How to give constructive feedback

One way to overcome some of the barriers of giving feedback is to apply the S A I D model

Standard

When giving feedback, particularly on poor performance, it’s useful to know what you are benchmarking this against. If people don’t know what is expected of them, it is very easy to get defensive.  So establish the standards you expect and communicate these.  You may not always need to refer to these during the feedback process, but be mindful of these as you give the feedback.

Action

What is the action they performed?  Emphasis is on their actions, not on your interpretation of it.  So you are feeding back what you observed or heard, not on their intentions, their personality or their character.  Limit the number of actions you comment on a level they can handle – far better to give feedback on one key action that they can digest and build on to make a difference, than ten things which leaves the message diluted (and invariably leaves them demotivated).  Because this is based on fact it is less likely to be challenged. Link back to the standard if necessary to highlight where people have exceeded or fallen short.

Impact

What impact did their actions have on the result?  This can include positive or negative impact on the end result, or on the process itself e.g. the amount of effort needed on their part to achieve the result, or the impact on others, etc.  When giving praise it is so easy to say to someone ‘that was really good, well done’ without saying why it was good or what made the difference this time compared with previous occasions.

Development

How can they build on this for the future?  Remember, the purpose of feedback is to enhance performance and motivate.  So this last stage is important to determine what happens next e.g. develop to make it even better next time around, to correct a mistake or to perfect a process.  Put the emphasis on what is missing rather than what is wrong – building on strengths or positives is far more likely to engender enthusiasm. Using open questions, ask the individual how they think things can be developed or built upon.  This will help to gain buy in and you may be surprised by the options they suggest.

Here are the three key situations for giving feedback within the workplace.

1.     When all is going well – feedback and praise.
2.     Mixed performance – feedback mixed with positive and corrective action.
3.     When all is not well – feedback to address under-performance.

This model works equally well in all three.

Some of you may recall something referred to as ‘The Praise Sandwich.’  The problems with the praise sandwich are that, in fact, it is a bad news sandwich, and usually the ‘filling’  (i.e. the bad news) is so thin and the ‘bread’ or praise element so thick and fluffy, that the key message gets completely lost.  The result the person remembers the first and last part of the discussion – the praise – and not the part you want to change.  The result is that nothing changes.  Using the SAID model people know exactly what the issue is.  But by understanding the impact it has had, and having been given as opportunity to put forward their own ideas to avoid it in future, they will still come out of it with some dignity, and you are far more likely to see something change for the better.

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Caroline Cooper

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