Author Jason Shah is the founder of Do.com, formerly of Yammer and INeedAPencil.com.
Giving feedback well is a critical skill for any entrepreneur. When you build your team, you recruit the best people possible, but there is always room for growth. There will always be more work to do and better ways to do everything, from product design to online marketing to working well with other team members.
If you cannot give feedback well as an entrepreneur, your team will not develop as contributors, and your success as a company will be deeply limited. There are good and bad ways of giving feedback, however, so you have to be mindful of how you go about doing it. Here are some tactics that we try to keep in mind at Do.
Give a Compliment Sandwich
No one wants to hear bad news. To add, some people are really sensitive and may even have their self-image tied to the quality of the work they do. The wrong type of feedback could easily squash or even offend them. This is where diving right into "what could have been better" can have the opposite of the desired effect.
The compliment sandwich involves saying something positive on both ends of your advice. For example, "I really liked your presentation and what you had to say about improving this aspect of our operations. I feel like you may have missed a little bit of data here, and I would have liked to see more evidence to support your view, but I think this is something we should discuss further. I also liked how much conviction you spoke with." There's a little more willingness to listen to any critical feedback you may have if it is bookended with positive comments.
Comparison is often destructive and is said to be the root of all unhappiness. This comes with a small caveat; you can compare a team member's performance with their previous performance so long as it is done in a respectful manner. Sometimes, you can also make comparisons to your competitors. However, comparing one person with another's contribution is a sure way to instill inferiority and even create distrust among your employees. Steer clear of comparison to your peers or the reports they produce, whenever possible.
Offer Constructive Feedback
When people ask for feedback, they are really asking for constructive feedback. The very fact that this needs to spelled out suggests that there is a difference between the feedback people often give and the feedback they would really like to receive. Your goal should be to support the argument, add to the conversation, give solutions, or demonstrate how a team member could improve. Merely pointing out flaws comes across as egotistical. If you're going to point out the problems, also remember to offer up some solutions.
Feedback is far less useful when it has very little or nothing to do with the discussion at hand. This may seem obvious, but it's easy to get caught up in little insignificant details that ultimately have no bearing on the matter at hand. Moreover, straying too far off-topic is discouraged. You may want to change the flow of the conversation or may not be fully engaged in the meeting, but that's no reason to share something that is tangential. If you need to offer up feedback, make sure that it's on point.
In addition to the points mentioned above, remember that your judgment or initial impressions can also be wrong. Examine the matter in full before jumping to conclusions, and always be empathetic in how you offer your feedback. For example, giving praise is better in public, while giving constructive criticism is usually best in private. Consider how the other person is going to receive it in addition to what they actually need to hear.
At our company, we work together as a team to increase efficiency. For example, when building a certain feature took longer than we hoped, we dug in to understand what happened. Once we understood that the reason for this shortcoming had to do with a misunderstanding about the goals and scope of the project, it became clear that we needed these team members to ask more questions and be more proactive to avoid misunderstandings.
Always let your team know how it can improve. If you provide no suggestions, frustration will be the outcome.