Feedback sessions should be the highlight of a leader’s day.
Your employees are getting fed up with feedback. That, at least, is the takeaway from one recent Gallup survey, which found that only 26% of workers believe that feedback actually helps them improve their performance.
Clearly, things aren’t working the way they should. At most organizations, feedback sessions are viewed as, at best, a necessary evil: a way to nudge your team in the right direction, but a process that isn’t much fun for either party, and seldom delivers the desired results. Most people want to get it over with, and get back to the real work of running a business.
I’ll admit that I used to think that way too. But over my career — including a stint at McKinsey & Co., a consulting powerhouse where people are literally the only asset of the company — I’ve learned that coaching and mentoring are actually among the best and most important parts of being a business leader.
It’s true that feedback sessions can be stressful. But done right, they are a key strategic investment, both in yourself and in your team. In fact, another Gallup study found that employees who get good quality coaching can have a significant impact on the bottom-line of the business and drive up profits by as much as 29%.
That brings the value of coaching into focus: your team deserves good mentorship, and you deserve a team that’s working to the fullest of its potential. Achieving that, though, starts with a mindset shift, and a commitment to viewing coaching as more than merely a managerial chore that happens once or twice a year during performance reviews. Personally, I aim to have one-on-one coaching sessions every two weeks, and here are four steps I’ve taken to turn coaching sessions into a highlight of my workday:
- Talk about strengths and weaknesses
Few bosses enjoy giving negative feedback, and few employees like receiving it, so it’s always best to offer praise alongside criticism. The goal of giving feedback isn’t to scold or shame workers — it’s to help them be their best selves, and that means acknowledging successes as well as opportunities for growth.
To get the best out of your team, make it a point of using your sessions to recognize good behavior, as well as to identify areas for development. The goal should always be to reinforce and sustain the things that are working well, as well as to remedy the things that aren’t. Make sure you are offering tactical steps to take both to the next level.
- Take action and follow up
Feedback isn’t an end unto itself — in fact, your coaching sessions won’t be truly productive unless you make them a launchpad for action. Make it clear that you expect your team to put in the work between coaching sessions, and to come prepared to discuss what they’ve achieved or done differently the next time you sit down to chat.
To ensure accountability — for both you and your team — it helps to keep careful notes documenting what was discussed and what was agreed. Being structured in this fashion can help you spot long-term trends, and showcase data-driven impact. It can also be a real morale booster — looking back on my team’s feedback notes from years ago, I’m amazed by how far we’ve come and how much we’ve learned along the way.
- Make it work both ways
According to leadership development guru Joseph Folkman, the best leaders don’t just give feedback well — they also demand feedback from others. In fact, Folkman found, bosses who ranked at the bottom 10% in asking for feedback also rated in the bottom 15% for overall leadership effectiveness, while top requesters of feedback ranked in the 86th percentile for overall effectiveness.
Bear in mind that each time you sit down for a feedback session, make sure you ask what you could be doing better, and how you can do a better job of supporting your employee’s growth. This two-directional approach makes coaching more collaborative, as you find ways to move toward the common goal of achieving peak performance as a team.
- Make it a way of life
Coaching doesn’t have to happen in formal meetings. In fact, much of the best coaching happens in the margins — a casual chat over coffee, or on the drive back from a big meeting, or a simple word of praise after someone nails a big presentation. Keep looking for opportunities to provide mentorship in real time, and you’ll find coaching becomes a way of life rather than a chore.
By the same token, recognize that people learn from people. Keep your eyes and ears open as you go about your daily life — you’ll find there are many people who can inspire you and help you gain new insights. Discuss those learnings openly with your team and find new ways to implement them in your own life. Simply paying attention as you interact with people can yield amazing dividends, making you a better you and your team a better team.
Make time for coaching
I’ve been fortunate to work at companies that truly value talent, including currently at Cart.com where we take a thoughtful approach to encouraging effective feedback and mentorship as not only an investment in the business, but an investment in the people themselves. One thing such companies have in common is an awareness that at the end of the day, a business is only as good as its people — so investing in your team is often a good way to spend your time and energy.
That’s the key mindset adjustment that leaders need to take as they try to make coaching a more positive and powerful part of their working lives. Feedback sessions might seem like they consume a lot of your time, but by helping your team to unlock their potential, you’re also making them happier, stronger, and more independent. That, in turn, means you’ll spend less of your own time putting out fires or stressing over work that wasn’t done right.
Spending time on coaching, in other words, is arguably the best way to free up your own bandwidth. A little bit of time helping your team-members to shine can literally give whole workdays back to you in the long term — and help both you and your employees to bring your best selves to work each day. In other words, done right, coaching can be a highlight of not only your day but also your team’s day!
Written by Saheb Sabharwal.
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