A Healthy Dose of Feedback May Not Come From the Boss

In my 30+ years managing and consulting with call centers, I’ve seen one set of team behaviors that always indicates a culture of trust and respect. And this culture in turn, leads to high performing teams.

What is it? Rather than reporting an internal team issue for a manager to be solved, team members give each other direct, respectful feedback. When I was a call center manager, I saw this skill in a small number of employees and wanted to see it become a center behavior.  What better way to identify future leaders?

My first experience was with an associate who had observed an issue with a co-worker’s body odor.  Without discussion, she invited the team member to take a walk during their scheduled break.  I only became aware of the feedback when the associate receiving the feedback told me how much he appreciated her telling him privately.  Problem solved. This was a win – win for everyone.  The problem ended and he praised his co-worker for providing trusted feedback, an important leadership skill.

I’ve also observed situations that didn’t go as well.   In her effort to share her customer relations expertise, Ginger, a Senior Rep with a great deal of confidence,  stood up and confronted her “cube mate” with feedback for all to hear, “Mark, I can’t believe you said that!  That customer won’t be back!”  It might be a true statement prompted by good intention, yet it created an embarrassing moment for her co-worker and that embarrassment may very well damage their long term relationship.  This was the perfect opportunity for front line manager feedback.  Using the proper technique, in-private coaching, sets the stage for a lesson in co-worker feedback.

The difference between these two stories and success and failure is always making feedback for improvement privately and personal.

We have seen success in trusted feedback becoming part of the corporate culture. It begins with front line managers and 7 simple steps that lead to a shift in team culture:

  1. Set expectations for your team about working together to promote co-workers’ success.
  2. When you deliver feedback, speak only for yourself and only about directly observed behavior. Don’t get caught in the trap of speaking for others in your role as a manager.
  3. Encourage others to speak only for themselves and only about directly observed behavior. Using the approach, “I want you to know others are talking about this…” can be devastating to the team member receiving the feedback.  Imagine a mental vision of “everyone talking about me.”
  4. Encourage open communication that is polite and professional.  Lead by example.
  5. Expect and encourage helpful behavior, such as team members sharing a technique that helped satisfy a customer.
  6. Kick off every weekly team meeting by taking 5 minutes to have each team member share a brief, positive observation about a co-worker during the past week.  They will be on the lookout for positive behaviors.
  7. Celebrate success!  When a co-worker demonstrates support or encouragement for another, compliment that behavior.

What was the best feedback experience you were ever part of? Share it with others by leaving your story in a comment.

Giving good feedback is a difficult skill but it can be learned. Since it’s one of the key contributors to high performance, it’s worth learning. That’s why it’s a key component of the Trostle training program, The Business of Leadership.

For now, you can find another helpful story in this article by Al Switzer, co-author of New York Times best seller, Crucial Confrontations

Q&A: Speaking Up about an Employee’s Body Odor