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Make “in-the-moment” feedback part of your management routine

4 min read


People dread performance appraisal time; rehashing a laundry list of missteps and shortcomings from the year is hardly a good time in anyone’s books. As managers, we know that frequent, in-the-moment feedback is more motivational, more effective and even more pleasant for our employees, but it’s a difficult habit to get into. It’s hard to make ourselves seize those opportunities, and even harder to be ready with the right wording, on the spot.

Like any new habit (and any new management technique), what it takes is practice and preparation. First, start with a checklist to give yourself confidence that you’ve got the timing right:

Timing Checklist

Are emotions in check? Take a breath and assess the situation. If tensions are running high and there’s strong emotion (yours or theirs), perhaps feedback can wait.
Am I micromanaging? Is there a genuine correction required, or would you just do things differently. Take a hard look at whether you’re talking about “better” or just “different.”
Who is listening? If your feedback is positive, fire away. If you need to talk more constructively, time your feedback so that you can avoid shaming or embarrassment.
Have I played my part? Check in with yourself to make sure you’ve made the effort to be clear in your communications, set reasonable expectations and appropriately assign responsibility for tasks and outcomes. It might still be the right time to weigh in, but be honest with yourself and everyone else about the part you’ve played if things are askew.

Once you’ve established that the timing and the audience are appropriate, try to frame your feedback lightly and stick to the item at hand. Keep it factual and to the point, and give lots of opportunity for the employee to reflect and offer thoughts. When possible, make it an opportunity for dialogue, not monologue. Positive change is far more likely when the team feels engaged in finding the right solution. Here are some solid examples:

Statements to Try

I noticed some of those exchanges were a little heated in that meeting. How could that interaction with Steve have gone better?
I see your supplier missed the deadline on that deliverable. What do you think we can do to make sure we avoid that for our next project?
Great job handling that client meeting, tell us how you prepped for all those questions!

Don’t forget that positive, in-the-moment feedback is equally important. Be sure you’re always ready to catch your team succeeding and don’t be afraid to warmly, sincerely deliver praise for jobs well done. Even a 30-second recap post-meeting to say “good job, I like how you handled that” is appreciated and can bolster employees’ confidence.

At every opportunity, make it part of your routine to look for the things your team is doing right, and the things that could use an adjustment. Seize those chances to set your team on the path to success. Use the checklist above to determine if you should say something, and then act. Deliver feedback lightly, positively, and with an opportunity to collaborate and become empowered by the conversation. Employees will appreciate small course corrections in the moment far more than a tired list of the year’s hits and misses at performance appraisal time.

With factual, direct and sincere communication, hopefully you will both walk away feeling refreshed, rejuvenated and eager to take on coming challenges.

Joel Garfinkle is available for speaking and training. His most popular training program for corporations is “Executive Presence: Learn the 4 Ways to Convey Confidence as a Business Leader,” which has been delivered to Oracle, Genentech, PG&E. He is the author of 300 articles on leadership and nine books, including “Getting Ahead: Three Steps to Take Your Career to the Next Level.” Garfinkle is acknowledged as one of the top 50 executive coaches in the U.S and Global Gurus listed him 14th on the list of top 30 global coaching experts. More than 10,000 people subscribe to his Fulfillment@Work newsletter. Subscribe and you’ll receive the free e-book “41 Proven Strategies to Get Promoted Now!”

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