At this point in the series, you’re well aware that the purpose of feedback is to strengthen or reinforce those positive behaviors that promote high performance, and to eliminate or change those behaviors that detract from performance. Feedback is a powerful tool that is all too often misapplied or ignored.
By now, you also know that I emphasize planning as an important part of delivering effective feedback. As you gain experience constructing and engaging in feedback discussions, much of the planning will be in your mind, however, early on as a new leader, prior planning on paper will indeed help your feedback performance.
In part 1, we tackled the issues of fear and anxiety that keeps so many new leaders from engaging in or conducting effective feedback discussions. Part 2 emphasized the importance of assessing the feedback situation and establishing a direction for the upcoming discussion.
Now, it’s time to understand and begin assembling the key ingredients in every feedback discussion.
The Key Ingredients in Effective Feedback Discussions:
1. A Behavioral Focus. Effective feedback is behavioral in nature. Instead of focusing on something intangible like a perceived attitude, it emphasizes specific behaviors that you’ve observed in the workplace.
A simple example: “You really messed that presentation up today,” might be true, but it’s not behavioral. Describing the areas where the presentation went awry is essential to gaining any future performance improvement from this discussion.
In order to do a good job linking feedback to behaviors, you’ve got to be out there observing your team in action. Part of your job as a supervisor or manager is to observe your team members in action. Observed behaviors versus alleged behaviors serve as the foundation for effective feedback.
2. Anchored in a Business Rationale. If you don’t link the behavior to the impact that it has on the business, it comes off like an indictment. Your role is to promote performance towards company or team goals while supporting individual development and performance. When it’s presented in the context of a business rationale, it’s perceived as constructive or supportive.
3. Candid and Specific. Don’t sugarcoat the issue, don’t sandwich it between praise comments (that’s for your benefit, not the receivers), and limit the number of behaviors you cover to one per discussion. I overheard a feedback discussion recently where a manager hit an employee with 5 different feedback points in one conversation. The receiver was dizzy from the input and not certain what to do next.
4. Involves Dialog. The best feedback discussions are just that…two-way discussions. These aren’t opportunities for you to verbally machine-gun your employee or show someone who’s boss…they are opportunities to strengthen a relationship and find a way forward to improve performance in support of the business.
5. Timely delivery. For most situations, the closer to the observed behavior you can deliver the feedback, the better the opportunity to promote strengthening or change. While many manager delay these discussions because they are uncomfortable with the idea of “criticizing” an employee (see Part 1), the best feedback is served warm. An exception to the sooner is better rule might be made for an emotionally charged situation where one or both parties are fired up. In this scenario, establish a time for a discussion the next day.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
The recipe for effective feedback isn’t complicated, but it does require consistent and timely application of the core ingredients. And while the topic of positive feedback will be covered in dedicated post in this series, it’s important to know that you deliver positive feedback (in separate discussions from constructive feedback) using all of the same ingredients. The exception might be that I recommend a 2:1 ratio of positive-to-constructive feedback. It’s good form and it makes your constructive feedback all the more credible.
Up Next in the Series: Planning your opening sentence.
Much like the guidance in part 2, where I encourage you to take a few moments and assess where you want the feedback discussion to go in advance of delivering it, take the time to begin thinking through each of the above “key ingredients” before launching into a presentation. Develop a deliberate strategy for incorporating each ingredient. Keep a log of your feedback experiences in a journal and note the changes in the quality as you become more deliberate about planning your feedback. Also, note the areas where the discussion veers off course or becomes uncomfortable. We’ll continue to hone strategies for conducting effective discussions throughout the series.
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An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.