Conversations into Growth


I once told one of my star performers that if everybody was like her, people like me wouldn’t have jobs. That may have been a bit of a stretch, but the point is that highly motivated, highly talented people don’t require much oversight. My experience has also been that there have always been plenty of challenges and challenging people on which I needed to focus.

The fact is leaders have to deal with problems created by team members who aren’t living up to expectations. It’s never fun having a tough conversation with someone who isn’t pulling their weight. However, those conversations can also be viewed as opportunities to turn a weakness into a strength, which benefits the individual and the entire team. Here are seven strategies for providing constructive feedback.

Deliver constructive feedback face-to-face. Positive feedback can be done publically. Constructive feedback needs to be handled privately.

Have the conversation right away. All too often, leaders delay having those unpleasant conversations, which can have the effect of allowing small problems to become larger ones. Confront issues as soon as realistically possible. If you are upset over a situation, make sure you take enough time to calm down before having the feedback conversation.

Be constructive not negative. Negative feedback that intentionally criticizes the employee rather than their actions will leave team members humiliated and resentful. They are also likely to reject the notion they need to change. Constructive feedback views performance challenges as opportunities for improvement.

Be direct and clear. Stick to the facts. Explain the problem and the impact it is having on the team. Show genuine concern, but avoid demonstrations of anger, frustration or disappointment.

Co-create an action plan. This is an opportunity for you as a leader to utilize coaching techniques to help your team member grow. Ask the employee for his/her ideas for a solution. A team member that has a hand in developing a strategy to solve a problem will be much more vested in seeing the plan become successful. Agree on a timetable for reviewing progress and ultimately reaching the goal (s) for the plan.

Follow-up. This is another area where many leaders fall short. In a perfect world, team members that haven’t performed to expectations would get back on track after the feedback conversation and everyone would live happily ever after. It’s not a perfect world. Once you establish a timeline for progress reviews, stick to it. Make sure follow-up conversations follow all the same principles as the initial feedback conversation.

Document. Keep good notes to ensure accuracy and in the event that continued performance challenges may require more difficult actions down the road.

If you are a faithful leader when it comes to supporting team members and providing positive feedback when it is deserved, you will find your credibility enhanced when it comes time to have the conversation regarding the need for performance improvement. That will greatly increase the likelihood for turning tough conversations into growth opportunities that not only strengthen your team, but also for your own leadership development.