How to give effective feedback to Gen Y

Saturday April 6, 2013

Use the Feedback Style to engage Gen Y


Always make an effort to find and state the positive aspects about the situation Always make an effort to find and state the positive aspects about the situation

Today is my third anniversary with a multinational corporation (MNC). I joined the MNC as a management trainee after completing my degree in business studies. Imagine my excitement when my boss confided in me that I am regarded as a key talent with a promotion to management echelon to boot! In today’s multi-generational workforce, I am categorised as a Gen Y. Known for being a go-getter, I am impatient to contribute and make a difference. A colleague recounted an incident when she confirmed a Gen Y and upon completion of his probationary period, she was asked, “When am I getting a promotion?” That may have seemed a tad too extreme but it resonates with my philosophy about knowing how I am doing and getting the right feedback on a timely basis. It would be most frustrating if my ideas are not listened to or that my role is not visible.”

Gen Ys are drawn towards an environment that understands them and is keeping up with them. It is high time for leaders to replace some of their “die-hard” ways to a feedback style which engages the team. In this article, let’s look at practical and effective ways of giving feedback so that you don’t end up getting people defensive and resentful for highlighting areas of improvement.

Fresh from university, I worked in one of the Big Five as an auditor. During an audit assignment, I was reprimanded by my supervisor when I missed my deadline. He asked me “Why are you so slow? What’s wrong with you?” Telling me that I am slow or wrong is not helpful at all. Not only did it end up denigrating me in a personal way, it also did not improve my skills in meeting the deadline. Whilst his intention was to help me improve, the way it was delivered achieved the opposite impact. As you might have predicted, I did not enjoy working with the supervisor and left to work with another supervisor once the chance presented itself. It is a common adage that employees leave their bosses, not companies. This is especially applicable to the Gen Y. Given the environment they have grown up in, with access to technology and travel opportunities, they have more choices and are more mobile.

True, most leaders think that feedback is about commenting on the person or judging the person based on his or her behaviour. They want to help us improve but despite their best intentions, most managers are not skilful in giving feedback. Here’s a simple four steps in giving effective and meaningful feedback to Gen Ys:

1 Always make an effort to find and state the positive aspects about the situation

“Good job! Your ability to meet the deadline is a significant achievement. This is even more so considering you are relatively new to the job. Thank you for the great efforts and putting in the extra hours to get the job done.”

2 Describe the specific behaviour and explain why it was effective

“You managed to overcome the customer’s objections and convince him that we are the right partners to work with. Your resilience and persistency really nailed the account.” The Gen Y is a savvy lot. Be sincere and specific; they can readily differentiate flattery from tokenism.

3 De-personalise: Comment on the behaviours, not the person

Let’s use the earlier example about my supervisor commenting on how slow I was. It would be better if he had offered his feedback along the line, “As you are aware we have audit procedures and we would need you to follow them closely so you will be able to meet your deadline faster. This applies to all of us, including you.”

4 End on a positive note. Reaffirm the positive behaviour to encourage repetition

“You are a great recruiter. Your clients appreciate your customer service and they mentioned that you are always looking out to recruit the best talent for them. You must be so proud to hear that. I am confident you will continue with the same level of commitment and repeat the same success and even more! Let me know what support you need from me.”

Accentuating the positives

Without frequent and constructive feedback, we are not aware whether we are on track or doing the right thing. Obviously, it is easier to criticise and state the negative. We learnt from our well-meaning parents, teachers and bosses that feedback is given only to correct our errors or highlight our mistakes. However, taking the deficit approach is easy but not effective at all. Who likes their flaws pointed out? Who likes to be criticised? The very instance someone comes to us with “here’s some feedback for you,” alarm bells ring in our head. Translation: Criticism. Translation: Not doing things right. Translation: Failure.

When you want to engage the Gen Y, give your feedback in a way which highlights the positive aspects of the situation, appreciate their ideas and acknowledge their contribution. Make an effort to appreciate the positives and strengths of the Gen Y you are giving feedback to. Here are examples to turn the situation from a deficit perspective to an appreciative one.

Timing is everything

Make sure you give feedback in a timely manner. Gen Ys are hungry to learn and they appreciate recognition for their contribution. Don’t wait three months down the road to tell them what you think about their behaviours. Highlight what went well and what could be better. Engage them in a dialogue to self assess their performance and behaviours. From an HR perspective, regular feedback makes the annual appraisal discussion a much more meaningful conversation. I read in an article that managers likened appraisal discussions as throwing a newspaper into a dog’s house and being done with it! As a HR leader, I have seen managers using the annual appraisal as an avenue to judge their staff rather than improve performance and connect. Rather than highlighting these shortcomings immediately when they occur, some choose to wait until the annual appraisal to use these as “weapons” to justify why their staff doesn’t deserve a four or five rating. To bring up something as old as a year is not helpful and creates a lot of mistrust and resentment from the staff.

Feedback – in a nut shell

Feedback is a wonderful thing – it offers an opportunity for both the leader and coachee to learn and connect. In short, when you give feedback, be specific about the actual behaviours you are calling out; don’t make judgment about people’s personality or what their behaviours mean. Use words that foster collaboration and engender trust. Stop looking at people from the deficit approach. When you catch others doing the right things, your positive reinforcement will motivate repeats of the positive and effective behaviours from your team. Remember, timing is everything so it is imperative that you share your feedback at the earliest opportunity when the incident occurred. Strike when the iron is hot!

Source: The Star

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