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How to Give Feedback That Will Make Your Team Better at What They Do

Useful feedback requires more care and attention than is typically invested

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BY Marishka M. Cabrera - 18 Jan 2018

How to Give Feedback That Will Make Your Team Better at What They Do

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Successful start-up leaders know the key to managing people well is the ability to give clear and useful feedback.

“This strategic developmental feedback requires careful thought and insightful construction,” writes Jennifer Porter, an experienced operations executive and managing partner of Boston-based The Boda Group, writes in her October article published in Harvard Business Review.  

She says creating useful feedback requires more care and attention than is typically invested.

“Feedback is always tricky to manage,” says Zal Dastur, co-founder and COO of Lucep, a Singapore-based omni-channel engagement platform. “You have to take into account the type of person you are dealing with; some people can take it better than others. So your message has to be crafted depending on the person and context,” adds Dastur.

David Rosa, co-founder and CEO of Neat, a Hong Kong-based fintech start-up, splits feedback into three categories: praise, constructive criticism, and warning.

“Whichever group the feedback pertains to, you need to be very specific about issues so there’s no ambiguity,” he says. “The flatter the organizational structure, the easier it is to do, as direct interaction happens on a regular basis.”

How can start-up leaders give their team feedback to make them better at what they do? Here are some tips:

1. Focus on the big picture

Porter says the most useful feedback answers this question: For a leader (or team member) to be maximally effective, what should they do more of and less of?

Be specific in relaying to the team the kind of behavior the company needs in order to thrive. This means taking a strategic view of what the team member is doing effectively and less effectively today and what he or she might continue or change to achieve future objectives.

In addition, Porter says the most useful feedback starts with an understanding of what the organization values and aligning that with a person’s behavior at work.

2. Be specific and immediate

For Rosa, “You need to nip issues in the bud the moment you see them happen. Otherwise, issues snowball, especially in a fast paced start-up environment.”

“I prefer not to wait for quarterly, or worse, annual reviews to provide feedback,” Dastur says. “If you can show a person what they have done immediately after, they are more likely to remember it than if you bring it up a few months later.”

He adds that leaders must try to be as specific as possible, perhaps in the form of what he or she could have done differently.

“The idea is to help guide people to understanding the thought process behind the feedback, that way they are more likely to not make the same mistake again,” Dastur says.

“The key word here is doing. Useful feedback should focus on what a leader is actually accomplishing,” Porter writes. In other words, do away with vague labels, like “inspiring” or “great.”

3. Look for patterns of behavior

Porter says leaders she has worked with tend to get the most feedback on a specific event. However, she notes that what is more helpful is feedback on specific behavior that leverage specific events as examples.

“Looking at patterns helps alleviate recency bias where we tend to recall and over-weigh events in our near-term memory,” Porter says.

So instead of calling out an employee for being late to a meeting, try to see if there are more telling signs, such as consistently overpromising, but being unable to deliver on time.  

4. Give both the positive and negative

As much as employees dread hearing negative feedback, leaders who need to give it aren’t exactly thrilled either. But the conversation shouldn’t be all that awkward once leaders practice the art of giving clear and balanced feedback.

“Never hesitate to give credit where it’s due,” Rosa says. “Team members not only feel valued, they typically feel inspired to do the same across the team—a very important building block in a winning team’s DNA.”

Dastur, meanwhile, cautions against feedback sounding like criticism.

“Don’t get me wrong, if someone has done something, then they need to be told, but in most cases it is a question of helping or guiding someone,” he says. “No one likes it when they are being corrected so trying to be as sensitive to this as possible and remaining positive about what they can change is important.”

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