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Constructing criticism.


Learn to provide feedback without alienating your staff.

What's your most difficult task as an association executive? If you're like many executives, it's giving corrective feedback to employees, particularly to good employees. You want there to be fewer personal phone calls, more on-time reports, fewer complaints from members about services, more in-depth analysis by staffers of constituents' needs.

Your challenge is twofold. The first is to convey corrective feedback so that the employee fully understands what the undesirable behavior is, why it is undesirable, and what changes you expect the employee to make. The second is to give feedback in a way that encourages the employee to commit to making the changes you request rather than become defensive.

The question is how best to do it. Many executives have successfully shared the responsibility for giving corrective feedback with the employee. Here's how. 1. Set the stage. See the employee in your office or some other private place. Do your homework. Know exactly what behaviors need improvement and why. You will want to be able to describe the impact of the employee's behavior--loss of members, project delays, late reports, skimpy analysis, rejected proposals, hard feelings--to the employee. Expect the employee to be tense and on guard. 2. Encourage the employee to name the behaviors at issue. Rather than beginning the meeting by enumerating the problems, which can heighten an employee's defensiveness, ask, "How are things going? What difficulties are you encountering?"

Beginning with a question in place of a statement gives the employee a greater measure of control and lets you see the situation from the employee's perspective. 3. Follow up with open-ended questions to gain as much information as possible. "What has contributed to your reports being late? What makes it difficult for you to arrive at work on time?" The more information you have about the situation, the more you will know about what the employee can and cannot control. Employees can be held accountable only for what they can control. 4. Make sure your message is understood. If the employee does not indicate an awareness of inappropriate behavior and its disruptive impact on the association, now is the time for you to fill in any remaining gaps. Try using the following techniques:

* Describe the behavior (late three times, too many personal phone calls, inattention to detail). Your emphasis here is on employee performance, not character. Comments about character will increase your employee's defensiveness. * Describe the consequences (delayed other people's work, generated member complaints, increased expenses). * Ask the employee to restate your message. This is your assurance that your points have been heard. * Ask the employee to establish corrective actions and a time table. It is in the employee's best interest, as well as your own, to resolve the problems. You alone should not have to spell out what has to be done. Use the employee's proposal to work out a plan that you both find acceptable. Then put it in writing. The last word is always yours if a last word is needed. * Follow up. Providing feedback on actions taken should become an ongoing part of the employer-employee relationship. Take advantage of private meetings and reviews to establish a dialogue of feedback so that you both know how the employee is improving, what areas have been resolved, and what new issues may have arisen. 5. Do not limit your feedback to corrective feedback. Employees need to know where they stand with their employers by receiving positive feedback as well as constructive criticism. "Nice job on that proposal, Jennifer" and "Thanks for working overtime, Allan" are examples of positive feedback that can be given anytime, anyplace. 6. Give your feedback, whether it is corrective or positive, right away. The facts are fresh, your staff members will always be aware of your expectations, and you will get a lot of practice giving feedback. 7. Show you care. Empathy, eye contact, and active listening on your part show respect and concern. Taking the time to provide feedback will communicate that you value the employee.

Most employees want to do a good job. Skillful feedback from you helps them do exactly that.

Robert A. Luke, Jr., is president of RAL Enterprises, Bethesda, Maryland.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:providing feedback to your staff
Author:Luke, Robert A., Jr.
Publication:Association Management
Date:Oct 1, 1991
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