Part of being a successful leader is nurturing your team’s growth through ongoing feedback, goal-setting and professional development. No matter where a staff member is along their career journey, there is always room for growth.
Your role as a manager and leader is to help your colleagues tap into that potential, rise to the occasion and shine their full light. It’s good for them, and it’s good for the greater mission at large. It’s an exciting process, and if handled correctly, you can develop an exceptional culture of growth where team members are excited to learn, push themselves and try new things.
Providing feedback to others is much more of an art than a science. Emotions are involved; staff members need to feel safe and appreciated before being critiqued, so you have to balance communicating opportunities for growth with expressing their value and affirming their strengths.
Here are my top five tips for giving feedback in a strategic manner that will propel your team members in their work and careers in a positive and powerful way.
1. Keep it positive
Whenever you are providing a staff member with feedback, respect is the name of the game (is Aretha playing in your head right now, too?). Show that you care about them by starting the conversation or written communication with a note of appreciation, compliment or asking about how they are doing. This allows you to immediately set a tone, connect with them and make them feel valued.
Once you’ve established this energy, share your feedback in an authentic way and make sure any “criticism” is always constructive. Use gentle language, such as “I noticed that…” or “I found it so interesting when… .” You don’t want to make anyone feel attacked but rather supported. Tying the feedback into your own experience or offering a personal anecdote can help people be less defensive and more open to your ideas.
2. Timing is everything
Picking the right moment to share feedback is crucial. If you made observations that spurred the need for feedback from a specific event, try to communicate your feedback as close to the event as possible. At the same time, be cognizant that if it’s the end of the day and your staff member has already been sitting through hours of meetings, it might not be the best time for constructive criticism.
Have a conversation over lunch or coffee (this can even be a virtual lunch) to drop in with your feedback, or put a special time on the calendar to touch base on the progress of their annuals goals. Let them know ahead of time that you have some ideas you’re excited about and that you’d like to share with them so they come into the meeting with an open mind. Remember, you’re both on the same team.
3. Be open to feedback yourself
Humility as a leader will take you far, so create a culture where people give and take feedback across all roles and departments. If you’re giving feedback, make sure to create safe, comfortable opportunities for your team members to help you grow as a leader yourself.
No one is perfect, and we all need other eyes and perspectives to help us grow. Your staff members can do that for you just as you do for them. And when you receive feedback with enthusiasm, a growth mindset and an open heart, you’ll help them to do the same.
4. Lead by example
One of the most effective ways to encourage behaviors in your team members is to lead by example. Your actions say the most — and if you are a compelling and effective leader, your colleagues will want to emulate your business acumen.
If you see opportunities for development in others, intentionally implement the behaviors you would like to see in them in yourself. If you notice that a staff member could work on customer service and curating an exceptional experience for their customer, lead by example and treat them as your customer.
Start a meeting off with pastries, promptly return their emails and go the extra mile when you can. They will likely be inspired to step up their own game. And the same goes for your “bad” work habits, too. If you aren’t walking your walk and talking your talk, your company culture is at risk.
Catch yourself in words, actions and practices that you wouldn’t want others around you to repeat. At the end of the day, you want to create other leaders, so be a role model they can aspire to embody themselves.
5. Put it on paper
Whether meeting in person or virtually, getting your feedback down on paper can be a useful tool. Not only does it allow you to thoughtfully choose your words ahead of time, but it also memorializes the information for future use or reflection and creates a third point in the conversation.
Rather than it just being you and your team member looking at each other throughout the conversation, you can both reference a printed or digital document, creating a bit of space between what can be a somewhat intense interaction. It’s also a great takeaway for your colleague at the end of the conversation.
Ongoing goals provide an opportunity to have this dialogue throughout the year. Make sure to have a running document of goals and progress so you and your team member can see growth in action and be motivated by this progress.
Being intentional about feedback is the first step to becoming a better leader who exemplifies clear, impactful communication and a people-first approach to business. If you’re feeling lost, chat with other leaders and start a conversation so you can all be thoughtful in creating a positive culture that embraces growth.
Rainy Hake Austin is president of The Agency in Los Angeles. Connect with her on Instagram.