4 Tips to Delivering Constructive Feedback to Talent & Contractors
The New Year is upon us, and perhaps it is time to evaluate talent, contractors, or yourself. Delivering feedback doesn't have to be a stressful ordeal. In fact, it can be direct, inspiring, or a downright disaster. Hopefully, not the latter. Here are four tips to delivering constructive feedback to talent and contractors in a productive and professional manner.
1. Review the data. Sounds like a techie approach to evaluations. However, it simply means before giving feedback be sure that you have your facts straight about the performance. Furthermore, it is helpful to be fair and unbiased when reviewing the performance. Don't go looking for problems in which there aren't any or make a minute issue into a catastrophe. Herein, lies an issue or opportunity. If you do not have any data and are just going off feelings or perception, you may be setting yourself up for a challenge later. If you don't have the data, I will encourage creating clear, specific, and understanding outcomes that you are looking for your talent or contractors to achieve. Communicate those expectations and how they will be monitored and evaluated with them. Then actually monitor that data. If you do have data and it aligns with the outcomes that people know they are measured by, and there is an issue with the performance, identify the issue(s), impact, and prospective resolution you would like to see.
2. Make a date. Schedule a date and time in which you will be able to communicate your findings of the data with the talent or contractor. If it is important to you, it should be important to the individual, and making the time to discuss the data is paramount. I would encourage neutralizing terms when scheduling a meeting. Doing so would help to prevent any indirect tension or stress toward the anticipation of the meeting. Empathy can go a long way in thinking about how one may interpret or perceive communication about a performance evaluation. Talent or contractors shouldn't jump to conclusions. It is encouraged to use neutralizing phrases, but be clear what will be discussed at the meeting. For example:
Dear Sue –
Thank you for taking on Project New Code. Per our project outcomes and milestone timeframe, I would like to discuss the project with you. I have a reviewed the performance data about this project and feel that a discussion would help to identify strengths and concerns related to the project. I have allocated 60 minutes to discuss this project with you, as I know this important project to you and our firm. In preparation for this meeting if you could identify strengths and concerns toward this project that would be helpful because we may discuss those areas at the meeting. Let me know if Wednesday at 4 PM EST works for you – we'll discuss the project in the Virtual Meeting room.
The above example gets to the point about what the meeting is about, why it is necessary and uses neutralizing terms. It doesn't accuse, belittle, or leave room for a negative interpretation. As such, the perception toward to the email would be received in a professional light versus taken as a professional attack toward the project performance.
3. The Discussion. When delivering feedback, it is encouraged to keep it professional and balanced. Again, neutralizing terms and attitudes toward the performance will help to maintain a neutral energy. The neutral energy minimizes conflict, which aids in a more productive discussion. Start the discussion with asking about the individual's thoughts on the project or whatever the context of the evaluation. Perhaps open the discussion with something along the lines:
Thank you for making the time to discuss the performance of Project Code. I know your schedule is busy, and I respect the time you've taken to discuss the project performance. The purpose of this meeting is to identify strengths and challenges of the performance. I look forward to hearing your perspective and providing some insight in regards to my review of the performance data. Once that information is discussed and evaluated, I would like to create a game-plan of specific actions that we both feel would help the performance of the project.
As you can see from the opener, it sets the stage of the conversation in a neutral manner, identifies the objective of the meeting, and leads to the start of the discussion. There are many methods of communicating performance. The sandwich method starts with the strengths, moves to the challenges and actions needed, and then ends on a positive note. For example:
Sue – I know you have invested a lot of time, energy, and resources to Project Code. You successful identified the key initiatives needed to get the project started and running. The identification helped our team to delegate initiatives. However, I noticed in the Project Report Dashboard that the initiatives are not tracked according to the timeframe and process discussed. My concern with not tracking this information is that it may not accurately reflect the current state of the project, cause miscommunication with team members, and drain already tight resources on initiatives. Up to date, documentation of project initiatives is imperative to communication, delegation, and analysis of outcomes. What are your thoughts in regards to this challenge? Why do you think this has happened? What actions do you think would help to change this challenge?
The above example gets to the point in a specific and professional manner. The challenges are identified, impact noted, and questions are asked to gain insight in regards to the challenges and prospective actions to remedy the performance issue(s). The assumption here is that the individual feels safe, comfortable, and can communicate his or her insights about the challenges and prospective strategies for improvement. If that is not the case, there are bigger issues with leadership, communication, and culture of the work environment – we'll save that topic for another time. If the talent or contractor does feel safe and comfortable communicating the discussion will empower, engage, and build a greater amount of trust.
4. Monitor Progress. Don't build up constructive feedback and then stop to monitor or mentor progress. That is silly and can impact the perception of value toward the feedback. Be proactive, monitor, check-in, and genuinely show the individual that you care and want to see how the initiatives to overcome the challenges are going. Doing so will help to foster trust, respect, and engagement toward performance.
Constructive feedback has a bad rap. It is a dynamic way to inspire, grow, and mentor talent and contractors. The four tips provided are encouraged suggestions to delivering constructive feedback to talent and contractors. Effective evaluation aids in identifying challenges that are supported with data or some type of performance documentation. Making the time to discuss the identified challenges, impact of challenges, and prospective actions to remedy performance issues shows respect and care toward talent or contractor. Asking for preparation and insight to issues and actions also helps to neutralize communication and build trust and focus on development versus feeling like being reprimanded. Organizing a meeting that listens and discusses the issues, impact, and resolution actions shows care, concern, and commitment to development. Mentoring and monitoring progress shows that you care about the actual outcome and are committed to developing your team. There are some cases in which talent or contracts will simply not implement feedback or change, and in those cases specific actions need to be taken to remove the toxic behavior, which leads to another topic of a future post – handling toxic talent and contractors – when feedback and mentoring is not enough.
by Katie Doseck, PhD MBA
Chief Visionary and Strategic Ace Up Your Sleeve | Viral Solutions LLC
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