Feedback For Staff

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By Chris Thurber

“Chris, my supervisory
                                                             Feed back
staff members don’t

                                                              For S
always know the best
way to provide feedback
to their counselors. Most
of the time, they see what
needs improvement but

don’t say anything except
perhaps to me. Any tips

                                                                   oviding co
on how to get them
talking directly to their
—Susan Hooks, Director of                                                   and
 Riverview Camp for Girls,
 Mentone, Ala.

       usan, the leadership team at
       Riverview is not alone.
       Many supervisors hesitate to
offer staff feedback because they
are worried about a supervisee’s
reaction. They wonder: “Will this
counselor get angry? Will he or she
get defensive? Will he or she dismiss
my criticism as harsh or unfair?”
These concerns are normal. When a
supervisor offers a supervisee feed-
back, the relationship may seem to be
at stake, but it doesn’t have to be.                          while, resentment, unhappiness and                1. Feedback is all negative.
     Skillfully executed feedback doesn’t                     fear would become so toxic that the          Although some supervisors embrace this
put the supervisor-supervisee relation-                       organization would not only fail to grow     myth, feedback includes both genuine
ship on the chopping block. On the                            and improve, but eventually would            praise and constructive criticism. Good
contrary, it actually strengthens that                        regress and come unglued. Feedback           supervisors work hard to provide more
relationship because it promotes both                         is necessary for any group to survive,       praise than criticism so the supervisees
parties’ professional development.                            whether it’s a group of two people           are generally happy to see them coming.
                                                              (i.e., a marriage) or a group of 100
Start With The Truth                                          people (i.e., a camp staff).                       2. Feedback isn’t necessary, espe-
     Let’s consider what would happen in                            Proper preparation, thoughtful         cially if people are doing well. Part of being
an organization in which no one gave                          timing and sensitive delivery are essen-     a successful supervisor is shaping your
anyone else feedback—ever. You might                          tial feedback tools your staff needs. But    supervisees’ behavior. That requires prais-
think such an organization would simply                       first let’s debunk a few myths supervisors   ing them for all the specific things they are
stagnate. It might—at first. But after a                      may harbor about feedback:                   doing right, not just pointing out what

34   CampBusiness   |   September/October 2009   |
needs improvement. Top performers need        open, clear communication about                 you?” and “When can we follow up with
feedback, too.                                performance.                                    each other to see how things are going?”

     3. Feedback should be offered in a            2. Timing—Timing of feedback                    4. Follow-up—Following-up
praise-criticism-praise sandwich. That        should be both frequent and discreet,           means checking back to see how a sugges-
old formula is so predictable that it         meaning at least daily (informally) and         tion you’ve made has been implemented
makes most staff cringe at the first          always out of the earshot of campers.           (“How is it going with the ________?”).
expression of praise. When praise func-       Offer colleagues feedback soon enough           Praise improvements and problem-solve
tions as a thinly veiled prelude to “the      for them to have a chance to improve, but       together about changes that haven’t been
real reason I came to talk with you,” then    not directly in front of children. Although     made, but still need to be. Follow-up may
any substance in the praise dissolves.        some feedback cannot be offered imme-           also mean telling supervisees how you as
Original supervisors offer praise by itself   diately, most staff resent hearing “You         the supervisor have implemented a sug-
two-thirds of the time they speak with        could have done a better job” weeks after       gestion that they made for you.
supervisees.                                  the performance in question. Time the
                                              praise close enough to a job well done so           Beginning with a mutual commit-
    4.    Feedback is unidirectional and      that it effectively reinforces the behavior.    ment to professional development and
top-down. Not even the most talented                                                          ending with a follow-up session that
supervisors are perfect, which means                3. Delivery—Delivery of feedback          indexes change, the aspects of effective
they have something to learn, too.            should be respectful, balanced, specific        feedback reviewed above are powerful
Skilled supervisors create a healthy          and solicitous. Use a kind tone, recog-         components of organizational growth.
culture by soliciting feedback from the       nize colleagues’ strengths and weakness-        Good feedback truly does feed. CB
supervisees. Asking “What could I do to       es, cite specific examples and—to keep
improve?” is great leadership-by-exam-        the feedback flowing in both direc-             Dr. Christopher Thurber is a board-certified
ple as well.                                  tions—ask colleagues what they suggest          clinical psychologist and the creator of
                                              you might do to improve. At the end of a        Leadership Essentials, an online library of video
       5. Feedback is all formal. Scheduled   formal feedback session, always ask, “Do        training modules for camp staff. Learn more by
meetings and written evaluations are two      you have any questions about what I’ve          visiting Chris’s Web sites, and
essential—but rather formal—ways of           said?” and “Can I clarify anything for
providing feedback. Deft supervisors also
use humor, short notes, spontaneous com-
ments and non-verbal communication
(i.e., a thumbs-up or a concerned look) to
convey feedback.

Sharpen Your Skills
     With the importance of candid,
bidirectional feedback now in sharp
focus, here are four key elements to
providing effective feedback:

     1. Preparation—Preparation
starts before campers arrive. Conduct
group and individual staff meetings to
establish expectations for everyone’s per-
formance and the expectation that feed-
back will be shared generously, in the
spirit of professional growth and devel-
opment. When supervisory staff prepare
their supervisees, they should:

   • Set regular meeting times
   • Review a blank evaluation form
   • Ask how staff would like to receive

     When supervisors prepare their staff
for regular feedback on well-defined
benchmarks, it lays the groundwork for
                                                                                 Circle Reader Service #30
                                                                      | September/October 2009   |   CampBusiness   35