Female manager wearing a mask

Learning to Deliver Effective Feedback as a Manager

Time and time again, managers tell me that they have had professional development on their to-do lists, only to have it go by the wayside when more pressing issues arose. Even the most senior managers wish they had had more leadership training over the years. Now more than ever, in the time of COVID-19, our managerial skills are being put to the test from managing employee leaves of absence and FMLA to managing safety protocols and PPEs. Simply put, there are a lot of moving targets this year. Leadership development should not be one of them.

One of the biggest challenges in 2020 is employee safety and ever-changing government mandates that keep us all on our toes. From requiring masks to temperature checks, the world is a very different place than a year ago. What can a manager do to keep up? Aside from staying abreast of local laws and company policies, one of the most important things a manager can do is learn to deliver strong feedback. Feedback comes in many forms and can be either positive or constructive. The messages will vary, but the delivery method should be consistent for the best results.

Let’s look at an example like one Archbright uses in its popular course, Supervisory Skills, to illustrate delivering effective feedback.

Case in Point

Brenda is a machinist at an essential business and has been asked to follow additional safety guidelines to return to work. She is a good employee and follows standard OSHA guidelines, but the new mask laws have put her into a tailspin. She does not have a medical condition that prevents her from wearing a mask. However, she finds that it is uncomfortable and far too hot. On three separate occasions, she has arrived at work, not wearing a mask. A few weeks later, Brenda’s supervisor finally decides to confront the problem and issues a verbal warning during Brenda’s performance review. Brenda storms off the job, and the supervisor is left to finish her shift. When Brenda returns to work the next day, she is wearing a bandana halfway over her face. The supervisor is frustrated later that day when she sees Brenda remove her face covering to talk to a co-worker. The supervisor is at her wit’s end.

What’s a Manager to Do?

Delivering feedback is tough enough under normal circumstances. When a pandemic and a politically charged nation are thrown into the mix, it’s nearly impossible to know where to begin without honed communication skills. With a few developed techniques, however, delivering feedback can be far easier for managers, not to mention more effective.

Let’s start with what NOT to do:

  1. Don’t beat around the bush. Approaching an employee to talk about the weather, sports, or local events and then slipping feedback into the conversation runs the risk of not having the impact that it should. Likely, the message will get lost in the small talk. A manager may believe they delivered the message, but the employee might miss it completely.
  2. Never deliver change feedback in a public setting. For example, saying, “Brenda, this is the second time I’ve talked to you about not wearing a mask. This is your final warning!” in front of other employees could further exacerbate the situation. Employees could feel shamed, causing more harm than good. Additionally, this style of delivering feedback puts other employees in an uncomfortable position.
  3. Never label employees. At times a manager may become so frustrated that their own judgments creep into the conversation. For example, saying, “Brenda, the problem with you is that you are just a rebel” is highly ineffective and will cause the employee to become defensive. Removing labels and asking questions about the employee’s behavior is far more effective when identifying the root cause of the issue.

To deliver quality, effective feedback, there are three key components that a manager should always keep in mind:

  1. Feedback must be timely. Though it might seem easier to avoid conflict in the moment and wait to deliver feedback at an employee’s performance review, the negative effects are far worse later. It can appear that the manager is stockpiling insults like a squirrel preparing for winter to some employees. The impact of this can lead to a highly emotional, defensive reaction. Providing timely feedback allows an employee to recognize the impact of their behavior and pivot promptly to avoid future mistakes. It creates better habits and far less frustration for employees and managers alike.
  2. Keep emotion out of it. The issue of wearing masks is highly polarizing, making it harder than ever to deliver change feedback. To be effective, feedback must state the facts, not the manager’s emotions about the facts. When a manager infuses their message with emotion, they have made the feedback more about their own feelings than the employee’s behavior. Sticking to the who, what, when, and where of the issue will ensure emotion stays out of the conversation.
  3. Be specific and emphasize the impact. It is highly important to keep feedback specific. Managers need to outline the exact behavior they would like for the employee to change, and its impact on the business or others. Equally important, managers need to outline the behavior they would like to see instead and the positive impact it will have. This will leave the employee with a hopeful message that their behavior change will be valuable to the business. For example, “Brenda, I noticed that you arrived without a mask this morning. This has caused other employees to feel uncomfortable. I am issuing you this mask and would like you to wear it all times when you are at work, unless you are eating or drinking on your break. I know it can be uncomfortable as we are all in the same situation, but it will really help to make your coworkers feel like you care about them, and you are part of the team.”

Practice Makes Perfect

Delivering feedback is not a skill that comes naturally to most people, so it’s important to keep these tricks of the trade in mind in every employee interaction. The more practice a manager can get delivering feedback, the easier it gets. To start, practice delivering positive feedback. The same rules apply. Deliver it in a timely manner, keep emotions out of it, be specific, and emphasize the impact.

Archbright University’s management course offerings are a great place to start for managers who want to hone their skills even further. Leadworker Effectiveness and Supervisory Skills are available virtually, allowing managers to attend class from their home or office. Leadworker Effectiveness is for new leads who are looking to learn the ropes and hit the ground running. Supervisory Skills is for new supervisors and managers or those who have been managing for years but are ready to upgrade their skills. Both classes are highly engaging, allowing leaders to collaborate with peers from varying industries. For more information and proven results, please view Archbright’s Oberto Snacks Case Study highlighting both classes.

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Amy Bachmann

Amy Bachmann, M.Ed. is the Director of Archbright University. She leads a team of Senior Learning and Development Consultants and Instructional Designers responsible for designing and delivering Archbright course curriculum. Amy joined Archbright in 2019 and has more than 20 years of experience in adult education--including experience in academia, the medical field, and non-profit organizations. She holds a Master’s in Education from the University of San Diego, with a focus in Curriculum Design.