Feedback – Where Managers Go Wrong

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Let’s talk about one of the most important elements of coaching a high performing sales team – Delivering effective feedback.

Feedback is one of those things that can make or break performance and talent development, but time after time, we see challenges when it comes to effectively using feedback as a coaching tool.  And despite the best intentions, many sales managers don’t effectively approach feedback in a way that genuinely helps their people.

Here’s are some profiles of the worst offenders:

carolCarol “The Crusher”

Carol always focuses on the negatives and ignores the positives.  When she provides feedback, her people feel like they’re getting raked over the coals.  They leave these difficult discussions feeling overwhelmed, frustrated and often times, broken.

TonyTony “The Teller”

Tony takes great pride in being a problem solver. He tells his people EXACTLY what they should have done and quickly moves on to his next problem.  Tony has no idea that his listening skills and patience are virtually non-existent.

Louie“Laundry List” Louie

Louie is all over the details and he isn’t afraid to unload all of them.  Getting feedback from Louie leaves his people overwhelmed – and they have no idea where to focus.

Valerie“Vague” Valerie

Valerie can’t be bothered with details but is quick to provide very general feedback that lacks examples or specificity.  In short, her inspirational, cheerleader style lacks actionable guidance.  She rarely prepares for meetings with her people but believes she is everyone’s champion.

Isaac“Inspector” Isaac.

Isaac is heavily focused on activity.  He wants to review exactly what his people are doing and the progress they’ve made from the last discussion.  Each 1:1 is like watching the very slow, progression of a book or a movie. Isaac believes that inspection is coaching.

Dave“Distracted” Dave

Dave is quite the multi-tasker. And 1:1’s are often decorated with constant phone ringing, texting and e-mail watching.  The frenetic distractions are deemed important and therefore justified by Dave. Oh yeah, Dave is also notorious for cancelling meetings because of sudden client activity and management requests.

Can you think of some others profiles that aren’t on this list? This certainly isn’t a finite collection (so share the ones we missed!).

The truth is that coaches aren’t perfect and feedback is both an art and science.  So ask yourself these questions…

  • Do you see some of these tendencies in yourself?
  • Do you aspire to be a better coach for your people?
  • Do you recognize that there may be a better way?

If your head is nodding, then you may need to engage in some self-reflection and come up with a plan to become a more effective talent developer.  We’re not going to solve world hunger immediately with this post, but there are some things that you can do to start the process of becoming a more effective and engaged leader when it comes to feedback and difficult discussions with your sales people.

Vie’s Top 5 Rules for Effective Feedback

1. Positive first, then constructive

People tend to be their own worst critics.  It’s natural to focus first on what was not so good but it is very important that our salespeople understand what they did well too – this builds confidence and reinforces the right behaviors.  So focus first on the positive, then the constructive.

2. Be honest and compassionate

When sharing constructive feedback, it is important to be honest with compassion.   We do a disservice to our salespeople when we beat around the bush or avoid delivering constructive feedback.  They won’t grow nearly as much. And when it is shared, it should be with compassion so it doesn’t embarrass or demoralize.  Our salespeople should feel that feedback is about helping them grow versus showing how much we know. This isn’t about us – it’s about them.

3. Focus on what is most significant. No laundry list!

Provide feedback on only a few areas that can have the most significant impact in helping our salespeople sell more effectively and advance/close sales.  A laundry list will be overwhelming and difficult for them to remember and take action on.

4. Be Specific

Be as specific as possible when giving feedback.  For example, don’t just tell them they asked great questions.  Have a discussion around which questions were great and why.  Don’t just say that the data they presented was confusing.  Have a discussion around what was confusing and how it could be presented more clearly. 

5. Clear/Concise

Be clear and concise in your feedback.  Don’t drone on – get to the point.  If it’s clear that during their self assessment, they understood what they did well and what they still need to work on, there is no need to go on and on about the same things.

Paul Shapiro is a Managing Partner at vie™. Visit or email to start a discussion about how vie can make a remarkable difference for your sales organization.