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Give better feedback: How leaders can improve their coaching

4 min read


As a manager or business owner, it’s easy to become mired in day-to-day minutiae, but don’t forget about your employees! To ensure your staff moves in the ideal direction, you must provide guidance and constructive suggestions for improvement. Generally, employees want to excel at their jobs, but you need to help shape their output.

Creating a culture conducive to regular coaching and feedback is vital. In my recent book, “Optimizing Talent,” I conducted extensive research on talent strategies and how they influence business results. While performance management systems are necessary, the studies found that coaching, mentoring, and leadership development have a much larger impact. Here’s an overview on how to improve these practices at your company.

Master good delivery

While feedback is essential, how you deliver it is also critical. As the leader, don’t distance yourself from others — instead, get involved and stay involved. Get your hands dirty, and position yourself as a mentor. It’s imperative that, as leaders, you develop relationships with others in the company. Oftentimes, high-ranking employees don’t interact with peers enough, and this can cause conflict across business lines. Avoid this by applying a proactive approach and keeping an open attitude.

Create coaching circles

I like to use the “FeedForward” process designed by Marshall Goldsmith. This includes coaching circles, which are a great way to build peer feedback and strong, collaborative relationships. It’s a simple process, and it creates a culture in which people aren’t afraid to ask for help. If you spend more time aiding leaders in learning and using a coaching process, statistics firmly show that performance and engagement will improve across your organization. As a result, discussions become candid, and helping colleagues succeed through “FeedForward” becomes a way of life.

Bring in outside help

Human resources professionals can be a great source for mentoring employees. However, they must be trained; they may not have the skills to coach others. Therefore, external coaches can be extremely helpful in teaching internal HR talent to be outstanding coaches. Additionally, an outside coach is essential in some critical situations, such as succession coaching when transitioning employees to new, more senior roles.

I recently coached a CEO successor who experienced stellar success where others had failed. The transition was a huge success for all parties involved: The new CEO was well-received and remains so today, and the outgoing CEO departed with the satisfaction of knowing he’d left the organization in good hands.

Set criteria for feedback

Establish a set of guidelines conducive to constructive feedback. For instance:

  • Employees should always be given clear examples of what a desired behavior looks like so they can emulate it.

  • Your staff should know when they have achieved desired behaviors. Give specific information about what they did right.

  • Always provide support on new tasks or projects. Feedback should be provided in the form of questions, ideas, or suggestions.

  • Celebrate success and be liberal with praise.

These are examples of feedback that’s appropriate in every situation. But remember, there may be performance issues that need to be addressed individually. Nevertheless, don’t miss opportunities to continually raise the bar for the rest of your employees.

Effective feedback requires thorough dialogue. Be sure to define the aspirations of your employees early on, and ask them which skills and behaviors they need to achieve these goals. Always think about how you can help support their development along the way, and be sure to follow up periodically. Pay attention to those doing their jobs right, and celebrate their wins. Employee success ensures your success.

Linda D. Sharkey is global managing director and partner at Achieveblue, a boutique consultancy that specializes in leadership development, cultural transformation, and talent and organization development. Sharkey was the chief talent officer for HP and held numerous executive human resources roles at General Electric. She is co-author of “Winning with Transglobal Leadership” and “Optimizing Talent,” a sought-after executive coach and a founding member of the Marshall Goldsmith Group. She can be reached at [email protected].