Giving feedback can be one of the most daunting parts of any supervisor’s job. It’s also the most important. Good leaders know that it’s their responsibility to get the very best out of their people, and in order to do that, employees need to know how they’re performing.
It’s easy to think that GenX managers would have no trouble giving employee feedback. We’re the pragmatic problem-solvers, right? But for Generation X leaders, it’s important to know how generational perspectives can impact both the giving and receiving of feedback. If you lead a multigenerational team, you can’t take a one-size-fits-all-approach. Communication style (yours) communication preference (theirs) and motivators all come into play. Let’s break it down.
Communication Style/Preference: In comparison to other generations, Boomers prefer infrequent, formal feedback (e.g. standing progress meetings, performance evaluations, etc.) They also prefer to communicate face-to-face as well as by phone and see meetings as integral to moving projects along.
Motivated by: recognition—title, rank , etc., leadership roles (projects or teams), productivity, purpose
GenX Feedback Technique: Boomers have lots of life and work experience, and they are less likely to seek feedback. Be proactive. Resist the GenX urge to email and set some meetings on the calendar specifically dedicated to the topic of performance. If improvement is needed, position it as an opportunity for growth and a chance to make a greater impact. For your high-performing Boomer team members, find a way to recognize and publicize their achievements.
Communication Style/Preference: Loves email, hates meetings. Texting is for family and friends. (But don’t worry—they’ve got their work email on their phone and check it incessantly.)
Motivated by: challenge, problem solving, empowerment, autonomy
GenX Feedback Technique: They’re GenX. Easy right? Not so fast. The intragenerational differences notwithstanding (we span birth years of 1965-80), there are pitfalls when it comes to similar communication styles and motivators. Performance feedback via email lacks tone, context, non-verbal communication and real-time dialog. Suck it up and set a meeting. It’s doesn’t have to be in the big conference room with the fancy table. Grab a coffee. If there are performance issues, lay out the problem as clearly as possible and give your employee the chance to design a solution that you both agree on. Got a rock star? Look for opportunities to have them lead projects and support them from the sidelines.
Communication Style/Preference: Millennials value connectedness, whether in-person or online. Texting and social media are ok for work communication, and immediacy in response expected. They desire high levels of feedback in terms of volume, frequency and performance.
Motivated by: sense of purpose, being a valued member of a team, professional development, making an impact
GenX Feedback Technique: This generation grew up in constant communication with instant access to people and information. But as a boss, it’s ok to set some boundaries. Be clear about your availability to coach and collaborate versus when they are expected (empowered) to work independently. From a performance management perspective, make sure you communicate what they’re doing well in addition to what needs improvement. Demonstrate that you value them as a person and an employee. Taking the time to learn about their passions, interests and expertise—then finding ways to leverage those strengths—will make them feel engaged.
Constructive feedback doesn’t mean handing out “compliment sandwiches” (praise, criticism, praise). Constructive feedback is information-specific and based on observations. It’s not personal judgment. Be direct, but express appreciation (positive feedback) and concern (negative feedback). Starting statements with “I” (“I have noticed…”) instead of “you” helps focus on the issues.
Finally, use one of your greatest GenX superpowers: be authentic. Authentic leaders know their strengths, weaknesses and emotions. They care about people and lead with their heart. It’s your job to develop your employees to be the best they can be. Help them rise to the challenge.
The Management in Action series covers a variety of practical management topics that can help GenX managers strengthen their leadership skills. Got a topic you’d like to see explored? Leave a suggestion in the comments.