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Project teams and the feedback loop

Karen Williams
March 20, 2012

Internet users across the globe are sending an estimated 60 billion emails a day. The average person spends more than two years of their life on the phone. Yet despite our adeptness at virtual communication, our personal interaction and ability to communicate face-to-face is waning. Why do we find it so difficult to deliver effective feedback?

The breakdown in corporate communication comes from a changing work demographic and a fear of ‘scaring off’ staff in the current buoyant employee market.

Senior executives and managers, particularly those who have a pseudo-HR role like project managers heading a project team, often need assistance in this area, given they are dealing with a large number of employees. Organisational change consultants are often brought in to train executives in the areas of communication, feedback and negotiation, by coaching them in human behaviours in the context of the organisation’s structure.

As a result of the ‘War for Talent’ senior managers and HR teams alike are very careful about the feedback they give their staff. They are wary of balancing the need for better organisational performance against maintaining a harmonious work environment.

Adding to the pressure is the reality that most organisations have staff from three different generations each of which have honed completely unique communication receptors.

We have the long-term Baby Boomers who know they are making way for the ever-loyal and hard-working younger employees keen for their moment in the sun. Each demographic is unique in the way they want to receive feedback and the challenge for managers is to tune in to the best ways of communicating with these very different groups.

The key to overcoming this fear is to be prepared: know your audience, know your content and arm yourself with concrete examples that support what you have to say. The better you know the group and what makes them tick, the more likely you are to have insight into what they respond to and what motivates them.

Feedback for Baby Boomers

As the oldest demographic in the workplace, Baby Boomers have seen ‘em come and seen ‘em go, however, they can be overly sensitive to feedback. This group is facing growing pressure from a young, enthusiastic demographic beneath them, so they need reassurance about the value they add to an organisation.

Hwoever, Baby Boomers are quite no-nonsense and can spot transparent, insincere feedback. They shy away from regular attention preferring to get on with the task at hand and respond best to a ‘straight from the hip’, authentic approach.

Feedback for Gen X

Often working alongside the Baby Boomers are the younger generations, eagerly championing for more flexible, family-friendly work arrangements. Gen X wants to work hard but not be taken advantage of, so the best way to communicate feedback to them is to suggest how they can work smarter, not harder and acknowledge, but not too lavishly, successes and deal directly with areas for improvement.

Feedback for Gen Y

This is in direct contrast with the Gen Y group who will in within the next planning cycles dominate the organisational landscape. Gen Y has been described as high maintenance, yet they have the potential to be the most high performing generation, given their in-depth knowledge, advanced technological skill sets and high-set expectations.

They have grown up on praise and tend to rely on it from authority figures to know they are on track. As a result, Gen Y can struggle with processing feedback. Reassure them that the feedback is designed to support their career progression, a major driver for this group.

How to receive feedback

Communication is a two-way street and being able to receive feedback is just as crucial as being able to delivery it effectively. This can only be achieved when both parties play an active role in the communication process.

Receiving positive feedback about your strengths and what you bring to the organisation will brighten any employee’s day. Negative feedback acknowledging room for improvement or unconstructive behaviour can be challenging to accept and often sparks anxiety in the recipient.

Whether the recipient of positive or negative feedback, keep an open mind during the discourse and think of ways you can turn the interaction around so your team can move to a better place. Ask yourself if you understand the feedback; take time to digest and if unclear, go back and ask for clarification. If appropriate, consult a neutral third party to discuss.

After the confrontation, decide on an appropriate time to act; this could be immediate or after some ‘down time’. Once a certain grace period has passed, go back to revise the feedback and action taken to evaluate improvement.

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Karen Williams
Karen Williams is the principal of Message Stix, specialists in change management and providers of communication solutions.
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