You Owe Them Feedback

Operations & Training

clint smith career plug

By Clint Smith, CareerPlug

When I started my software business in my apartment back in 2007, the company had one employee: me. I did a decent job of managing myself, but once the business began to grow, I had to heighten my leadership skills — and fast.

In the beginning, I was terrible at giving critical feedback to my employees. Part of it had to do with being a naturally conflict-averse person. The other part is that I would blame myself for their performance issues. I did not set them up for success — at least, that was the story that I told myself.

Then one day, I got called out by one of my leaders. He told me that I owed him feedback and that was the only way that he was going to get better. He was totally right.

Feedback got easier for me after I read Radical Candor by Kim Scott. She uses a quadrant to teach the Radical Candor concept. To get into the Radical Candor quadrant, you have to 1) Challenge Directly and 2) Care Personally. I had the Care Personally part covered, but I was failing at Challenge Directly. That put me in a quadrant called Ruinous Empathy, which sounded terrible to me.

I was motivated to change and get myself out of that quadrant. The next week, I scheduled a meeting with an employee to have a tough conversation that I had been putting off for too long. I printed the quadrant and took it into the meeting to start the conversation. I explained to the employee that I cared about him, and that I owed it to him to share how I was feeling and challenge him directly to improve.

Make sure that you put even more energy into providing positive feedback to people. Reinforce what they are doing well. Show them that you notice how hard they are working. If you are good at noticing things that people are doing wrong, then you need to work at recognizing what they are doing right.  

If you are good at noticing things that people are doing wrong, then you need to work at recognizing what they are doing right."

I have had to work at this as well. Heaping praise did not come naturally to me, partly because I don’t need it as much as some other people do. That is one of the most important lessons that I have learned as a leader: You have to be the leader that each of your employees need you to be, not the leader that you would want for yourself. I don’t need a lot of public recognition, but some of my people crave it. That means that I need to get up in front of the team and sing their praises when they deserve it. 

I don’t wait until formal performance reviews to deliver feedback. We do them twice a year, and I put a lot of energy into them. But most of it is feedback — positive or negative — that I have already shared with my employees. My goal is for there to be no surprises when I give the reviews. I usually give my feedback during our weekly one-on-one meetings or directly after an event that created new feedback. If it’s positive feedback, I will praise people in front of their peers. If it is negative, then I will pull them aside and address it as soon as possible.

Make sure that you have created open channels so that you can receive feedback. Ask people how you are doing and what you can do to improve. If you never get any constructive feedback, then you have not built enough trust with your team. There are other things that they are not sharing with you as well. You also need their feedback to grow.


Clint Smith is the President of CareerPlug. For more information on International Franchise Association (IFA) supplier member CareerPlug, click here.