The value of feedback and coaching conversations

In Leadership

By Maura Fay Learning

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk said:

“I think it’s important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better.”

The beauty of human behaviour is that we are constantly learning. No matter how old we are, or how advanced we think we are, we never actually stop learning. And feedback and coaching conversations are a way in which we can learn. After all, how else are we meant to know if we’ve done something wrong or right and then learn or evolve from it?

But feedback conversations seem to have a negative association. People don’t like giving them, having them, and lastly, receiving them. But why is that? When delivered effectively, feedback conversations can be the catalyst that steers your employees in the right direction, and can be transform your managers into standout leaders.

The first step to positively giving and receiving feedback is to create a culture of feedback. This means that it’s important not only that feedback be given in a timely manner, but that individuals have the courage and permission to elicit feedback.

So what is best practice in feedback and coaching conversations that have an impact on and drive performance? Let’s explore.

The value of feedback and coaching conversations to under performers

Managers who function at best practice levels understand that having regular feedback and coaching conversations result in motivated staff who perform at their optimum. They also understand that when they don’t address and manage underperformance in an appropriate and sensitive manner, it can result in problems such as unhealthy and unproductive outcomes that may affect others.

Like all problems, the solution might be simpler than you think. And to obtain a solution to a problem, it’s important to go to the source of the problem, so you can fix it. Speak to your under performer and ask questions to get to the source of the pain. Is it a question of incorrect skills in the incorrect role? Or is it a resource issue? Or is it something bigger, such as a behavioural issue? The only way to do this, is to provide feedback, followed by a coaching conversation.

For the low, average or under performer:

  1. First, find out the reason why they’re not performing.
  2. Nip it in the bud by removing any obstacles to performance. Talk through the issue and offer options to achieve a solution.
  3. Show them support and nurture them through the task or behaviour change.
  4. Help them take accountability for developing their skills.

The value of feedback and coaching conversations to high performers

Many managers tend to let their top performers fend for themselves, or worse, carry the weight of the under performer. This leads to resentment and eventually, burnout. This is not a way to reward the hard work they’ve put in. Reinforcing good behaviour in your top performers help them to benchmark against themselves and maintain their performance levels.

A Harvard Business Review article, What High Performers Want at Work by Karie Willyerd, identified that:

“A second contributing factor to job satisfaction was feedback: How often do your managers sit down with employees to discuss their performance? Chances are, not enough. Fifty percent of high performers say they expect at least a monthly sit down with their managers, but only 53% say their manager delivers on their feedback expectations. If you are relying on annual or semi-annual performance reviews as the primary feedback mechanism with your employees, your high performers are likely to need a more frequent boost and will begin to show signs of under-appreciation.”

For the high performer:

  1. Show them support and nurture their talent so they stay motivated.
  2. Steer feedback and coaching conversations with them by involving them in their development and growth.
  3. Play an active part to their development and growth.
  4. Step back when necessary and empower them.

The value of feedback and coaching conversations to managers

Like top performers, senior leaders or managers can sometimes be left to fend for themselves, or get left out of the feedback and coaching cycle. If you’re a manager and you’re not receiving any feedback, you may need to ask for it.

Eliciting honest feedback from your team empowers you with valuable learning you can’t otherwise gain. Doing so also helps you earn the respect of your team. In this act alone, they will know they stand with someone who can lead them to success. Remember to practise humility when eliciting and receiving feedback. It equips you a genuineness and true desire to gain awareness into how to make yourself a better and stronger manager and ultimately, leader.

The value of feedback and coaching conversations to the business

Having regular feedback and coaching conversations creates a productive, motivated and engaged workforce. When managers and employees increase contribution to an authentic feedback and coaching culture, teams communicate and collaborate to effect a productive outcome with greater understanding and alignment of goals and strategy. What’s more, people leaders inspire and motivate team members to own their development and realise full potential to achieve those goals, resulting in a higher rate of overall performance targets.

A successful feedback and coaching conversation

But all of these benefits are only obtainable if the feedback and coaching conversations are executed effectively.

Here are four steps you need to ensure a successful feedback and coaching conversation:

  1. Structure and Plan Your Conversation: Structuring and planning for your conversation shows respect for the other party, and allows you to clearly communicate what the goals are and how to best achieve them.
  2. Explain and Be Clear in Your Strategy: Let them know what’s happening now, what’s happening next, how they are involved, and what’s in it for them. Let them also know how you intend to support them so they know you’re not abandoning fort if things go haywire.
  3. Listen: It’s called a conversation, not a monologue, which means that two people are involved and accountable for the input. Equal investment is required from both parties. A good starting point for any conversation is the ability to actively listen to the other party.
  4. Follow up: Feedback and coaching conversations work best when both parties are committed to having them regularly and continuously. Following up shows commitment on both parties to achieve the established goals and desired outcomes.

Have feedback and coaching conversations often

So we’ve seen how it would be a shrewd move to champion having, giving and receiving feedback and coaching conversations. Not just as a value to employees and teams, but also to the managers or leaders themselves.

Remember that feedback is most acted on when it is specific and timely, and delivered with a willingness to allow two-way communication between both parties. This results in an authentic, robust and honest discussion that effects a productive outcome.  A little bit of hard work goes a long way. The key is to have feedback and coaching conversations. And to have them often.

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