Maximize Your Assistant: Create a coaching relationship through feedback
Think back to when you learned how to ride a bicycle. You were so excited to become mobile, and you would do anything to learn how to get around. And even though your friends told you how easy it was to get rolling, you learned through a lot of trial and error. You couldn’t go forward because your balance was off, you got behind because you didn’t pedal fast enough, you fell trying to take a sharp turn, but eventually, even after all of the bumps and bruises, you learned from the feedback the bike was giving you. From that feedback, you improved and learned to ride.
Feedback is a big part of our lives, even if we don’t realize it. From learning how to ride that bicycle to waiting for a review on a project you have recently completed, we have all grown from feedback. And while this guidance has helped us grow into better bike riders, employees, bosses, and more, most leaders hate giving feedback. But why? The truth is, feedback has a bad wrap, and most executives believe that giving feedback could hurt their assistant’s feelings or bring down team morale, so they tend to put it off until review time.
Annual or bi-annual reviews are important and can help your assistant learn new ways to improve, but waiting until review time to give feedback will decrease productivity and potentially cause frustration with your assistant’s performance. You may not know this, but assistants thrive on feedback, and without it, they will constantly question whether or not they are meeting your expectations. So in this blog post, we are sharing how to give your assistant feedback so that you can continue to make your best even better.
Set a goal to coach through feedback
When you start working with a new assistant, there will be a stretch of time that is a little awkward for both of you. This is the “getting to know you” period where your assistant will be learning how to best support you, push boundaries with you, and will likely not do everything the way you expect them to.
It is crucial to start coaching through feedback during this period, so now is the time to work past the insecurities surrounding feedback and set the goal to share. When you see something that isn’t up to your standards or something has just gone wrong, talk to your assistant about it instead of fixing it yourself. Once you start having your assistant make the fixes or solve the problem, you help prevent the mistake from happening in the future.
Give feedback regularly
Even though your company may have annual reviews, waiting a whole year to talk about the time your assistant made a mistake won’t be helpful for either of you. This is why you must give feedback regularly. In the beginning of the working relationship, we suggest meeting with your assistant weekly until you both feel confident in the role. After that, how often you have those meetings is up to you. If you feel your assistant still needs your guidance, schedule feedback monthly; if not, maybe quarterly is enough. There is no secret formula on how often to give feedback, but it should definitely be done more than every six months.
Be very specific
For most things, it doesn’t matter how the mistake happened as long as it gets fixed properly. Maybe your assistant misunderstood, or maybe you didn’t provide clear enough instructions, so when it is time to give feedback, you have to be extremely clear and specific on what you want to happen. Remember that your assistant isn’t a mind reader, and a detail you thought was pointless could make all the difference in the world, so share everything you can. Once you have shared what you need to, leave some time for your assistant to ask questions.
Give more good than bad
When people hear about giving feedback, they instantly think about the negative, but to have a perfect balance, you need to also share the positive. In fact, you should always give more positive feedback to your assistant than negative. When you give more good feedback to your assistant you are doing two things; you are building their confidence, and you are helping them anticipate your needs by learning your preferences. When your assistant feels confident in their role, they will be able to make your life even easier.
Sharing more positive feedback also will make it easier for your assistant to hear the negative. To put it in perspective, if you only hear the things you are doing wrong, your self-confidence will plummet, you will dread going to work, and you will never try to go above and beyond when you feel like you can’t meet the lowest standards. If you flip that, and you hear how great you’re doing, how much stress you’ve relieved, and how your boss loves never having to worry about a project, you will feel differently. Suddenly, you are more confident, you know you will crush your day, you will be brave enough to step outside of your wheelhouse, and you will be determined to go above and beyond. This simple step creates employee loyalty and should be used as much as possible.
Create a feedback sandwich
As we said above, most people don’t like to give feedback because they don’t want to be rude or hurt someone’s feelings. Even though this may sound cheesy, a feedback sandwich is highly effective, makes giving feedback easier, and is used in workplaces worldwide. What you do is sandwich a piece of negative feedback between two pieces of positive feedback.
For example, you start by telling your assistant that you really love the new color-coded file organization they created. Next, you tell your assistant that you appreciate you got the report to them on time, but there were a few fields left blank, and you need them to fix it and check the other data. Finally, you finish it by telling them they are doing a great job and they are really making a difference in your day-to-day.
Ask for feedback
No one is perfect, and even if you try to do everything by the book to create the healthiest working relationship possible with your assistant, there will still be areas for improvement. The good news is that those areas of improvement can be more like puddles than lakes when you ask for feedback. It isn’t your assistant’s place to tell you how to do your job, but sometimes there are simple things you can do to make their job easier. We suggest that during your feedback meetings, you ask your assistant to prepare some feedback for you.
After you’ve given negative feedback, it is important for you to follow-up with your assistant. Instead of falling into a micromanagement scenario where you’re constantly checking up, turn the feedback into a conversation. Give your assistant time to process the conversation and then ask for their feedback. Have them tell you what they need to make your suggestions a reality and work together to make it happen. From that conversation, you can learn how to maximize your assistant’s productivity and provide them with the tools they need to be successful in their role.
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