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Not giving regular feedback? No wonder you’re losing talent

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab

Many managers today don't relish giving feedback. In the past, feedback was associated with the annual review, a thoroughly unenjoyable hour where everyone involved couldn't wait for it to end. Today with millennials, feedback is more central to the role of manager than ever before.

Millennials want feedback. They want it now and they want it consistently, or they'll likely start looking for work elsewhere. The reality is that feedback has moved on from being an annual performance review to an everyday occurrence – or at least it should be. However, too many managers have not come to grips with the desire of millennials for feedback.

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Not only does feedback make work more interesting, it reassures employees that they are still moving forward. Halted or stifled growth is unacceptable to them. They are on a mission to constantly progress and feedback helps them do so. If the key components of development are missing, millennials do what they feel they must – they leave. Giving more feedback might actually lead to millennials staying with your company.

Although it has been stated before, we'll say it again – feedback should not be confined to formal meetings. It should be on the spot, and, if possible, in the moment. A one-size-fits-all approach does not work. Here are four strategies to help you avoid homogenous feedback:

1) Balance the positive and negative feedback

2) Describe the problem specifically

3) Involve the employee in the solution

4) Establish follow-up expectations

A simple but useful framework we have been using in new managerial courses to help managers give better feedback is a simple five step model captured in the acronym SMART: giving feedback that is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-based.

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Specific: When setting goals and objectives, eliminate any ambiguity or misunderstanding. Objectives that are too general leave room for misinterpretation and can lead to a potential conflict between the manager and the employee.

Measurable: In order for both the manager and the employee to know when the objective has been achieved, it must be measurable. Whether it be clear-cut measurements with hard numbers – such as increasing sales by 20 per cent – or, more intangible objectives – such as organizing two team events a month to promote team building – all objectives need to be measured.

Achievability: Objectives should always be set jointly between managers and employees. If an objective is deemed unrealistic and impossible to achieve, employees may become disengaged and unmotivated before even making an attempt. Objectives should challenge the employee, but they must still be attainable.

Relevant: Objectives should be aligned with the overall strategic direction of the organization. Employees need to feel that their work is meaningful and contributes to the organization as a whole. Failure to set relevant objectives can result in an employee becoming unmotivated and confused about their role.

Time-based: All objectives should have a time frame so it is clear when the objective should be achieved. This could be annually, quarterly or by a specific date. Putting an actual time frame on an objective can also bring a sense of urgency – some employees work better under pressure.

The challenge of feedback begins from within. Boomers and Generation Xers need to challenge the belief that giving feedback is an uncomfortable experience. They need to view the exercise as a means to improving business.

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Second, feedback on your own feedback approach is necessary. Ask your employees how you, personally, can improve. Learn how to develop your feedback skills. Feedback, after all, is a multi-person activity.

Finally, embrace your role as manager. It is your responsibility, now more than ever, to nurture, motivate and help your employees grow. Simplify the task for everyone by giving feedback. Embed feedback into the DNA of your organization. Providing short, consistent and frequent feedback sessions are more effective, and in the long run, less awkward, than the annual review.

Karl Moore (@profkjmoore) is an associate professor at the Destautels Faculty of Management at McGill University.

Sema Burney is a human resources consultant, specializing in the areas of leadership, diversity and inclusion.

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