Effective Coaching: Delivering Informal and Formal Feedback to Drive Peak Performance

Coaching is a process that aims to improve performance and achieve goals through a combination of training, guidance, and feedback. It’s necessary for the development and mastery of the skills needed to perform a job. Our team members want to be good at what they do, and coaching is an essential aspect of ensuring they perform well. When coaching is done correctly, it makes our team members feel valued and supported.

Great leaders are true coaches who master the art of both informal and formal feedback. Feedback is important because it not only drives performance in a positive direction but also positively impacts the attitude and mindsets of all employees. When employee mindset and attitude are on the up and up, business results like profits, satisfaction scores, and employee experience will follow in suit, in a positive, upbeat direction.

Informal feedback is every day, casual conversations regarding how work is being done. Formal feedback is more organized, clearly documented, and saved in an employee’s or business’ files.

Research tells us that most formal feedback, like a tough conversation or recognition, falls flat because leaders haven’t engaged or connected through informal feedback (casual conversations) along the way. And most of us have experienced this firsthand—when we don’t hear from or see leaders of our own for days or even weeks at a time, only to be surprised when they call us in for a formal feedback discussion.

It can be challenging to give team members informal feedback, especially if they are not familiar with receiving any feedback; they only receive feedback when something goes wrong; or if you do not have a positive relationship with them. As a result, feedback can be perceived negatively and consequently result in a negative reaction from the team member.

How to Deliver Informal Feedback

Because of these challenges, we must understand the key characteristics of effective informal feedback. So, here are a few tips for delivering effective informal feedback:
• Be fair and balanced: Consider the circumstances in which the behavior occurred. Balanced means that not all the feedback you give is negative or for improvement. In fact, you should be providing more positive feedback and recognition than critiquing performance.
• Make it timely: The informal feedback should occur right after the behavior was observed or ideally within an hour.
• Be personal: Use the person’s name when delivering the feedback.
• Be specific: Provide details of what was observed or heard.
• Remove your negative emotions from your delivery
• Ask questions rather than make statements: Ensure the person understands the impact of their behavior by asking them questions. By asking questions, the person receiving the feedback has to process information rather than just being a passive listener.
• Be genuinely thankful: Always thank a team member after giving feedback.

Delivering Formal Feedback: Recognition

Recognition is important as many research studies have cited a lack of appreciation at work as a major reason for leaving a company. Showing appreciation makes people feel good. If we are going to enhance how our employees feel about coming to work, then we need to let them know we appreciate what they do.

Walter Burke Barbe proposed the VAK model for learning. The model is useful because it allows us to understand how people process information, which is essential to communication. People learn and process information differently, either visually, auditorily, or kinesthetically. Recognition is really just information; therefore, we must realize that people will process recognition differently. Some people like to hear their recognition, whereas others like to see recognition and be able to show others. Some people need to experience recognition—they must taste it, touch it, or most likely do something as a result of it.

The task for every leader is to connect and find out how individuals prefer to receive information, which is also how they prefer to be recognized. Consider the different ways that you can recognize your team members:
• For visual learners, send them emails, handwritten notes of appreciation, or post accolades on a bulletin board for all to see.
• For people who process auditorily, recognize them verbally in meetings, daily huddles, and in front of their peers.
• For people who process kinesthetically, recognize their efforts by taking them to lunch, giving them an elevated role or task, or simply get out in the operation and work alongside them.

Delivering Formal Feedback: Tough Conversations

Leaders often shy away from tough conversations because of their emotional attachments to people. Sometimes, they simply don’t know how to engage people in these types of conversations. Here are some tips for having tough conversations with employees who fall short of expectations:
• Choose an appropriate setting that allows two-way interaction (or a witness, if necessary)
• Be prepared; have the facts organized well in advance of your meeting
• Begin by reinforcing their value and strengths
• Center the discussion on values and behaviors and seek input from them
• Create a performance improvement plan that guides them in their development
• Document your conversations in case incremental disciplinary action is required in the future

Use these proven tactics and practices to become an effective coach for your team and drive peak performance in your organization for years to come.

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