Five Steps to Giving Feedback

Feedback is the oil in the engine of teamwork: keep it flowing and the engine can operate at a high level with no damage, let it dry up and your engine could seize up or fail completely, potentially beyond repair.

While most leaders would agree with this analogy, most do not ensure that regular feedback is a part of their organization’s culture. They miss an easy way to make performance improvements, improve morale and develop employees. Feedback is avoided for many reasons: fear of an emotional reaction, fear of retaliation, or the lack of a strategy for having the conversation. The problem is, the issue that is driving a need for feedback will not go away on its own, but tends to get worse until the person cannot stand it anymore. This leads to “drive-by” feedback: a quick hit of why you are driving me crazy, then a quick escape. On the receiving side, even employees who want to improve fear having to defend themselves or agree to something they do not really believe.

The solution lies in leadership modeling of feedback, and the use of some simple but powerful guidelines for giving, or better yet, exchanging, feedback. It is an organizational truism that the higher one goes in an organization, the less feedback one gets. So start by asking for feedback from others, and then be very careful not to get defensive. Then try to act in a visible way on the feedback. This will show the organization you are willing to “go first” and lead the way before you ask others to make a change. If feedback is the “breakfast of champions,” you will need to eat the first meal yourself.

Successful feedback must be focused on three key dimensions: results, process and relationship. The feedback must increase results, use a clear process and lead to enhanced, rather than diminished, relationships. This can be done by following these guidelines:

1. Choose when to give the feedback: If you are too angry or upset yourself, you will not be able to give the feedback in a respectful way. Wait until you cool down. Also, find a time and place which allows the employee to hear the feedback (especially negative) in private and a time when they can handle it emotionally, but do not wait so long that they can no longer act on the input. Positive feedback should be given quickly, when the employee is still “sweating from the effort.”

2. Describe the behavior in as objective language as possible and be specific. Words like “bad attitude” will not be understand and will seem judgmental.

3. State the impact of the behavior on you, the team, the goal, the client, etc. Saying what the impact is allows the receiver of the feedback to better understand why they should change or at least consider the input.

4. Make a suggestion or request. You may ask them to change a behavior that is not working, to continue or do more of an effective behavior, or to simply understand your point of view. “You are not well organized” is a criticism, not feedback. Have a concrete action in mind so the employee has a clear path to improvement.

5. Lastly, check for understanding and be open to alternative views. There may be relevant facts you are unaware of and asking for a response avoids just dumping on the employee and damaging the relationship.

Originally published at Used by permission.

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