People are hard to read. Even the person who seems like an open book may react in ways that you could never have predicted. People are truly amazing sometimes. Sense and logic fly out the window when emotions are involved. The Human Resources personnel must be very well-acquainted with this issue. This problem especially rears its head when you have to give feedback. When you manage a team or work as a team, giving or receiving feedback is something that can’t be avoided. When someone falls short of the expectations or their work isn’t aligning with the company’s goals, you have to man up and call the person in for a chat. Postponing the feedback until review time because it makes you uncomfortable is not beneficial for either of you. Constructive feedback helps in an individual’s growth and development if taken in the right way. The trick is to make the other person view your feedback as ‘constructive’.

As an HR, you know that dealing with people effectively requires tact and emotional intelligence. You have to be very careful about the way you phrase your words, especially when it is something negative. If you’re not careful, it could backfire and have a conflicting response even if you had the best interests at heart. But you also can’t beat around the bush and let the work suffer. So let us help you out on how to deliver effective, constructive feedback.

The three-step approach of Prepare-Listen-Act is sure to make your life that much easier. Giving feedback isn’t the problem. In fact, a survey conducted by PcW revealed that 75% of the respondents believe that feedback is useful. Nearly 60% of the participants said that they would like feedback on a daily or weekly basis. The number increased to 72% for participants below age 30. The feedback should be given in an objective manner with emphasis on improvement rather than a personal attack on the individual. There is no use in giving feedback if it doesn’t benefit the individual concerned and there is no change in the output.

Preparation is Key

Take some time to sit down and decide how you want to go about it. You definitely cannot go about it in a rushed and unprepared manner. To succeed, you need preparation and the same applies in this instance. You cannot just go in and accuse someone of something. You need to plan how you wish to conduct the conversation. Bear in mind that when you’re giving constructive feedback it should be more like a conversation. Choose a private setting and allocate time for the meeting. You shouldn’t be in a hurry to get to your next appointment or for your coffee break. The employee is bound to ask you questions; be it in a defensive mode or if they genuinely want to understand and improve. Make a list of possible questions that you may be asked and prepare how you will respond. This will help you get clarity on the situation and think of concrete patterns exhibited by the person. This will strengthen your observations and wipe away any thoughts of partiality. This will also solidify your belief that you aren’t being personal in any way and are simply doing your job.

Listen To What They Have To Say

One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what the other person has to say. It’s vital that when you’re delivering constructive feedback it should be more like a conversation. You have to let the other person speak and listen to what they have to say. It can’t be a monologue on how and why they failed. As a supervisor, you are not aware of all the variables at play. By asking questions and listening to what they have to say you will get to the root of the problem. Sometimes, you couldn’t be further from the truth. Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi, encourages going in without assuming the worst of the other person. When you suspect malicious intent, you are not prepared to listen and will fail in getting to the root of the problem. Focusing on the wrong problem will not do anyone any good!

Ask them questions to understand their side of the story. Once you know the real issue, you can figure out a solution that works best for the both of you. The way you give feedback governs your future interactions with the employee. You can kill two birds with one stone if you go about it the right way. You will get to the root of the problem and also gain the respect of your colleagues because you chose to be empathetic rather than vent to them regarding the setbacks at work.

Act on the Feedback

Preparing and listening is all well and good, but what actually counts at the end of the day is if the discussion brings about the desired change. You have certain expectations from your team and there is nothing wrong with that. Once you have arrived at the root cause of the problem, clearly state the improvements you expect and the time frame within which it should be implemented. It would be even better if you could show that you’ll help them out in the process. You should end the conversation only after clear targets have been set. Ambiguity will not help you reach your goals.

Sometimes, even clearly outlining the change you desire isn’t enough. Repetition and reminders are not very pleasant but sometimes it is needed to get the job done. This will make the person understand that you will be following up on the work being done in that department. Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, believes that repeating yourself is essential. He is a firm believer that repetition is the mantra to lead well. ‘Just because you said it, doesn’t make it so – Jeff Weiner

Here are a couple of things you can do to move the process along.

  • Send an email out highlighting the key points of the discussion. This will serve as official documentation and will reinforce the fact that action needs to be taken.
  • Follow-up: follow up on the issue in your next one on one. Make it known that you will be checking up on their work. This will motivate them to focus on the feedback more.

Don’t make the mistake of trying to sugarcoat the negative feedback. It will lead you nowhere. It’s more likely to confuse the employee and not yield any results. You have to be empathetic but firm at the same time. Get to the point and don’t beat around the bush. Be as objective as possible. To be a good leader, you have to be courageous.

Following the above steps will make it easier for you to offer constructive feedback. You will no longer squirm or hesitate when the need arises. Each situation is different but once you master the art of giving feedback, your life as an HR will be that much easier. While always hoping for the best, you must also be prepared for the worst-case scenario. The employee may not heed the feedback and show no signs of improvement. In this case, you may have to take some stern action. The best thing is that since you have documented and made notes of your discussions, it will prove beneficial if you decide to fire someone. It will show that you gave the person the opportunity to do better and they wasted it. You’ll have no qualms even if the situation leads to termination because you’ll know that you gave the person a fair chance at improvement.