6 Things Project Managers Shouldn’t Do: #2 Treat Feedback as Optional

leaderDiscuss244086What does it take to create an energized, positive project work environment — a place where team members are motivated to do the work that needs to be done? With fewer and fewer resources available and more and more aggressive schedules, project managers often overlook how important a positive work environment can be for their project team. Awards, recognition and praise, along with constructive criticism from the project manager, can go a long way toward achieving that type of positive work environment.

One of the best managers I ever worked with was very good about giving me regular feedback. Sometimes it was positive reinforcement, and sometimes it was a corrective kick-in-the-pants conversation.


Before we look at an example, I must mention qualifiers for all feedback and provide a few simple steps to giving someone feedback.

All feedback should be:

  1.  First person.
  2.  Specific.
  3.  Relevant to the person and to their job.
  4.  Timely.
  5.  Future focused and meant for improvement./li>

1. Feedback should be first person.
Feedback should come from you, the boss. No third-party information is allowed. Feedback given to a team member should concern something that you, the project manager, are aware of that the team member did or did not do or accomplished or did not accomplish. Telling the team member that you heard Bob say that Jim told him that the team member (fill in the blank with anything) will not work. The feedback needs to come from you, not Bob or Jim. Third-person feedback will hold little, if any, meaning for the team member.

2. Feedback should be specific.
Tell your team members specifically what it is that they did or did not do and what you, their boss, are specifically aware of. Feedback about their work in general can make them feel good, but being specific is much more productive and will lead to direct reinforcement of behaviors you want repeated or even enhanced.

3. Feedback should be relevant.
Feedback should relate directly to the work that the team member was given, and it should relate to their role in the project.

4. Feedback should be timely.
Feedback should always be given in a timely manner, and whenever possible, should be immediate. Feedback given months after an employee has accomplished something or an event has occurred will typically be meaningless. In today’s fast-paced project environment, the team member may not even remember what it is you are giving them feedback about. If you can catch someone in the moment, the feedback you give has a much greater probability of being effective and meaningful.

5. Feedback should be future focused and meant for improvement.
The intention of your feedback should be improvement. In many cases, positive reinforcement can be expressed openly, because hearing a team member receive praise can encourage other employees. On the other hand, corrective feedback should be expressed in private. A great resource for providing corrective feedback, as well as positive reinforcement, is “Crucial Conversations” and its companion title “Crucial Accountability” written by Kerry Patterson.

With many project teams working remotely, catching someone in the moment can be difficult. Look for opportunities to interact with the team as often as possible. For virtual teams and remote team members, one way to easily identify the accomplishments of team members is to ask them for weekly and/or monthly updates of their achievements.

If the feedback will be given verbally, ask the team member if you can give them some feedback before you start. It may seem strange, especially since you are the boss and you are giving them feedback about project work, but it can be very helpful as it prepares the person mentally to be ready to receive the information you are going to give them. Giving someone feedback when they are not ready to receive it will more than likely be a waste of time for everyone involved.

Here are some specific steps regarding feedback.

1. When you see it, say something.
Never let the good work of a team member go unnoticed. It may be the only positive word they hear all day or even all week, and it may just be the thing that team member needs to stay motivated.

2. Tell them how you feel about what they did or did not do.
There was a period of time in which the official mantra of many organizations was “this should be a place of business, not a place where feelings are discussed or expressed.” I’m not sure if anyone could be successful at trying to check their feelings at the door. You’re the project manager, and it is legitimate to tell them how you feel about what they did. Stating your feelings enables the team member to see that their actions may have consequences that are not always tangible.

3. Give them the impact statement.
With an impact statement, you are letting the team member know in specific ways how their behavior, actions or work has impacted other team members, the project itself or the organization.

4. Provide a call to action.
If the feedback is corrective, ask the team member how they will prevent the problem from occurring in the future and what are they going to do to make the correction. Participate with them in brainstorming ideas, knowing that if the corrective idea comes from the team member, they are more likely to buy into it and follow through. If the feedback is more of a pat on the back, ask the team member what new areas they would like to explore.

In my home office there is a small box with several notes in it. These notes were given to me years ago by my boss at the time, who ultimately became my mentor. Some of them are corrective and some of them are affirmations of work I did well. After all of these years, I still read through these notes for two specific reasons. One, they still hold great meaning for me, and two, they remind me that I need to be doing the same thing for my team members. All of these notes were handwritten on my boss’ stationery. He did not email them; he did not fax them; he did not delegate someone else to write them. He wrote them himself. A handwritten note, especially in this day and age of automation, can hold great meaning.

Here is an example of one of the notes:
“Tim, the integration project looks to be going very well, two weeks ahead of schedule. I know you’ve been putting in a lot of extra effort. Over the past few months the team has really stepped up under your leadership. I want you to know that it hasn’t gone unnoticed, it’s making a difference … and it matters. Thanks for what you’re doing. –W”

Did you see the key parts of what he said? He mentioned something very specific, and he gave validation by mentioning that he was aware of the effort. But then he went further when he mentioned that it was making a difference, which indirectly also meant that I was making a difference. Then he topped it off by saying that what was being done mattered, and by that, he was also saying that my role in the project as leader of the team and what I was doing mattered.

Do you think I was even more motivated after reading that note? I’ll give you a hint, it’s why I still read that note and others like it all these years later. Of course, not all of his notes are like this. Some challenged me, some corrected me, but all of them were meant for my improvement. A project manager, like any leader of people, doesn’t treat recognition, praise or even constructive criticism as optional.

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