The trouble with feedback
Over the past three weeks I have been working client engagements where we were teaching and practicing techniques on giving behaviorally anchored feedback in the work environment. There are a lot of good models out there, and at their core when done well they all have a similar cadence.
- Focus the person’s attention to the time and place where a behavior occurred that is causing you to give feedback
- Describe what the person did or said
- Talk about the effect that behavior had on you or the group without passing judgment (i.e. “I was disappointed” rather than “you are always late with project deliverables, that’s unprofessional”)
When done well this type of feedback is developmental in nature, meaning it invites a conversation between the parties with the intention of creating learning. That seems straight forward enough, but I watched very talented managers just struggle with doing it. I asked the participants in the sessions to describe the nature of their difficulties and their responses helped me identify a few key areas of concern that I believe may help folks who also want to be good at feedback, know the techniques involved, but somehow have struggled with delivery.
5 Things to remember
- Am I going to manage or develop this person right now? This is a question you must answer before you give feedback and follow through on consistently to do feedback well. Many managers reported that their jobs are to make judgements about people and their performance all of the time, so the mental shift to a coaching and development conversation is difficult.
- Be sure to describe the behavior rather than using a label that is your interpretation of the behavior. For many managers this was hard because their brains very quickly aggregated the behavior, and tagged it as something; rude, professional, good leadership, aggressive. It turns out that at the pace of work folks had a hard time going back to figure out where that attribution came from. A simple question might help, if you can ask yourself, “What evidence do I have to support that statement?” you will find yourself describing behaviors. The rude person judgement was made because an individual, spoke over you, cut you off, and turned their back to you at the conference table, those are behaviors.
- Developmental feedback does not just mean constructive, or negative. This tip goes to the question of, why am I going to give this feedback? Our motivation for taking the time to give developmental feedback is to help people become more aware of the repercussions of their actions BOTH positively and negatively. We want to reinforce and encourage those behaviors that created positive outcomes, and help foster alternative choices for those behaviors that were negatively perceived.
- Any feedback is better than no feedback. Three stats from a 2011 Gallup survey on employee engagement should get our attention:
- Managers giving little or no feedback to their workers fail to engage 98% of them and managers giving little or no feedback to employees result in 4 out of 10 workers being actively disengaged.
- Employees receiving predominantly negative feedback from their manager are over 20 times more likely to be engaged than those receiving little or no feedback
- Managers focusing on employee strengths are 30 times more likely to manage actively engaged workers compared with managers denying feedback.
- Keep feedback constant and on the top of your agenda. Poorly delivered feedback can be devastating, and if we don’t practice it we don’t get good at it. The cadence of communication at work should include accurate, factual, complete, behaviorally anchored feedback delivered in a timely fashion.