Four Tips for Giving Better Feedback to Staff

December 14, 2016

Most people do not enjoy confrontation, but giving vital feedback to staff is something that you need to do to succeed as a practice.

When you're running your own practice, it's not enough to just be a good doctor - you need to be a good boss, too. The most recent data from Gallup shows only about 30 percent of American workers are actually engaged in the work they do.

At CompHealth, we've found that engagement has a lot to do with how employees are treated. If you want to attract and retain the best team, you need to focus on creating a good culture at your practice. That means listening to people and making changes based on their feedback. It means helping people to grow and develop in their careers. It means being sensitive of each other's needs and respecting differences.

However, it's also not about wearing kid gloves.

I know very few people who enjoy conflict. Most of us avoid it all at costs. We'd rather tell someone they're doing a good a job - even if they're not - than hurt their feelings. But over the years, I've found that if you really care about someone, it's better to offer honest and direct feedback than sugarcoat the critique.

The folks at Radical Candor have made a living out of teaching people how to give feedback in a better way. A few weeks ago, I invited them to train the leaders on my team. Here are some of the ideas that struck a chord with me.

Feedback needs to be sincere. Let's start with the most important tip. Feedback has to come from a good place. If you're giving feedback without really caring about the person, it will come off as either manipulative, aggressive, or plain obnoxious. When the person knows you care about them, they'll want to listen, no matter how tough the conversation.

Feedback needs to be clear. This goes for both praise and criticism. People feel good when you tell them they're doing a good job. However, that doesn't actually help them if they don't know exactly what they're doing well. Specific praise like "You're doing a good job keeping the invoices straight" shows appreciation for organizational skills. Likewise, a direct criticism such as, "I would like to see you get better at sending out the invoices on time," helps someone know specifically where they can improve.

Feedback needs to be immediate. Part of being a good leader is having regular 1:1 meetings with your team. But you don't need to wait until a pre-planned meeting to share feedback. Correcting a mistake right after it happens allows the person to fix it faster, and giving praise in the moment makes it easier to point out the specifics of what went right. 

Feedback needs to happen in the right place. People like to be recognized in different ways. Some people love receiving praise in front of their peers; others want thanks to be offered quietly. Criticism, however, should always be given in private. Not only does a private setting allow for a more direct conversation, it makes it easier for everyone to let their guard down.

Early in my leadership career, whenever I had a confrontation with someone, my goal was to win the war. One day, my leader pulled me aside and gave me some very direct feedback. He told me why this approach was wrong, how it hurt my relationships with others, and how it made me less effective as a leader.

At first I was defensive. Then I realized this feedback wasn't a punishment - it was a gift that would help me the rest of my career. I worked on my shortcomings and eventually got better at dealing with contentious conversations.

It also showed me the right way to deliver feedback, though it still isn't easy. No one likes to risk hurting someone's feelings or delivering bad news. But if you really want to help someone, it's important to realize that, in the long-run, giving honest feedback is one of the kindest things you can do.