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Feedback 102 – Giving Feedback

| June 23, 2015

by Jim Bruce

Last week we began a series of Tuesday Readings on the subject of feedback:  Feedback in the workplace is the sharing of information between co-workers about the impact that their behavior is having on the team’s results, its processes, and/or its relationships.  It can be positive in the form of affirmation of specific good work a co-worker is doing.  Or, it can be in the form of correction needed in specific aspects of the work being done.

Today, we focus on Giving Feedback.  In order to give feedback, you have to be alert to activities around you where it may be appropriate for you to give feedback.  This means not only being aware of what’s going on but being willing to focus on the details; not only seeing the “headline” –­ Sam was arguing with the client at the client service desk – but also, understanding the substance.  Unfortunately, we are so busy and so heads-down, buried in our devices, that we often move past situations without even being aware of what’s going on, and thereby lose an opportunity to give feedback.

I like to think of giving feedback, as I indicated last week, in terms of six steps, stated here as six simple questions:

1  What?              What was the behavior that you observed?

2  Who?               Who was involved?

3  Where?            Where will you have your conversation with the individual?

4  Impact?           What will be the likely impact of the behavior?

5  Actions?           What actions will you suggest the feedback recipient take?

6  Understood?     Does the recipient understand the issues?

Let’s look at each of these in some detail.

What?  Behavior you have observed and which you, as a leader, want to see continued or changed, depending upon the positive or negative nature of the behavior, in order to improve performance and/or morale, and to develop your employees.  On occasion you may need or be encouraged to give feedback based on reports of others.  In these instances, it’s important to do a careful fact check to insure that you have all the details before you proceed.

It’s also important to describe the behavior involved in the most objective, specific language you can.  Words like you had a “bad attitude” will likely not be understood in the same way you understand them, and may seem judgmental and lead to an argument.  Instead, being specific, you might say, “When you were interacting with your client just now, you became angry, were not responsive to the questions asked by the client, and the client walked away with his issue unresolved.”

Who?  The individual(s) you observed.

Where?  I’m a firm believer that feedback needs to be timely, given as close in time to observation of the behavior as possible and almost always within 24 hours.  Given the fast pace of life today, instances of both good and bad behavior are often not remembered in any detail if too much time passes before the feedback is given.  Positive feedback can often be given in-place.  “Alex, may I have a moment.  I overheard your interaction with your client, just now, and I really appreciate the way you diffused the situation by smiling and affirmatively saying that you could help him.  And, you did, carefully explaining what you were doing to the client’s satisfaction.  As a result he went away smiling and satisfied.”  Note, that if this conversation were overheard by colleagues, or clients, it would be OK.  In fact the conversation might, hopefully, encourage others to step up their game.

If the conversation is corrective, you may need to schedule a time and have a private space.  However, it’s important to indicate the need for a conversation as soon as possible.  Chris and Chris’ manager were in a meeting where Chris was making a key strategic presentation.  It was terrible.  They walked away from the meeting together and the manager said, “You will do better next time.  Let’s meet later today or tomorrow at the latest.”  When they do meet, the manager can lay out the issues that were observed and together they can arrive at a development process to correct the shortcomings.

Note, in giving feedback, depending upon the situation, it may be appropriate and important to ask whether you might give the individual feedback.  It’s entirely possible that the person doesn’t want feedback or doesn’t want it at the moment.  And, that’s OK.

Impact?  Behaviors always have some impact.  Before you give your feedback, identify the expected impact.  This will help the individual receiving the feedback understand the significance of his or her actions.  When you are deeply focused on your work, you may not always think about the importance of having satisfied clients.  Or, about whether the application will be easy to use and, therefore, increase the user’s satisfaction.  Nor do we consider that when we go on a rant that is heard by a client, it impacts how the organization is seen.  Thus, it is important to connect the behavior, whether good or bad, associated with the feedback to its impact on clients and other staff.

Actions?  In almost all instances, along with the feedback you will have a request that the individual receiving the feedback take some action.  For example, with Alex in the earlier example, you might encourage him to continue being the positive example that the customer observed.  And, if Alex used some particular approach, you might encourage him to find an occasion to illustrate that approach to the team.

And, in the case of Chris, in the follow-on feedback conversation you could spell out what you expect be done to prepare for the “next time.”  That, for example, might be following a specific process in preparing, showing you an early outline for comment, etc., as well as prep sessions with you where Chris practices the presentation. 

Understood?  You will want to test whether the feedback-recipient understands the feedback and what you expect to be done as a result.  In a 1998 book Making Feedback Work, Joe Folkman writes:  “If you receive [corrective] feedback but do not change for the better, you will be perceived more negatively than if you had not received feedback.”  So, it is important that you instill the need for change.  Following-up from time-to-time to track the individual’s progress can be effective here.

The keys to being able to give helpful feedback are three-fold:  First, you need to become more aware of what is going on around you, and to pay attention to the details.  Second, you need to believe that you can change your organization by giving feedback.  And, third, we all need to take the opportunity to sharpen our feedback-giving skills and get into action.  The result will be an organization with a culture where feedback is valued.  And, that would be a good thing

Next week, we’ll continue our focus on feedback, considering receiving and asking for feedback.  Have a great week as you work on this important skill. 

.  .  .  .     jim


1  Interaction Associates, Workplace Feedback.  
2  Ruth Hill, The Situation – Behavior – Impact Feedback Tool,  
3  Carol S. Dweck, The Perils and Promises of Praise.  

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