How Leaders Can Deliver Feedback that Boosts Performance
Methods like radical candour encourage being honest, compassionate, and direct with employees as an alternative to quiet, “professional” feedback. Can this approach help leaders and teams achieve better outcomes?
January 12, 2024
Let’s say there’s a situation where an employee’s performance costs the team. What’s the best way to handle this, to ensure better employee output and a positive work environment?
Scenario one: You never call them in for a chat, but 11 months later, you fire them.
Scenario two: You call them in, and criticise their personality and let them know how they’ve let everyone down.
Scenario three: You set up a chat, tell them where and how they failed, enquire what led to these missteps, and provide pointers for improvement.
The third scenario seems to be the strongest alternative, so we ask, how can leaders employ a nuanced approach to feedback?
Understanding better feedback
For most people in the workforce, “professionalism” is usually indicated as the go-to behaviour to adopt at work. Unfortunately, professionalism is usually implied to be an indirect, non-personal, and non-emotional form of communication. Motivational speaker Simon Sinek said, “Feedback is a gift.” And feedback communicated the right way could make or break a project.
Radical candour, for example, a term coined by acclaimed CEO advisor and workplace communication coach Kim Scott, is a leadership style that encourages open and honest communication between leaders and their teams. It involves a two-fold combination of ‘caring personally’ and ‘challenging directly,’ creating an environment where feedback is given with empathy and directness, and received with a growth mindset.
The Indian workplace landscape
Historically, Indian workplaces have been characterised by a top-down approach to communication, where subordinates hesitate to voice their opinions or provide critical feedback to their superiors. This communication gap often results in a lack of innovation, stifling the potential for growth and development within the organisation.
SHRM’s 2022 Global Workplace Culture report revealed that 45% of employees in India dreaded going back to the workplace due to terrible work culture. This environment festers in the absence of honest and direct communication with employees. A lot of founders and managers tend to use one of two forms of top down communication when faced with providing critical feedback to an employee — they either express aggression or apply ruinous empathy. The former is a mechanism that overdoes directness and the latter overcompensates for being caring.
Win-win outcomes can be ensured if the right balance is found between ensuring accountability and displaying empathy. According to Scott, the best way to dish it out is to listen or ask for it first.
- Ask your employee for honest, direct and empathetic feedback.
Example 1: "Can you share your perspective on the recent project? What went well, and what could be improved?"
Example 2: "What's one thing you think I could do differently to support you better?"
Example 3: "How do you feel about recent changes in our workflow or processes, and do you see any areas for refinement?"
- Once there’s room for active listening, open the door for providing feedback with radical candour.
- Gauge and adapt as necessary. How is your employee responding to your tone? If they’re too tense, soften the tone. If they’re not paying enough attention, get sharper.
- Pay it forward. Encourage other founders and entrepreneurs you engage with to apply the principle of honest, direct feedback. If you see an opportunity to help someone else apply the principle, tell them how to.
Benefits of this method
The benefits are already visible. For instance, Zomato. In a recent interview, CEO Deepinder Goyal stated that fostering open communication has been instrumental in their success, allowing for quick decision-making and continuous improvement.
This shows up as improved employee engagement and faster problem resolution. A culture of radical candour also encourages free-flowing ideas, fostering innovation when employees share thoughts without fear. Infosys lays emphasis on the idea of introducing training programmes that will encourage both hard and soft skills (like empathy in the workplace and emotional intelligence in communication).
In many Indian organisations, a deeply ingrained culture of respect for authority figures permeates, making employees hesitant to express their opinions openly, especially if they may be perceived as challenging authority. However, statistics and case studies show that the benefits of fostering open, honest communication are substantial. Teams are at a crossroads, and the adoption of radical candour could be the key to unlocking a truly nurturing and innovative workplace.
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