“Strive for continuous improvement, instead of perfection.” – Kim Collins
I thoroughly enjoy my job(s). Running four companies (Clean My Space, my cleaning service company in Toronto, Clean Digital Productions, my YouTube channel and blog (which is called Clean My Space, hopefully you’re not confused yet!), Maker’s Clean, my microfiber cloth company and now this, my own blog and YouTube channel) as well as writing a book means I have worked in a variety of different teams and environments. Aside from my own companies, I have been working since I was 17. At many times, I was working multiple jobs at a time, too, to fill out my schedule. I liked working while in school because it kept me busy and fuelled my wallet. When I took a corporate job after graduating, things changed for me. I didn’t enjoy working for a boss anymore and that’s when I decided to quit and start my own thing. I was 24, so I had no experience managing anyone or handling complex business issues, but over the last 11 years, I’ve learned a lot along the way.
My entrepreneurial journey combined with my work experience and education (I have a business degree!) has given me a foundation. Each day I am open to learning something new. School could never teach me what I know now. Only time, experience, failures, successes, feedback and reflection could do that. One of the most valuable ways I have both taught staff and learned from them is through effectively delivered (and received) feedback. Easier said than done yes, but my most valuable lessons have come from receiving feedback from caring, benevolent professionals. My best conversations with employees happen when we talk about what is and isn’t working, honestly, and how it can be fixed. People *want* to succeed, and look to trusted managers, bosses or mentors for guidance. Teaching others how they can improve, and always being open to learning, is how both an individual and a team grow. I have seen my team get better and better over the years, and I know positivity and feedback is an important reason why.
I was recently asked how I make sure my feedback to employees is constructive, rather than critical. I had to think on it. It’s been shown that negative interactions have 3x more of a lasting affect than positive ones (who even needs a study? Just think back to the last time you got negative feedback, ouch). This is why *how* you frame feedback is so important, because it can really affect a person (oh, and if you have to give feedback to your spouse because you work together, which I do, I’ll just save that for another time because that’s a whole other hotdog stand). It is also why it can be difficult to receive negative feedback. There are ways to approach giving or receiving feedback that will help set you up (as well as the other person) for a positive experience, so here are some tips that have helped me, culminated from years of experience.
What I know is this: people in the workforce generally want to move up in the world and enrich themselves and make the most of their work while there. They want to make a difference. They want to be praised. If they are working and no one takes the time to say whether something is helping the company achieve its objectives or not, the person cannot achieve their own growth goals and cannot feel successful or important in an organization. For someone to feel part of a team, they need to know whether what they are doing is working or not, and if not, what they can do to change it. I always start from the baseline opinion that people want to do well, help their company, and be successful. So with that, here is what I do to both give and receive feedback, and here are some lessons I’ve learned over the years.
Giving Feedback –
All of my advice comes from my personal experience, entrepreneurial journey and education.
Come From a Good Place
When you go into a feedback meeting, make sure your intentions are clear. You want to help this person grow and succeed. If you are angry with the person or have unsettled feelings about something that has happened, don’t disguise your anger in ‘feedback’. Be clear about what bothered you and clear the air before proceeding to the feedback stage. Otherwise, your feedback will be sharp-tongued and will likely upset the other person. When giving feedback, check your intention and make sure to keep your personal feelings out of the matter – focus on the area of improvement and the skill set at hand, not the person him or herself. Before a feedback meeting, call or email, I check my motives and tell myself “principles, not personality”.
You may have heard of this technique before, and I am here to tell you that it’s popular because it works (despite being cheesy-sounding). The idea is this. Imagine the positive feedback to be the bread (or lettuce, if you’re going low carb) and the meat (or tempeh, if vegan) to be the feedback. Like a sandwich, place your feedback between two positive comments.
For example, “I like how you filed the documents, they’re so organized. That said, I found it hard to locate the tax return from last year, and I would like to see it in a more obvious location. Can you make sure it’s clearly marked and at the front of the filing cabinet? I really appreciate how hard you’ve been working lately, I know you’ve got a lot going on at home and your effort means a lot to me. Here, I helped the person leave with dignity but I also got my specific message across loud and clear. The negative isn’t going to get lost in the sandwich – remember, it makes 3x more of a lasting effect than positive – but the person will leave feeling good about their work, optimistic, and hopefully be eager to do even better.
It is hard to give or receive feedback on wishy-washy, generalized and ambiguous comments. When going into a feedback meeting, have specifies prepared, both in the feedback itself as well as in the requested change or solution you’d like to see. For example, you can clearly see the difference between, ‘I want you to work on your spreadsheets to make them easier to read’ and ‘When I look at your spreadsheets, I find it hard to know what column I’m looking at. What I’d like to see is you locking the top column, so that when I scroll, I can always see the column header’. See? Now that employee can nail the request and doesn’t have to guess.
Specifics both in giving examples of what needs improving and exactly what you’d like it to look/sound/feel/taste like is key to the employee feeling empowered to succeed.
If feedback is given once a year, it can be easy to forget an instance or lose the nuance or details of a situation. Keep notes, emails or other pertinent information for documentation purposes and book a meeting shortly after the incident has occurred. At a moment where things don’t go right, employees are looking for a guiding light to help make things better. You can be that person who removes the mystery from the situation gone wrong. Provide feedback quickly and watch the issue correct itself.
Bonus: if done quickly enough, the issue can be course-corrected and problems from the mistake mitigated.
Be Kind, Be Human.
This doesn’t mean be a pushover. This doesn’t mean lose the intensity of the issue in a people-pleasing haze. This means you need to be a decent person and put your anger aside. And remember, you make mistakes, too. Show your vulnerability here. You are allowed to be upset, but you can also be kind to the person who screwed up at the same time. Mistakes happen. You may have upset a client (or lost one!), but trusting you have a workforce that works for you, your staff wants to impress you and make you happy. Their goals are yours; they want your business to grow. When they make a mistake, they know it and probably beat themselves up enough, thank you very much.
Recently, I had an employee make a bad hire, something happened at a client’s home and we ended up losing that client. It was a big fish, too. I wasn’t happy about it. But, I looked at my employee who made the bad hire for a moment and just thought about how she was feeling. She made a big mistake by hiring this person, and she knew it. My job wasn’t to reiterate what was already going on in her head. Sure, I was ticked that we lost that client. I mean, really ticked off. But, what is more important to me is an employee who feels empowered to make decisions and can effectively recover from a mistake (and isn’t scared of her terribly mean boss). We chatted about it, I let her know I was disappointed about losing that client but that I too have made those same hiring mistakes (being human as a boss goes a very, very long way). There was a learning opportunity there and we chatted about a do-over. I let her know she made a mistake; she is not a mistake herself. She left that meeting feeling good – she apologized and learned her lesson. I know she’s working doubly hard now to replace that client and make better hiring choices.
Ask For Their Input
Once you’re done giving feedback ask your employee how they’re feeling upon receiving it. You may need to give this some space to sink in. I know when I get feedback it sticks with me for a day or so while it settles into my subconscious mind. Once I’ve processed it, I can move on and speak more objectively about it. See how your employee felt. Was it helpful? Did they feel dignified or upset afterward? There’s something in this for you too; you can see where you’re going wrong and what you’re doing well. This also gives your employees the impression that you care about their wellbeing (which you do!).
Follow Up or Follow Through
When you give feedback, set a time or manner in which to follow up. Make it clear when you will check in on a certain project or area for improvement again, so that the person knows what to work toward. That way they know what to expect; no surprises, and they can work on improving. It provides security, and gives you a set time to either continue providing constructive feedback, or hopefully, praise. I recently gave my team some feedback and told them I’d be checking in the following Monday. I stayed true to my word (I made a calendar item to do s0), and they were ready for me when I came knocking.
Receiving Feedback –
Vice Versa – When receiving feedback it’s important to remember all of those previous tips, but flipped.
Come From a Good Place
When you go into a feedback meeting, remind yourself not to take anything to heart. This can be difficult, believe me, I know. Think of it like this: If a friend told you there was broccoli in your teeth, you would say thank you, right? You wouldn’t take that personally, or be upset, because they have helped you remove the broccoli! Feedback works the same way.
If you know that the person giving you feedback is doing it because they care about you and want you to be the best you can be, the meeting will be a more positive experience for both of you.
When it comes to the compliment sandwich from the perspective of someone receiving feedback, it’s important to make sure you eat the entire sandwich. What I mean is, make sure you listen to the good and the bad. Yes, you can improve in some ways, but no one is perfect! While you take note of how to get better, congratulate yourself on what you did well.
Being timely comes into play here as well. When you have been given feedback of work to improve on or changes to make, put them at the top of your list. If your colleague has taken the time to point out an issue to you, it is clearly of high priority to them, and should be for you too.
Be Kind, Be Human
In the same way that you hope the person giving you feedback remembers that you are only human, and everyone makes mistakes, it’s important to remember that they too are only human. Be patient with them, accept their feedback openly, and try not to react in a harsh manner – even if it is your first instinct. The best thing to do is take responsibility for your mistake and look to the future.
Follow Up or Follow Through
Set a time to follow up on their feedback. It benefits you to make sure there is a clear time to check in again. It provides a time for more clarification, or to show how much you are improving. If the person giving feedback doesn’t set a follow up time, ask for one. It shows initiative, and it is a good thing.
But remember, that means you are the one who needs to follow through. Work hard to make the changes so that on your next check in you have improvements to show.
Feedback can be a lot to process. You might be nervous in the moment and so stressed about the feedback that you don’t really hear it or understand how to incorporate it into your way of doing things. Take notes during the meeting – it looks good on you because it shows you are taking the feedback seriously. It is also going to help you make real improvements if you can look back on what they said with a clear head. Ask for clarification if needed and do a final run-down with your colleague to ensure you’ve got the feedback down. For example, ‘so what you’re asking me to do is to report on the meeting by end of day, instead of later in the week and keep you informed of follow up meetings by BCCing you on the emails. Right?’ Ask for elaboration on what exactly didn’t meet expectations and ask them, in an ideal world, what would it look like? All of this will demonstrate that you care, and that you have a desire to do better.
We all work in teams, whether it’s at work, or as a family. To grow effectively we have to grow together. Just like with everything else, it took time to learn how to give good feedback. I’ve even gotten feedback on my feedback. And as a boss, be prepared to get pummelled with feedback, you’ll get it from every direction.
I hope this has provided you with some valuable insights and how you can incorporate better feedback practices into your life. Please share your questions, comments or stories with me below!