The Art of Providing Fair & Balanced Feedback in Retail
There is no doubt that creating a retail workplace that expects and values ongoing, in-the-moment feedback is significantly more beneficial to the health of the business, the growth of the team, and the customer experience than leaving feedback and guidance to annual or semi-annual performance appraisal time. Unfortunately, not all retail organizations have embraced this philosophy and are still stuck believing “coaching and counseling” and using PA’s to drive performance improvement only during specific times of the year is a driver of engagement and productivity. It is not.
I titled this articled the way I did because there is an art to providing fair and balanced, in-the-moment feedback to your team members. There needs to be a willingness and a high-level of objectivity to providing truly meaningful feedback that is aimed at recognizing effort and results, as well as supporting developmental improvement for maximizing performance results. For sure the recognition piece is easy and fun but the other stuff is where most retail leaders find the greatest level of challenge.
Tips To Make Feedback Easier
- Remember Why You’re Here: The fundamental goal of giving feedback is to help the person you’re talking to. They have to understand that that’s why you’re spending time with them — you want to help make them better. Guidance becomes awkward and uncomfortable when it rarely or never takes place or if it is only focused on the negative behaviors/outcomes. This is an unfortunate, but common, practice. “Managers” don’t stop and take the time to re-frame or create context around guidance/feedback as a benefit for the employee, for the company and for themselves. If you’re not transparent about the motivation behind the feedback — the emotion and driver of the message — will probably be interpreted negatively.
- Be Upfront About Your Style [Yep, even in the interview]: Ask candidates questions about how they have received feedback in the past. What kind of feedback would they like to receive? When was the last time they were recognized for their contributions? Bringing people into your team who have the desire and passion to grow and who seek feedback goes a long way in protecting a culture that values frequent and on-going support and guidance. Again, when you first start to work with a new member of your team, it’s worth repeating, “Hey, you’re got this job, which means you are awesome. I know you’re capable and will work hard. I’m here to maximize your potential and help you along your career path. And I’m grateful for the opportunity to support you in your role.”
Under-developed leaders have a tendency to begin a working relationship with a laundry list of expectations and to-do’s [especially if the position has been open a while (eek!)]. As an employee, it’s super helpful to be reminded of your talents and the value the organization, and to know that your leader already believes in you. This establishes trust quickly, and then any feedback you give from then on will be heard as guidance from someone invested in their success.
As a Retail Leaders, “we owe our team an unvarnished opinion and our unwavering support.” – Phin Barnes
- What Do They Hear? Let’s say you don’t establish this positive baseline with your new team member. Every time you address an issue of opportunity, they’ll probably hear you criticize them — not their work. People assume that others hear exactly what they are they are saying and how they are trying to say it, unfortunately – this is very rarely what happens. When you provide predominantly negative performance feedback and fail to make it fair and balanced – that’s when people start underperforming and losing confidence. The working relationship deteriorates and it’s almost impossible to recover from.
- Establish Transparency As A Business Practice: There is such goofy advice out in the business world about giving negative feedback that is attached to positive feedback and saying two positive things to every negative thing you need to address with your team members. Honestly, if you are hiring smart, responsible, emotionally intelligent talent, those people just want you to be genuine and honest. If you start off on the right course recognizing contribution and providing candor and guidance around opportunity areas – feedback will be objective, genuine, and open, both ways. Your team members should understand that if they have challenges or lack of clarity from you, they have a level of comfort addressing it with you as well. Great retail leaders establish this level of communication and understand they set the tone for the environment.
- Encourage Participation: Again, if you are creating and supporting a culture that values innovation, ideas, accomplishment and growth – you are likely hiring talent that brings a high-level of personal performance accountability with them. If you’re hiring “bodies”, an unfortunate practice in some retail organizations – you will have to push and prod and “demand” participation. Great leaders don’t have to force anything. Ideas and best practices flow, organically, from the group especially when there is clarity and understanding around business objectives.
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools will help retail organizations to stay agile and evolving.
Take The Time To Repair The Broken Dynamic
- Take 100% Of The Responsibility: Let’s face it…if work relationships in your area are strained or broken…that is all you as the leader. Giving feedback is an art…it is not something that comes naturally to a lot of people. Poorly delivering feedback or poor communication in general can [and will] easily derail working relationships. As the retail leader, you determine how often you communicate, where, what you talk about – most of the time. So if you feel a relationship taking a turn for the worse, the first questions you have to answer are: “What don’t I understand about this person?”; “What am I missing?”; “What did I do wrong?”
- Inventory The Damage: Depending on how far the relationship has eroded, according to Phin Barnes, you have to ask yourself, “Do I actually want to fix this? And if I do fix it, would the company be better off? Would I be better off?” How far am I willing to go to fix it? Realize the answers to these questions won’t always be positive. Sometimes you aren’t willing to bend. A change needs to be made. But if you do want to fix a bad dynamic, you have to accept that it’s going to be pretty difficult and very uncomfortable. Then you need to look at which of your own behaviors you can change. Someone has to offer the truce first. When you’re the leader, you always have to go first.
- Accept Blame: Assuming you’re committed to repairing the broken work relationship you need to assume the blame for the breakdown, When you’re repairing things with someone, don’t just point out that you feel like something isn’t quite right. Frame the problem in terms of what you could be doing: “I feel like I’m not motivating you as well as I could,” or “I feel like I’m not supporting you in the ways you need.” Tell them, “Being a good manager is important to me, our working relationship is a two way street and I could use your help improving.” Be vulnerable.
Put it out there: I know you are talented and that our relationship is in your way. – Phin Barnes
Make Your Feedback “Sticky”
- Shorten Your Feedback Loop: If ongoing, in-the-moment feedback is not your current M.O. it absolutely benefits you to schedule feedback with your team members. This creates a high-leverage habit on your part and it will soon become natural part of your business practice and principles. As a retail leader, creating trust and listening is not enough. You need to take the time to manage the change and make it priority. If your team member is trying to improve in concrete ways, it’s critical to put easy victories in their path and help support any obstacles they face. Being accessible, attentive, and available will help your team understand that they are your priority [without having to say the words].
- Empower Your Team & Give Them Autonomy: The most effective type of guidance and support a retail leader can provide is to give guidance and support but allows your team member the resources and autonomy to make 100% of the decisions needed to reach their objective in their way. You need to provide the objective deadlines to your team member but let them reach the goals and objective using their innovative process and available tools to drive their results. Be there to help overcome obstacles, but stay out of their way.
- Create Context To Link Their Role To The Big Picture: Everyone’s role is essential to the operation (at least it should be). As a retail leader we need to create context for our team members to show how they fit into the project, the department, and the organization. People need context around how they’re contributing and why it’s important. This is a staggeringly missed opportunity in most retail organizations. People want work with meaning and purpose. If they cannot find their compelling reason they will not see as important.
- Create Opportunities To Build Working Relationships: Building a real human connection absolutely is critical to the productivity and cohesiveness of the team. Creating an engaging culture that is built upon trust, integrity, and respect is the foundation for an environment that is open to and supportive of ongoing, in-the-moment feedback. Through this, your team will see that all feedback and guidance is to support their growth, the health of your teeam, and provide career capital for their future success.