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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Giving Feedback

Giving feedback is an important leadership skill.  High performers deserve our praise because we constantly need to be "re-recruiting" them to our team.  If we fail to do that, they will be successfully recruited to someone else's team who knows how to reward and recognize.  Personal thank you notes, movie tickets, bonuses, or simply a few minutes of your time telling them how much they mean to your team will go a long way.  Remember, people don't leave organizations, they leave managers.

Lower and middle performers are also in need of your feedback.  The most compassionate thing you can do for someone who needs to improve is to tell them so.  If they are not doing well, your unhappiness with them will affect how you interact with them.  They will be unhappy as well and their performance will continue to suffer.  Let me give you several examples.

"That's just Mary"

When I hear of an employee's behavior that is unacceptable and someone tries to defend their behavior by saying "that's just the way they are", words of my psychology professor ring in my ear.  All behavior occurs because it worked for that person in the past.  Some employees have developed a pattern of bad behavior that has been tolerated over the years.  No one has cared enough about the person to bring it to their attention.  Yes, you heard me right.  No one cared enough.  I was rounding in a new area of mine once and I observed an employee being very rude to a new co-worker.  When I asked the manager about that, I was told, "That's just Mary."  My confidence level in the manager for dealing with the situation was very low.  She had just accepted Mary's behavior failing to realize the impact Mary was having on employees new and old.  Mary had to have a plan of correction.  When I spoke to Mary and told her my concerns, she became tearful and told me that no one had ever told her that she was perceived as loud and rude.  What a disservice we do to colleagues when we don't share with them how people feel about them.  People cannot improve if they are not given an opportunity to know what needs to be improved.

I wouldn't want him working on me!

An employee who lacks the technical skill to excel on the job needs to have that feedback.  In healthcare, we tend to eat our young instead of build them up.  That strategy is not helping us to meet the challenges of the aging population and the need for more healthcare workers.  Our turnover rates are over 20% per year.  We need to be about building skill in a mentoring way.  Training programs of all types are not always effective at turning out persons completely skilled in all areas.  When we encounter an employee who is struggling, the most compassionate thing to do is to provide the feedback and design a way for the employee to skill up.  The most exciting way for employees to do that in healthcare is through simulation.  The newer technology allows employees to practice their skills in a safe environment simulating the real environment without putting patient safety at risk. 

John is great technically, a great team member, but he is terrible with customers!

My friend Julie Kennedy would refer to John as a 2/3 team member.  People tend to excuse him.  He is dependable, a rock star technically, he just has one flaw.  He pisses people off. (excuse the frankness)  John is a complaint generator.  He is gruff with patients but they all want him to start their IV because he is so dang good at it.  He works 60 hours a week so just about everyone is afraid he will quit.  The doctors all love him and refer to him as a supernurse.  But as his leader, you know that you are having to clean up after him all the time.  He is a 2/3 employee.  John needs that feedback.

When you sit down with John, his arms will be crossed as if daring you to say anything negative to him.  But as a leader, you have to provide the feedback.  The feedback is this.  You need the full package out of everyone.  He is great at teamwork, and he is technically skilled, but his customer service skills are lacking.  You need him to improve.  People in the department think he is a good nurse, but you classify him as a 2/3 employee.

All of the air will be sucked out of your office.  A wide range of emotions could be exhibited.  But it has been my experience that John will either address the concern, or he will self select to another workplace where he is not held accountable for customer service.

Source:  Julie Kennedy: The Studer Group


When preparing to give feedback think about how to handle various responses.  What would you say if the employee had any of the following responses:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Requests Help
  • Attacks another employee's performance
  • Attacks your performance
  • Tries to change the subject
It is good to practice in advance with someone else who can help you plan your responses.  Decide how you will "stay on your message."


For complex issues, a followup discussion should be planned.  People who have been given feedback will be wondering how you feel about their performance in a week, a month, and so on.  New issues should be addresses as soon as possible.  You can't change other people, but they can choose to change themselves.  If that is accomplished, they need to hear positive feedback from you, the successful leader who did not ignore the problem.

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