Juan has transformed the business. Numbers are up. People are engaged and empowered. Juan is everyone’s hero. Yet he is having an increasingly hard time getting out of bed each morning.
Shaynee’s annual review was glowing: “You’re doing a great job! Keep it up! We’re so glad you are here.” So why did it leave her feeling disappointed and restless?
Kelly has been with the team for six months. Everyone smiles, says hello, please and thank you. It is the nicest place she has ever worked. Yet Kelly feels uneasy: “Am I doing okay? They haven’t fired me yet, so I guess I’m doing okay?”
We usually associate “feedback” with addressing performance problems, so why are Kelly, Juan and Shaynee—model team members, all—left with more unease than engagement?
Feedback plays a central role in our professional and personal lives—it helps us stay motivated, feel secure, learn and grow. If we want to add value to people’s lives, we need to provide three kinds of feedback: Appreciation, Coaching, and Evaluation.
People need all three kinds of feedback—at different times, in different amounts and for different purposes.
Give Appreciation to let people know they are seen—that their efforts and hard work are noticed and matter to others. Appreciation keeps us motivated and engaged.
Appreciation Mistake #1: We think people know. We praise Juan’s fantastic outcomes, after all. But Juan can still be left feeling that nobody quite “gets” how much time, effort, ingenuity, resourcefulness and care he puts in day in and day out. Genuine, specific appreciation of others efforts can go a long way in sustaining motivation and avoiding burnout.
Appreciation Mistake #2: We think we add value when we improve things (or people). So we focus on what needs to change. But skipping the appreciation part can block others openness to coaching. Unless Juan knows he is respected, valued, even loved, it can be hard for him to hear what he could do even better—no matter how well intentioned or “right” the coaching might be.
Provide Coaching to help others learn and grow. Shaynee feels appreciated, but doesn’t feel challenged, or like anyone is investing in her future. So while Shaynee is pleased to get a positive evaluation, she is hungering for perspective on how she could be more effective in her role, as part of the team, or as a person.
Coaching Mistake #1: We don’t offer coaching because we don’t realize they would actually welcome it, or because we don’t want to “interfere” or hurt their feelings or make them defensive. Yet withholding coaching sometimes unintentionally communicates that we don’t care, and it cheats others out of the opportunity to learn and grow.
Coaching Mistake #2: We don’t have open conversation about whether and how to best offer coaching to each other. Ask how you can best offer your thoughts to them when you see things that might be improved.
Offer Clear Evaluation to let people know where they stand against goals and expectations.
Evaluation Mistake #1: We assume no news is good news. If there is a problem we would speak up. But Kelly feels uneasy because she can’t tell what the silence means. An evaluation conversation that let her know, “You’re right on track with what we were hoping you’d deliver” or even, “You’re a little behind where we thought you’d be six months in—here’s what we should do to get you up to speed.” Evaluation would help her know where she stands and how to run the race forward.
Evaluation Mistake #2: We jump to Coaching without offering Evaluation. “You should speak up more frequently in meetings” is likely a helpful suggestion, but without context, I’m not sure how big of an issue and how urgent of a change this should be. “You’re doing great. The one thing that would make you even more effective in this role is if you would….” helps me hear the feedback in right size.
How do you know how best to add value? Ask.
Which types of feedback are your people wanting more of? Where are they feeling stuck?
How can you come alongside them to make sure they have the types of information—Appreciation, Coaching, Evaluation—they need to learn, grow, and thrive?
These conversations enable you to add value to each of your team members in the ways they can best receive it and use it to fuel their engagement and growth.
Sheila Heen (TGLS 2015) has spent two decades at the Harvard Negotiation Project specializing in our most difficult conversations—where disagreements are strong, emotions run high and relationships become strained. Her firm, Triad Consulting Group, works with executive teams to strengthen their working relationships, work through tough conversations and making sound decisions together. She has written two New York Times bestsellers, including her most recent, Thanks for the Feedback, which helps leaders improve their ability to receive feedback.
Elaine Lin Hering is a consultant with Triad Consulting Group, where she works with clients to diagnose challenges, design solutions and deliver programs to build management capacity in negotiation, influence and conflict management skills. Prior to joining Triad, Elaine taught negotiation at Monash Law School in Melbourne, Australia and was a Senior Consultant for Conflict Management Australaisa, helping them expand their practice into the region.