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Feedback should be provided continually and unemotionally. I subscribe to the theory that you reinforce positive activity and results and you extinguish negative and unproductive results. How? By stating very clearly what you expect from an individual.

Do this in terms of missions versus tasking. In my opinion, tasking drains a person of initiative, creativity, and drive. Providing them a mission allows for ownership of the solution by the person, positions them for growth, and enables them to feel gratified over accomplishment of the mission. When accomplished, it should be positively reinforced by expressing your satisfaction and associating your satisfaction with the accomplishment. Let that person share with you the decision process she/he went through to accomplish the results they did.

On the flip side, if an expectation is not met, you explain just as clearly, with little or no emotion, why you are not satisfied with that person's results. This pre-assumes you have clearly established the expectations and accountability in advance. An impartial and unemotional critique I found is almost always welcomed, even if it follows an unfavorable result. You remain respected by taking the time to present your observations and suggestions.

Mission versus tasking
Know, believe, and do these simple words: expectations, accountability, and feedback (and the concepts behind them). These words have been extremely useful in their simplicity and effectiveness. Ask yourself, "Does each individual know exactly what is expected of him/her?" I believe a critical differentiator at this point is not to mistake "tasking" with mission statements. What I mean here is to ensure that each person understands the mission of the company, the team, and the individual. This provides the person the flexibility and freedom to enable them to pursue the best solution to a business problem. Handing a person a list of tasks restricts freedom and, in my opinion, sends a different message to him or her regarding your confidence and faith in the individual.

Soliciting feedback
This brings up the important point about soliciting upward feedback and advice. It is critical, especially early on, that you develop a trusting relationship with a few key lieutenants who will help guide you, and challenge/push you to make the best decisions.

The culture I took over was extremely hierarchical, and getting this feedback proved difficult. My staff just assumed I knew all the answers or didn't particularly want to hear from them if their opinions differed. I find myself repeatedly asking directly for opinions, and probing if the first answer is "yes, I agree." I try to make the point with our employees that hierarchy is important on some levels. I have to make the ultimate decisions and take responsibility for them, and if our business performs poorly, the buck stops with me. But there should be no intellectual hierarchy. Everyone's ideas are important, and getting them all on the table usually leads to a better solution/decision.