We talk a lot about feedback here at PerformYard — how to use it, how to give it and how important it is to the success of your business.
But there's one question we haven’t tackled: When shouldn't we give feedback?
No matter how great your intentions are, too much feedback can be just as bad as none at all. And it's a fine line to walk. Here's when you're better off keeping your feedback to yourself.
#1 - When it's personal (not professional)
A clock can measure lateness and metrics can measure goals, but human qualities are MUCH harder to read.
Or, as employee engagement guru Marcus Buckingham puts it, “you can’t standardize human behavior.” Optimizing a person's individual style will alway be more effective than trying to standardize your own, but most managers expect their employees to behave exactly like them.
For example, if you’re a neat freak, a messy desk means even messier work. But is that true for all the people on your team? Maybe they don't clean the mess because it doesn’t even phase them, let alone hurt their performance. In this case, asking them to clean up would be personal, not professional. If they walk away feeling belittled, or confused about what outcomes matter most, you've done more to hurt their performance than help it.
Good feedback is introspective especially because it’s meant for someone else. In order to give truly helpful feedback, it’s up to us to take a step a back and ask whether we’re helping someone be their best, or our best.
#2 - When freedom matters most
Creativity is probably one of the most underrated business assets.
But business moguls like Mark Zuckerberg know innovation breeds profits. In a recent interview on the Freakonomics podcast, the social media giant explains why he regularly lets his employees do things he disagrees with.
"I think the most important thing is what decisions and what process, on a day to day basis, you choose to let people have the freedom to do, and just not get involved with. A huge part of how Facebook works is giving a large amount of freedom to our engineers, the company, and to people who use the product to make with it what they will, and trusting people to do that...I think having some restraint there ends up being very important."
Take it from Zuckerberg. Sometimes it pays to hold back. Make sure your employees know which tasks and outcomes are considered 'non-negotiable'. Then step back and let them figure out the rest for themselves.
#3 - When failure says it all
If you want to help your people be the best they can be, sometimes you have to let them do their worst. Because, let's face it. Failure is often the best feedback.
And that’s not just folk wisdom, it’s science. In fact, a recent study of the brain from the University of Texas found that although you could rack your brain learning a new skill area, and actually grow the size of the cortex that deals with that skill, that "big brain" advantage will gradually fade.
The benefits only stick around when you've practiced the skill enough that you’ve worked the cortex past being big, and into being lean — and that means failure.
Expect your employees to fail and don’t jump to give them feedback when they do. Here are some crucial moments when you should let your employees fail feedback-free:
- The first time an employee makes a mistake
- When the root of the problem is out of their control
- When they know things didn't go well and need encouragement
Some leaders, including Deloitte CEO, Jim Moffatt, even encourage giving feedback for failure, not against it. Jim recommends sharing your own stories of failure, helping people fail fast and recover faster, and coaching employees to think of failure as a long-term investment.
#4 - When you just don't have the patience
Fact is, we're all trying to do more with less. But delivering feedback is a compound time activity.
Do it right, and it will pay you back tenfold. Before approaching an employee with feedback, check in with yourself first:
- Are you too emotional to deliver the feedback calmly?
- Are you missing any details that might make the feedback invalid?
- Are you asking the employee to address a problem that is beyond their control?
If you’re overly-emotional, not fully clued-in, or asking for the impossible — your feedback will backfire.
Yes, we know. Good feedback is targeted, specific and timely. But if you have to choose between being quick or careful, it’s probably better to pick the latter.
Learn to let some things go
Believe it or not, some things are better left alone. We know letting go can be hard, especially if you were wired to be critical, but trying to catch everything all the time is the best way to wear everyone down, not least yourself.
A great performance management system puts the feedback frenzy on autopilot. You'll know exactly when to deliver feedback, and what issues need addressing, so you can relax knowing your employees will get all the help they need (and none of the "help" they don't).