Tis the season to give feedback in many organizations.  If you struggle with conducting feedback conversations, try our seven-step process and turn feedback into a gift.

Step 1 Describe the Problem

Describe the problem in a sentence or two. Remain as objective as possible and stick to one point-do not talk about multiple performance issues. Here’s an example:  “Tom, I’d like to talk with you this afternoon because I’ve noticed that you’ve been late to four of our last five meetings.”

Step 2 Explain the Impact

Leaders often jump from the description of the problem directly to the development of an action plan. They want to know immediately what the employee is going to do to resolve the problem. It’s important first to explain the impact of the employee’s performance problem. 

During this step, you help the employee understand how his or her behavior is impacting colleagues, the organization and perhaps customers. Let’s go back to the previous example: “Tom, I’d like to talk with you this afternoon because I’ve noticed that you’ve been late to four of our last five meetings. When you are late, it causes us to have to stop what we’re doing while everyone acknowledges your arrival, and it interrupts the momentum of our meeting and lowers our productivity.

This second step is crucial because many times employees don’t even realize their behavior is causing a negative impact. Here’s another example: “Jen, I wanted to talk with you today because I’ve noticed that you are the first to dismiss the ideas of other members of our team. Before you ask questions and try to understand someone else’s position, you immediately point out how it won’t work. When you are so quick to judge, it causes other members of the team to withdraw and withhold their input because they are afraid that when they speak you’re going to cut them off or give all the reasons why their idea is stupid. And that works against the environment I’m trying to create where everyone feels comfortable sharing their unique perspectives.”

Step 3 Identify the Cause 

Once you have described the problem and explained the impact, then you can work with the employee to identify the cause of the performance problem.  Let the employee take the lead here. Your job is to ask good open-ended questions that invites the employee to think about what might be causing the lateness-or what might be preventing her from listening before she shoots down a teammate’s idea.

Step 4 Develop an Action Plan 

You can develop a much more valuable action plan once you’ve clearly described the problem, explained the impact and identified the cause. Identify a solution, come up with a time table and make sure the action plan is specific and measurable.

Step 5 Confirm Understanding

Before the conversation ends, ensure that both you and your employee are on the same page. This is an opportunity for you or the employee to summarize what was discussed, who has agreed to what, and when you expect these changes to occur. 

Step 6 Document the Conversation

Document the conversation even if this is the first time you’ve had to talk with an employee about an issue-and certainly if it’s the second time you’re having the same conversation. When you document, you’ll have the information available should this develop into a more serious performance issue.

Step 7 Follow-up 

More than likely, you or your employee will make some kind of commitment during the feedback conversation. It’s incredibly important to follow up on these commitments. This helps you determine if the employee has actually improved or changed behavior.

Walk through these steps one at a time and in the sequence outlined above, and you’ll be more confident and effective at providing important feedback to others.