A couple of weeks ago I ran a session for some senior leaders on Delivering Effective Feedback. At the start of the session I mentioned that feedback is a topic that both excites and frustrates me in equal measure.
Exciting? When feedback is delivered well i.e. at the appropriate time and in the appropriate way, it really can be a gift. I believe it’s one of the single most powerful tools we have at our disposal to enable others to develop.
On the other hand it frustrates me. So many of us have had negative experiences of receiving feedback. Hearing the dreaded words ‘Can I give you some feedback?’ sends a pre-emptive chill down the spine of many a recipient. I’m convinced these negative experiences result from the fact that too few of us have been trained or coached on how to deliver effective feedback. Consequently that feedback can feel like a slap in the face, leaving the receiver alienated or disengaged, rather than motivated and more self-aware.
Research by Leadership IQ suggests that fewer than half of us know if we’re doing a decent job at work – because of the lack of feedback we receive. There may also be a temptation to shy away from delivering ‘constructive’ feedback, where we’ve identified an opportunity for the receiver to do things differently, because it feels like a more difficult conversation than one containing ‘positive’ feedback or praise. This notion of finding it tougher to present constructive as opposed to positive feedback lay at the heart of the session I delivered to the senior leaders. As one stakeholder so elegantly put it during the needs analysis discussion: ‘We need to move from being a nice culture to being a kinder culture’. In the current ‘nice’ culture, little constructive feedback was being offered for fear of creating tension or conflict. In the ‘kinder’ culture, individuals should see it as their duty to others to highlight, in a constructive manner, ways in which their colleagues could further develop their performance.
So, how do we ensure that the feedback we give is well received? Numerous feedback frameworks exist, many of which have their merits. There isn’t one specific approach that we at Flame recommend to the exclusion of all others. Indeed, as we’ll explore in a future article it’s our belief that the choice of how best to deliver feedback should be made on a situational basis. However, as a minimum, we would suggest that any piece of effective feedback (positive or constructive) should contain three elements:
Action – What’s the behaviour you observed? What did the person say/do?
Impact – What was the result or outcome of that behaviour?
Do – What should the person continue to do/do more of? (Positive). Or what do we recommend the person does differently next time? (Constructive)
So if I was looking to praise or reinforce a behaviour through giving feedback I could say:
“Jane, I noticed that when you spoke to that customer you avoided using industry jargon, instead speaking in a language the customer could truly understand (Action).
As a result they’re now fully aware of how our services can meet their needs (Impact).
Moving forward I’d encourage you to continue to use language that’s appropriate for each individual customer (Do). Well Done!”
The same approach works just as powerfully for constructive feedback:
“John, during the last team meeting I noticed that you talked over Steven a couple of times (Action).
After the second occasion Steven stopped contributing, which means we’ve potentially missed out on other valuable thoughts he has (Impact).
In future meetings I’d encourage you to allow others to finish talking before presenting your thoughts (Do). That should ensure everyone feels heard and remains engaged.”
As we’ll cover in a subsequent post, trust between the giver and the receiver is a pre-requisite if feedback is to be effectively received, particularly if the feedback is constructive. Moreover, if the Action, Impact and Do elements are incorporated, that feedback is far more likely to feel like a gift than a slap in the face.