“If you approach feedback from the standpoint that you are trying to help your people – even if it is negative – most will appreciate you.”
Giving feedback to your employees is a major part of your job as a leader of an AEC firm. It is not a pleasant job and may have a negative connotation, but it is necessary nevertheless if you want your people to do better and your company to prosper. It is something that, in my experience, architects and engineers – and probably most other people – don’t like to do or don’t do well.
Here are my thoughts:
- The purpose of your feedback is not to make people feel good. There was a recent Harvard Business Review article on this topic that dispelled this common misperception. The real purpose is to help people improve. You have to keep this in mind. Too many people want to beat around the bush and don’t honestly confront what needs to be discussed. This isn’t helping you or the employee. You don’t want to insult people but you do have to be straight with them.
- Continuous feedback is necessary. You cannot wait until the annual or semi-annual review time to deliver feedback. It should be provided continuously throughout the year. Again, this isn’t the tendency for most of us. We hesitate and procrastinate, and, in the process, delay (or possibly miss) the opportunity for our people to improve. It cannot all be delivered personally, either. You may need to talk on the phone or send a text or email at times. Everyone is busy and – in many firms – traveling, and it is unrealistic to think you can always do this face-to-face.
- Your HR people will still insist you do your written annual or semi-annual reviews. So that means you have to do these. But they should not yield any surprises for the employees. If they do, you aren’t providing enough regular feedback to them every day. And no, I am not one of those people who believes these are necessary in order to protect ourselves from employee lawsuits. I think you will find more often than not that the employees we need to move out for poor performance have a long history of positive reviews which will only give them ammunition for a wrongful termination lawsuit.
- People will dodge your feedback. Just like your teenagers at home probably do, your people know when they have messed up and will work hard to avoid hearing the lecture (being corrected). But nevertheless, just as is the case when you are a parent, it is your responsibility to deliver necessary feedback so your employees can learn and the company can do better.
No one likes working for a jerk. That said, IF you approach feedback from the standpoint that you are trying to help your people – even if it is negative – most will appreciate you. It can be rewarding when you see your people and company flourish. In any case, giving feedback is your job as a leader and you need to do it.
Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.