This week I’ve had several conversations with clients and their management teams on giving feedback.
The giving and receiving of feedback is probably one of the most vital skills in management.
According to Ken Blanchard: “Feedback is the breakfast of champions“
The aim of any feedback is to motivate and encourage more of what they do well, and identify areas where there’s room for improvement.
But, many managers shy away from giving feedback for fear that it won’t be accepted, that they will be challenged on it and put in an awkward situation.
Feedback can be badly received when it’s:
- Too generalised – not specific enough for effective action to be taken
- Too personal – based on the person, not the issue(s)
- Based on something which is not within their power to do anything about
- Heavily critical – without suggestions for improvement
- Focused exclusively on the past – recent changes/improvements not taken into account
- Based on hearsay and gossip – not enough facts to support the arguments
- An excuse to seek blame – rather than seeking solutions
Giving Effective Feedback
The main reasons for giving feedback are: Motivational when you are giving praise for a job well done and developmental when you want to see some improvement.
An effective feedback model is A I D
This approach is based on fact rather than your personal interpretation, so removes any subjectivity and the potential for conflict.
Here are the three key situations for giving feedback within the workplace.
- When all is going well – feedback and praise.
- Mixed performance – feedback mixed with positive and corrective action.
- When all is not well – feedback to address under-performance. *(see not below)
This model works equally well in all three.
If it can be argued with it’s poor feedback!
AID in more detail
Report on your observations. What did the person do?
- Describe as factually as possible i.e. what has been seen or heard
- Feedback on successes as well as where improvements are needed
- Build confidence by highlighting positive behaviours and actions
- Focus on behaviour not personality or attitude
- How likely is it they can do anything about it? Focus on things which are within their control to change
- Are you the source of the problem? (e.g. mixed messages, or lack of resources)
- Take ownership of the feedback, not relying on rumours and hearsay
- Use pre-determined standards as the yardstick
If you’re feeding back on something that’s been reported to you through a third party (e.g. a customer complaint) focus on what the customer said rather than your interpretation, or the customer’s interpretation of what this means.
For example: instead of saying “you were rude to that customer” (which is someone else’s interpretation) you might say “I’ve had this feedback….” And then state what the customer said. You can follow this up by asking for their view of what happened.
What impact did their actions have on the result? This is the reason you’re giving the feedback, because of the end result whether good or bad, 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 it’s good performance, reinforce how positive actions have helped
- When a change is needed ask them why actions have been ineffective. Getting their view helps get buy-in
- Link to something that is important to them, rather than what’s important to you
- Check they understand the implications
Do differently or Develop
- How can good performance be built upon or emulated?
- Ask them to suggest improvements or alternatives
- Focus on what’s missing rather than what’s gone wrong
- Ensure the outcome you want is clear
- Check their understanding of what to do in future
- Demonstrate your confidence in them and offer support
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. Putting the emphasis on what is missing (rather than what is wrong) builds on strengths or positives so is far more likely to engender enthusiasm.
Limit the number of actions you comment on to 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).
The more you can involve the team member in the conversation the better.
Use open questions to encourage them to tell you as much as possible, rather than you telling them. For example, you might tell them what your observations have been, but ask them what led to this, what the implications might be and ask them to suggest how they could do things differently in future.
When all is not well and the prime focus is on under-performance it’s easy to dilute the main message. If you need an improvement, make this clear. Starting and ending with praise (often referred to as the ‘praise sandwich’) can help keep it positive, but can detract from your main message if your intention is improvement.
- Be direct, don’t sugar coat the message.
- Be sincere.
- Give praise where it is due.
- When it’s not, make it clear that you need to see improvements or changes.
- Avoid being side tracked by any of the feedback blockers.
- Preserve the other person’s self esteem.
- Deliver bad news in a non-critical way.
- Concentrate on your pitch and tone so that valuable information is not seen as a complaint, criticism, whinge or nag.
Timing and planning
- Give feedback as soon after the event as you can, but ensuring privacy if appropriate (praise in public, reprimand in private).
- When giving feedback based on a longer period e.g. in an appraisal situation, the more recent the example, the more impact it will have.
- Ensure the timing is appropriate for the individual to take on it board (e.g. avoid times when they are under tight time pressures, or about to start something for which they need total focus).
- What condition are you in to give feedback right now – do any of the above apply to you, or are you angry about the way they have handled something and need time to cool off.
- Consider your motives before giving feedback i.e. what do you want the end result to be?
- Be prepared for their reaction, and how you will respond.
Given in a constructive way feedback can not only improve performance but can raise morale, build rapport and promote initiative.