The Art Of Delivering Feedback
By: CJ Stafford, President
One of the simple truths of people management – in any industry – is that your employees require feedback. They must be told how they’re doing: what they’re doing right; what they’re doing wrong; and how they can improve. The key is delivering these messages in a way that gets your point across, doesn’t offend them, and sticks. (I know. It would be so much easier if they just knew!) The ability to effectively deliver (and humbly receive) constructive feedback is a must-have for anyone with supervisory responsibility. When done properly, it fills the gap between expectations and the reality of your agents’ performance.
As you’re planning your next performance discussion, remember these seven strategies to make the most of your observations.
1. Pre-schedule and prepare.
What constitutes WOW service in the context of your organization’s customer experience management? As a first step, your program/campaign’s Manager, Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), and Quality Assurance (QA) Representatives should meet to define and align on call-handling expectations. Ensuring mutual understanding of best-in-class service; the details of your scorecard questions; and conventions in scoring across this core group is essential.
2. Deliver it in person.
The more direct the feedback, the more likely the recipient is to receive it the way it is intended. Bar none, face-to-face meetings are the best forum for doing so. Pacing, vocal inflection, eye contact, and body language all impact how a message is conveyed and interpreted. If a live meeting isn’t an option, host a videoconference. If videoconferencing isn’t viable, schedule a phone call. But never use e-mail to provide feedback, as tone and nuance tend to get lost in text. You can document a meeting via e-mail message for the employee and/or principal stakeholders (e.g. HR, Senior Management, etc.), but the feedback should be initially delivered more directly.
3. Make it private.
Depending on the sensitivity of the subject matter, a one-on-one approach is generally best (though certain topics – such as performance issues with disciplinary consequences – demand the presence of an HR Representative or a witness). The success of these exchanges depends largely on the employee’s willingness to be vulnerable. As such, these meetings should occur behind closed doors and be scheduled in a place and at a time of day that draws as little outside attention as possible. Promise as much discretion as you’re able to comfortably commit to.
4. Address the behavior and its impact (NOT the employee).
Regardless of its content, the message should be delivered from a place of professional integrity and respect for the recipient. Avoid making assumptions about the employee’s motivations or unnecessary criticisms of his/her attitude or demeanor. Instead, focus on what the employee has or has not done and its effect on your output, your customers, your team, and the organization. Be sensitive and tactful in your approach, but be clear. Remember your ROADS: your feedback should be Relevant, Objective, Actionable, Digestible, and Specific.
5. Build a conversation with an open mind.
Rule of thumb: Unless you’ve personally delivered the feedback to the employee, presume he or she has never received it. Approach the interaction sensitively, expecting not to talk at the other person, but to converse with him or her. Understanding how the employee perceives the issue and/or why he/she did what was done will help you customize your message more appropriately. Come prepared with bullet points, not a full script.
6. Avoid making threats or giving ultimatums.
It’s difficult, if not possible, to modify an employee’s behavior in a meaningful and sustainable way by making threats or giving ultimatums. Ultimately, he/ she will either call your bluff or force you to make good on your word, breeding resistance and resentment in the meantime. Instead, outline the rules, expectations, and the panoramic consequences of a poorly done job… as well as the rewards of work that’s well done. Intrinsic motivation works best, but incentives don’t hurt either. Focus on the WIIFM – the “What’s in it for me?” – where you can. It’s easier to give your employees a little push than to drag them along!
7. Keep it balanced and recurring.
Worst-case scenario, your employee feels as though he or she is being called to the principal’s office each time you schedule a meeting. Employees deserve to know where they stand at all times, not just when their work or behavior needs to be adjusted. Meet regularly to provide a forum for checking in, asking questions, offering updates, and reinforcing the positive where appropriate. Tracking their progress over time helps to curb concerns before they become problems and capitalize on opportunities for enhancing performance and experience.
Performance discussions are rarely a favorite for managers or employees. Oftentimes, in fact, the justifications for putting them off just seem to multiply on their own. But with proper preparation and the right attitude, you’ll find the value of clear direction and mutual understanding far outweighs the cost of an uncomfortable moment or two.
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