be specific and detailed about the feedback you give to your people, use examples of real scenarios that have occurred. Don’t assume that just because they nod their heads that you’re getting through to them. They may signal that they understand what you’re telling them, but unless you convey your message using details and specifics, your feedback might just be an empty message. I understand that it can be difficult to communicate so specifically but trust me — your people want and expect you to provide feedback this way.

#5 — Not Following Through

I can’t stress enough the idea that feedback should be treated as an ongoing conversation. When it’s not approached this way, feedback interactions become conversational islands that are disconnected from previous and future interactions. The discussions that were had last week, last month, and last year are forgotten, and the same old issues keep cropping up again and again. Employees are told what to do and how they can improve, but their leaders never return to address challenges or to answer questions and provide input. That leads to a workplace where the energy becomes stagnant and productivity happens haphazardly.

What You Can Do Better
When you develop relationships with your people and treat feedback, both positive and constructive, as an ongoing conversation, you give your employees a narrative of success that they can follow on an ongoing basis. One interaction should inform the next, and each conversation should include time spent discussing goals and challenges that were addressed in previous talks. This is how you create an environment of growth, where employees feel empowered and committed to improving their performance.

Are You Guilty of These Feedback Mistakes?

As you read this post, did you experience any moments of thinking, “Oh no! That’s something I catch myself doing?”

The good news is that it’s not difficult to correct these common feedback mistakes. It simply requires you to take a new approach; one in which feedback becomes part of a larger conversation within the organization. And organizations that are fueled by effective conversations tend to perform at a much higher level.

Are you interested in learning more about how leaders can correct feedback mistakes? Did I leave any mistakes off my list? Let’s connect and talk about how we can help you and your organization avoid these five common mistakes. Feel free to call me at 855-871-3374 or send me an email at joanne.trotta@leadersedgeinc.ca – we would love to help!

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