Feedback that works (for everyone)

Feedback is an important, but unfortunately very poorly managed activity. Employees avoid it conciously because they feel it is useless or they are afraid of bad news. Managers don’t take the time to do it because they do not feel comfortable giving potentially bad news. So it usually disappears in the midst of other emergencies in our over-busy schedules. And then it comes, once a year, and it is really bad, giving us even less incentive to do it next time.

Yet, few activities are so simple, bonding, and useful – when handled the right way.

Let’s look at this under a new light.

Why do we need feedback in the first place?

The main benefits of feedback I see are:

  • align team members’ efforts with the team goals
  • help employees grow their talents and address pitfalls
  • bring a sense and culture of accountability
  • correct course throughout the year
  • accelerate staff and managers learning curve
  • support promotions, raises and other decisions
  • avoid year-end surprises and disappointments

Believe it or not, all these fundamentals of business and personal growth can be achieved with a couple of simple steps. Yes. You can get it all: performing, happy team members and good results. Just by handling this one process well.

What should we do to give, and get, feedback well?

We just need to address six topics, preferably in this order:

  1. Staff’s attitudes, behaviors and skills
  2. Personal goals and motives
  3. Contribution to team goals
  4. Manager’s attitudes, behaviors and skills
  5. Context
  6. Re(de)fine or change goals

Except for point 6, the point of sharing is not to obtain an agreement, but to get an understanding of each party’s viewpoint. It is up to each individual to then internalize, accept, reject, etc. We will speak about this another time. But the fundamental is to at least provide the feedback, and hear and capture the feedback. Once this is done, the rest can happen in its own time.

How can I give feedback?

Few things require more skills than delivering news that could sound bad. The following tips will help you grow the person, the relationships and their results, at the same time.

  • Do it often. Things take a sudden wrong turn. Situations change. For these reasons alone, you should provide and get feedback as reasonably often as you I can. But the more profound reason is that you can change only when you know what to change. You can only improve what you measure. Everyone knows that. What we forget is that we can only improve it when we measure it. No new measurement, new insight to adjust or improve. Remember things become bad only when left alone for too long. So: once a month for a great performer, once every other week for an average one, and once a week for a poor performer.
  • Do it softly. Being honest does not mean being brutal. The expression brutally honest does not suggest more honesty. It just means more brutality. So think of the way you can say things just strongly enough that people hear the part that says “you need to change”, but not so strongly that they will hear “you are a moron, you freakin’ excel monkey”, as I heard verbatim at a former client. So: Rehearse. Use words that would stand as your last. Qualify your position. Indicate what you see, the impact it has, what you would like to change. Then ask a question in return.
  • Do it quickly. No point to spend an hour on feedback. actually, yhe more time you spend, the more your key points will get lost in the midst of the rest. So: 15 to 20 minutes as the target, 30 minutes if there is some hard issue. The pending of this is that you should Focus on one thing. You can always focus on other things the next time.
  • Do it in person. Like so many other things, over the phone or online doesn’t even start to compare with the real thing in person. Feedback is not something to provide by email without a prior conversation. There are a few reasons for that. First, people are really bad a giving feedback, and even worse at receiving it. Second, because chat and email are terrible media when it comes to conveying the tone or intention of your words. Third, there is no course correction once an email has been sent.
  • Be prepared. The least you can do is to think about it before the meeting. Ideally, you will be organized enough that you do not even have to spend time thinking about it, because your bias will come out more than anything. Ideally, you will be organized enough to have captured facts as they appeared in the course of business, and took very brief notes to remind you the events, the behaviors, the impressions these left in you, and the changes you recommend.
  • Make it an event. The feedback will obviously be much better received if you show you care. Doing over a coffee instead of your office doesn’t weaken your message or authority. It just shows you care. You may, and likely should, start as an open discussion, so the right topics arise and the bond gets created. But by the end, it is important to get the discipline to capture what was shared, on both sides.
  • Look forward. The past is the past. The only thing you can do about are to forget (at your own risks, but it may be good at times), to learn, or to simply remember and let it go. That leaves the future. So you can start by asking the question: “what do we do now?”, or providing pieces of an answer to that question. You will see that it carries way more weight than “You did well / poorly”.

Now, think about the one person who really needs feedback, and give them a call. Invite them for a coffee. [Disclaimer: the author does not own any stock in any coffee provider, retailer or coffee chain].

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