If you're a leader, you're a lifeline.
Like it or not, you're one of the most important people in the daily life of your team.
When people are working remotely, the words of the leader have outsized impact. In a time of uncertainty, your ability to give high quality, meaningful feedback is crucial because:
People no longer get anecdotal feedback from colleagues. The around-the-water-cooler conversations that buoyed people's spirits (and sometimes helped them avoid mistakes) have disappeared.
The daily news is negative, and many home environments can be chaotic, juggling children, partners and multiple responsibilities. People need to feel grounded and confident at work. The relationship with the leader can be a lifeline to normalcy.
The virtual experience erodes connection. Without body language and a physical presence, words have even more power. Employees are more likely to internalize the most literal version of your words without the benefit of the emotional clues that reveal intent and spur collaboration.
Here are specific things you can do to make both positive and negative feedback more actionable and empowering.
1. Don't wait for review time, or even the end of the week.
The first priority in giving positive feedback is, obviously, to do it. It's easy for good work to get glossed over in the cadence of daily business. Calling it out increases the engagement and future performance of your team.
2. Make it more specific.
Everyone loves hearing "Great job!" but in a virtual world you don't have the smiles and handshakes to amplify it. If you want positive behavior repeated, be more specific when you call it out. Take it from "Great job on that report" to "I was so impressed with the level of detail in your report, it really shows how deep your product knowledge is." This tells people exactly what you appreciate about them and gives them a template for repeating it.
3. Connect the dots to impact.
Praise means even more when you know your actions had a positive impact on your team, the organization, and ultimately, your customers. Let's go back to that high level of detail in the report. Amp it up one step more by shining a light on the impact of the good work. Saying things like "It enabled me to clearly see the markets where our team can make a bigger impact" or "That gave everyone a level of confidence in moving forward with X decision" tells the team member they matter.
1. Give it early.
You don't have nonverbal clues to demonstrate displeasure, so you have to speak up earlier. Not early like I-noticed-you-made-this-one-mistake-one-time early, but shortly after you start to notice a pattern of behavior. You don't want to make your team member feel awful, nor do you want to beat around the bush. The more you drag it out, the worse the teammate will feel when you finally do address it, and the bigger the cost to their pride and the team's productivity.
2. Focus on facts without assuming intent.
You can say, "I noticed that you missed several errors in the last few rounds of product testing" versus "you obviously don't care about the details." This keeps it from getting personal. You're not trying to shame the person; you're trying to help them improve.
3. Remind the employee of when they did well.
This might look like "Remember when you made that project plan, and we all commented on how clearly you outlined the deliverables? That's the type of clarity we need on this project." That shows the person it's in their power to do this, that they're capable.
In a virtual workspace, feedback matters more than ever. And in times of uncertainty, it's a lifeline for your team. Positive feedback helps your team feel more meaning and pride in their work. And it tells them which behaviors are high-impact and should be repeated. Negative feedback (done well) can actually serve the same purpose. It does not have to be soul-sucking to you or your team; it's an opportunity to build resilience, improve as a group, and learn from each other.
Your words as a leader always matter to your team. In this environment, they matter even more.
Lisa Earle McLeod is an advisor, consultant, and speaker who works with senior executives and sales teams around the world. Her bestselling books include "Selling with Noble Purpose" and "Leading with Noble Purpose."