You’d think your employees would want your feedback, right? Turns out, the six most dreaded words for any employee are: Can I give you some feedback?
“Only 26% of employees strongly agree that the feedback they receive helps them do better work.” ~ Gallup
It used to be that most organizations had hierarchical, top-down, command-and-control structures in which the primary role of managers was to hold people accountable. In this workplace environment, feedback was key.
Today, however, the workplace has an entirely different dynamic—one that is more decentralized and agile, with employees who have more autonomy and are more creative about how work gets done. The usual feedback on what employees did “right” or “wrong” is no longer enough in this setting.
Instead, managers must create an open, honest, two-way dialogue that strengthens relationships rather than one-way instruction and criticism.
“To put it simply, traditional feedback is one direction (manager to employee), episodic (i.e., infrequent and isolated) and focused on past mistakes that can’t be fixed. Coaching conversations, on the other hand, are about now and what’s next. Coaching conversations put the employee’s strengths and future potential at the center, in an ongoing, middle-of-the-action dialogue.”
Great Managers are Great Conversation Leaders
Odds are that the best manager you’ve ever had was great at having meaningful conversations—the kind where you felt like you were heard and understood.
Even if he had to deliver difficult messages or push you harder than normal, you felt okay about it. You could tell that the conversation wasn’t scripted, but rather, it was adapted to what you needed in the moment.
“That’s the power of individualized conversations. An employee feels known, understood, heard and appreciated — even when the topic of discussion isn’t pleasant. Great managers build performance conversations around an employee’s unique strengths so that the dialogue is naturally positive and constructive.”
These skills don’t come naturally to most managers—they must be learned, ideally in a role-play or real-life environment. They must also be developed over time.
Coaching Conversations Look to the Future
In today’s fast-paced business world, employees must be prepared to adapt since every aspect of a business is prone to disruption.
Unfortunately, too often, managers don’t observe performance in a competent manner, nor do they have enough expertise to tell employees how work should actually be performed.
A great manager takes his coaching to the next level—going beyond simple observation to active listening and proactively anticipating topics that will be useful to employees in the future.
Great managers are also focused on achievement and developing their teams. They create ongoing dialogues with employees to help them comfortably discuss issues they may encounter along the way.
Great Coaching Conversations Are a Two-Way Street
In most cases, employees feel like feedback is something that “happens” to them. It’s an event that typically feels critical and condemning, even though it’s well-intended.
Worse, still, is the fact that feedback only improves performance about one-third of the time, while actually making it worse one-third of the time.
Employees should always feel encouraged to share their perspectives with their manager, along with asking questions and bringing up concerns. And it should go both ways. In fact, according to Gallup, frequent, meaningful conversations are key to cultivating collaboration and engaged performance.
Great coaches inspire employees to achieve more than they ever thought they could. “They do exponentially more than just tell you what to do. They teach you to own your performance, do what’s best for the organization and be a great partner,” points out Gallup.
While managers today may not be experts in every workplace situation, they can still shape conversations and deliver employee support in a way that leads to continual improvement.
Leaders can help out their managers by changing expectations for how collaboration occurs and how work gets done in their organizations. They can also implement learning and development programs that teach coaching conversation skills to their top managers.
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