Do you ever feel as if you’re catching employees off-guard during annual performance reviews? If so, you might be surprised to learn the problem has less to do with the employee and more to do with your own leadership.

The truth is, giving and receiving feedback isn’t just something that should happen once a year; it needs to be part of your daily routine if you expect success for your team.

“Employees are looking for leaders who give meaningful feedback,” says Glenn Llopis, an expert in leadership and talent development. “This is what allows them to have a greater impact.”

Llopis heads up the Glenn Llopis Group, a business strategy consultancy whose clients include Cigna, Wal-Mart and Coca-Cola. He revealed five ways his company trains leaders to use feedback to build stronger, more innovative teams:

1. Define your leadership brand.

Quality feedback comes from effective leadership, and one area where Llopis says healthcare organizations must improve is to better identify leadership brands across all levels of management. More than just an individual leadership style, a leadership brand is the combination of qualities your company strives to produce in its leaders, reflecting both high-level strategy and customer expectations.

For example, if your organization is known for efficiency, many of your C-suite executives might be certified in Six Sigma. If holistic patient care is your brand, your company might focus on cultivating strong interdisciplinary leaders. Part of understanding your leadership brand is knowing how it relates to company strategy as a whole.

“Leaders need to be able to identify what their leadership brand is, to have an understanding of their role and how it impacts everyone across all functional areas,” Llopis says.

Without defined leadership brands feeding into company goals, carrying out strategy becomes much more difficult.
“In healthcare in particular, there’s a lot of siloing because leadership brand identities haven’t been established across departments,” Llopis says. “Everyone seems to be managing their own goals, but the bigger question is: How do they tie together?”

2. Collaborate and discover.

Collaboration is key to giving meaningful feedback. To add value to what employees do, leaders must know and respect the work being done by their employees.

“Collaboration is the art of discovery,” Llopis says. To make those discoveries, he encourages leaders to readily participate in projects rather than just supervise them. “When you’re collaborating with different kinds of people, you start to discover things about them—their unique skills, what they are and are not capable of delivering.”

And the more involved leaders are in the business, the more impact their advice will have. That’s because the most effective feedback is relevant, timely and true, something impossible to give unless leaders understand team members’ day-to-day experiences and challenges. When they don’t pay attention, they run the risk of giving input that breaks down trust instead of building it.

“Why would you respect feedback from someone who doesn’t understand your role and responsibilities?” Llopis asks.

3. Communicate and learn.

It’s no surprise that communication skills are at the heart of effective collaboration and leadership. More than that, leaders are responsible for developing these skills in themselves.

“If you’re a leader and you don’t feel comfortable giving praise or constructive criticism, it’s important to get coached,” he says. “When you don’t give feedback, it’s irresponsible—to individuals, to the organization and, ultimately, to patients.”

Llopis adds that communicating clear expectations is one of the most important ways leaders provide direction. Leaders also need to get input from employees on a regular basis. Otherwise, it’s harder to get their opinions when you need them.

“You grow as a leader when your teammates are willing to give feedback,” Llopis says.

4. Make course corrections.

Understanding your leadership brand, collaborating with your team and being a strong communicator all empower you to make course corrections when issues arise.

“Change management is an attitude,” Llopis says. “To manage change, you must be willing to deal with trial and error.”
For instance, adapting to evolving healthcare legislation will require executives to experiment with new ways to improve efficiency and patient outcomes. Not only must leaders be involved enough to recognize when changes aren’t delivering results, but they also must be willing to take input from those on the front lines to get back on track.

Making course corrections also may mean correcting employees, which can be uncomfortable for everyone involved. Llopis is quick to point out, however, that corrective feedback doesn’t need to be negative. The most important thing is that it adds value to what an employee is doing.

“You can show your power and be ultra-critical, but people want to trust their leaders more than anything,” he says, noting that a negative approach can actually de-motivate employees.

So how can leaders make critical feedback more relatable? Llopis recommends sharing your own experiences.

For example, if a manager is having trouble getting staff to comply with new policies, you could share a similar experience you had earlier in your own career, highlighting the methods you used to improve communication and accountability.

5. Be courageous every day.

All of this sounds great in theory, Llopis says, but to make it actually work, leaders need to be courageous enough to do these things consistently. That includes giving feedback in a timely manner.

“Don’t wait three months,” says Llopis, adding that leaders also should consider the environment where they deliver their message, whether that’s in the office, at lunch or on an afternoon walk around the block.

Fortunately, if you’re collaborating with the team and setting clear expectations, you’ll encounter fewer problems.
“If you lead with an arm’s-length approach, the probability of critical feedback is much higher,” he says.

What if your duties take you out of the collaborative environment? The key is to jump right back in when you can. Ultimately, the most important thing to remember is to stay engaged.

“You have to be a student of the business,” he says. “The moment you lose the pulse on what’s happening with the business, that’s when feedback becomes less valuable,” he says. “Good feedback comes from leaders who touch the business just as much as they lead it.”

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