7 Principles for Delivering Corrective Feedback

There is something that responds deeply to people who level with us.
— Susan Scott

Stepping into difficult conversations is one of the hardest things for leaders to do. Often we go to one of two extremes, being too nice or being too blunt. I like the concept of being hard on the issue but soft on the person. Seek to be direct, considerate and constructive. Author Patrick Lencioni calls it telling them the 'kind truth.'

Here are 7 Principles I have been teaching leaders over last 15 years to help them step into these conversations with competence and confidence.

1. Get comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Understand from the outset that it is normal to feel uncomfortable in this situation. It goes with the territory and responsibility of leadership. You are not paid to be comfortable, you are paid to cultivate high performance from your staff. 

2. Start with the right motive.

I like the term corrective feedback rather than negative feedback. We want to correct their behavior and get them on the right track. Feedback should not be purely for punishment. Your goal should be to help the employee become more successful, not show them how wrong they are. View them as ‘pre-great’ and you want to get them to great.

3. Plan your words.

These conversations can be emotional, sensitive and risky. Think it through. When we say things out of stress, we say things we regret. It is best to choose our words carefully.

 4. Focus on behavior.

Saying "you have a bad attitude" or "you need to be more of a team player" simply doesn't work.

Instead, be descriptive. Explain what you saw or heard. For example, "When Cindy made that suggestion, I saw you roll your eyes and say we already tried that and it didn't work."

5. Stay in your lane.

Don't make the conversation bigger or more difficult than it needs to be. Don’t try to win a debate or get them to confess their sins. Your goal is positive behavior, not win an argument.

For example, note the difference in these two conversations.

  • "I noticed you continued holding a social conversation with your colleague while your patient's call light was on."
  • "You don't seem to care about patient satisfaction."

The second one gets into needless and dangerous territory. The goal of this conversation is to insure the nurse responds promptly to patient call lights. Stick to the goal.

6. Engage rather than declare.

A few well thought-out, focused questions will accomplish a lot more than lecturing. Make this a dialogue, not a monologue. Ask them what they will do to correct the issue. Make their behavior their problem, not yours!

  • “What can you do to make sure you are here at 7 a.m. every morning?”
  • "What can you do to promote a more positive work environment?"
  • "What can you do to serve our customers in a warm and welcoming way?"

7.  If necessary, use the phrase “I need someone in this position who will....

  • .... be here consistently at 7 a.m.”
  • .... work well with others."
  • .... look at the upside of change rather than immediately speak negatively about it."

When someone isn't responding to your corrective feedback, this is like a verbal cold shower. This phrase depersonalizes the situation and lets the person know that you are thinking in terms of the position not the person.

If they don't respond appropriately after hearing this, it may be time to free up their future.

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Del will be holding a public workshop on this subject and employee engagement on Thursday, September 22, 2016.  Find out more.