The One Rule That Will Make Even the Toughest Employee Love Your Feedback!

Sep 05, 2023

Ever found yourself stumbling when it comes to giving critical... ahem, constructive feedback? Well, you're not alone! Today, I'm here to share a little secret that has helped transform my managerial journey, and I bet it'll do the same for you.

In the next few minutes, we're going to unravel the golden rule of feedback - a rule that's not just smart, but S.M.A.R.T! Here's a sneak peek of what's in store:

  • Discover the art of giving feedback that fosters growth and harmony in your team.
  • Learn the nuances of the SMART rule and how to apply it in your work day.
  • Tips and tricks to become the manager everyone looks up to.

Let's dive in, shall we?

Why Feedback Matters

It’s difficult to under-stress how crucial feedback is in leadership. It's not just about pointing out what went wrong; it's a golden opportunity to foster growth and nurture relationships. Here’s specifically why it holds such a significant place:

  • Building Trust: Like it or not, feedback is a two-way street. When you openly communicate with your team, it builds a foundation of mutual trust and understanding. It shows that you value their efforts and are invested in their growth.
  • Encouraging Growth: Offering effective constructive feedback is like watering a plant - it helps individuals flourish, enhancing their skills and boosting their confidence.
  • Boosting Morale: Effective feedback can also be a great morale booster. When you acknowledge the good work and guide them through the hiccups, it creates a positive work environment. It's your good feedback that puts the focus on celebrating the wins and working together through the challenges.
  • Enhancing Performance: Regular feedback can significantly up the performance ante. It helps in identifying the areas of improvement and working on them promptly. It's like having a roadmap, where you guide your team towards excellence, one step at a time.
  • Facilitating Communication: I've often noticed that feedback sessions open up channels of communication. It encourages team members to voice their opinions, share their concerns, and actively participate in their own growth. It fosters a culture of openness and collaboration.

So, as you resume your managerial duties, keep in mind that giving feedback isn't just a task on your to-do list; it's a strategic approach to fostering a team that is unified, cooperative, and dedicated to achieving high standards.

The Golden Rule of Feedback

Alright, let's dive straight into the core of today's discussion - the golden rule of feedback. From my experience, I can tell you that the key to effective feedback is adhering to the SMART principle.

Now, you might have heard of the SMART acronym in the context of goal setting. Originally, it was designed to help individuals set clear and achievable goals. But guess what? This rule is a powerhouse when it comes to giving feedback as well. 

Here’s how the SMART principle gets broken down:

1. Specific

First up, we have 'Specific'. Now, I cannot emphasise enough how vital it is to be clear and precise. You see, when you pinpoint the exact issue or achievement, it eliminates confusion and helps your team member understand exactly what they need to work on or continue doing.

Here’s an example. Imagine one of your team members, let's call her Stacey, recently handled a client presentation. While she did a great job with the visuals, the client felt the financial data wasn't detailed enough.

Instead of saying something generic to Stacey like, "The presentation wasn't detailed enough", you could approach it by being more specific. You might say, "Stacey, the visuals in the presentation were really striking and captured our brand well. However, for the next presentation, could you delve a bit deeper into the financial data? Perhaps you could include a more detailed breakdown of the quarterly figures to give the client a more comprehensive view?"

By being specific, you've not only pinpointed the exact area that needs improvement but also acknowledged what was done well. This way, Stacey knows exactly what to focus on for the next presentation, without feeling like her efforts were entirely unrecognised.

2. Measurable

Next up is 'Measurable'. It's always a good idea to attach some metrics or indicators to the feedback. It gives a clear picture of where they stand and what the expectations are. It's like giving them a ladder, where they know how high they need to climb.

Here’s an example. Imagine you are managing a sales team and one of your team members has been struggling to meet their monthly sales targets. Instead of simply telling them to "do better", you decide to implement the 'Measurable' aspect of the SMART rule.

You sit down with the employee and review their sales figures together. You notice that they are excellent at initiating conversations with potential clients but are struggling to close the deals. Together, you set a measurable goal: to increase their closing rate by 15% over the next quarter.

You also discuss and list down specific strategies they can employ to achieve this, such as attending a sales negotiation workshop or setting up regular check-ins with a mentor in the team.

By setting a clear, measurable goal, the employee now has a tangible target to aim for, and they know exactly what success looks like. It's not just about climbing higher on the ladder; it's about knowing which rungs to step on to reach the top more efficiently.

3. Achievable

Now, onto 'Achievable'. Remember, the goal here is to encourage, not to discourage. So, when you set targets, make sure they are attainable. It's about setting them up for success, not failure.

Here’s an example. Imagine you're overseeing a project and one of your team members, let's call her Emily, has been struggling with meeting deadlines. Instead of burdening her with an unrealistic expectation of completing a week's worth of work in a day, you sit down with her to understand the bottlenecks she's facing.

Together, you come up with a plan that breaks down her tasks into smaller, manageable chunks. You also decide to provide her with the necessary resources to facilitate smoother project execution. This way, you're setting an achievable target for Emily, one that considers her current challenges and supports her in overcoming them, rather than setting her up for failure with an unattainable goal.

By focusing on achievable targets, you're fostering a supportive and encouraging environment where Emily can thrive and succeed.

4. Relevant

'Relevant' is our next stop. I've seen many managers go off on a tangent during feedback sessions. Let me share a quick story to illustrate this.

Imagine a scenario where a team member, let's call him Sam, has been consistently missing his project deadlines. You've called him in for a feedback session. Now, instead of focusing on the issue of missed deadlines, the conversation veers off into a discussion about Sam’s frequent breaks or her casual attire, which really aren't the core issues here.

This not only dilutes the importance of the feedback but might also make Sam feel attacked on a personal level, rather than guided to improve his work habits.

So, it's crucial to stick to the point when you deliver feedback, focusing squarely on the issue at hand - in this case, finding solutions to help Sam manage his time more effectively to meet deadlines. It keeps the conversation focused, productive, and fosters a positive and constructive work environment.

5. Time-bound

Last but certainly not least, we have 'Time-bound'. Give them a timeframe to work on the feedback. It creates a sense of urgency and helps in tracking progress effectively.

As an example, let’s go back to the example of Emily who has been missing her deadlines recently. During your feedback session, you discuss this issue with her and together you come up with a plan to improve her time management skills.

You suggest that she starts by breaking down her projects into smaller tasks and setting a deadline for each task. To make this feedback time-bound, you propose a check-in meeting in two weeks to review her progress. This gives Emily a clear timeframe to work towards, encouraging her to take immediate action and allowing you both to track her improvements in a tangible way.

By setting this two-week goal, you've created a sense of urgency, helping to foster a proactive approach to her own development, and making the feedback more effective and actionable.

And that’s SMART feedback for you. It’s pretty straightforward isn’t it? Just 5 letters - SMART - to guide your feedback strategy. The result being that you're not only providing a window for effective constructive criticism for an employee that might need to improve, but you’re also paving a clear path for your team’s growth and development.

Putting the Rule into Action

Now that we’ve got a grasp on our golden rule of SMART feedback, here’s a couple of takeaways when implementing SMART feedback into your workday.

  • Setting the Stage: Before we even start, it's crucial to create the right atmosphere. I always suggest choosing a calm and quiet place, free of distractions. It sets a positive tone and allows for a focused discussion.
  • Open Dialogue: Now, it’s worth repeating: feedback is not a monologue, it's a dialogue. Encourage your team members to share their thoughts and perspectives. It not only makes them feel valued but often brings fresh insights to the table.
  • Active Listening: Obviously active listening is key - but managers forget it far too regularly. Show genuine interest in what your team member has to say. It builds a connection and often leads to more fruitful discussions.
  • Positive Reinforcement: Don't forget to highlight the positives. A little appreciation goes a long way, even if your feedback session is focussed on areas for improvement. It boosts morale and encourages team members to keep at it, emphasising a cycle of positivity and growth.

Remember, these are just suggestions - you might choose to implement your SMART feedback in a different manner. But either way, keep in mind that the purpose behind the SMART feedback principle is fundamentally about ensuring that an employee takes the right remedial action based on your feedback, whilst also cultivating an environment of development, cooperation, and reciprocal respect.

And that's a wrap! Keep learning, keep growing, and we'll speak again soon.



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