Guide to effective feedback
Updated: Nov 24, 2020
Feedback tends to have a bad connotation at the workplace. Employees are scared to provide or receive feedback. We highlighted this in another post: why we are so afraid of feedback. One big reason why employees are scared is because employees don’t know how to exchange effective feedback. When done correctly, feedback can be one of the most powerful tools to develop and motivate employees.
So, what makes feedback effective? With this post, we hope to help you think about feedback in a more structured way. If your organization has a great feedback culture already, let us know what we missed! By the way, keep in mind that all of these points apply to both positive and negative feedback.
1) Effective feedback is constructive. Make sure your feedback is focused on behaviors and forward-looking, not traits or backward-looking.
2) Effective feedback is objective. It's often impossible to get to the "truth", but make unconscious bias training mandatory and enable 360 feedback.
3) Effective feedback is continuous. Share feedback more frequently to reduce recency bias.
4) Effective feedback is relevant. Make sure feedback is specifically related to the receivers' goals, objectives, and career path.
5) Effective feedback is direct and kind. Go check out Radical Candor by Kim Scott.
First and foremost, effective feedback is constructive. In our minds, constructive feedback means the following:
· Action-based, not trait-based.
· Effort-based, not result-based.
· Forward-looking, not just backwards.
Action-based feedback focuses on specific actions, instead of traits that the receiver (seems to) portray (in your mind). “Do not tell your kids that they are smart” is a saying that you may have heard if you are a parent – it’s the same principle. There is a real science behind this (check out growth-mindset by Dr. Carol Dweck). When you focus your feedback on actions, it allows the receiver to understand what to do and what not to do next time. On the other hand, when you focus your feedback on traits, the receiver can't do much to change his/her traits. Also, most people get defensive when you comment on their traits.
Let’s walk through a fun example. When someone tells you “you look really good” - while it sounds pleasant, it is not constructive because it doesn’t tell you how you can keep looking good. It's difficult to know what made you look good that day - was it the hair? The shoes? The shirt? On the other hand, if someone tells you “I like the way you did your hair today”. You know exactly what to do next time you want to look good. Make it actionable!
Effort-based feedback focuses on strategy, effort, and process that the receiver took. Typically, strategy, effort, and process are under people's control - you choose your own strategy, put in more or less effort, and change processes at your own will. Results, on the other hand, are driven by many, many different variables - most of which are not under your control. Many times, there is a lot of luck involved with any given result. When you are providing feedback to develop your talent - make sure to focus on effort, not results.
Feedback should always be forward-looking, not just backwards. Most people know when they are under-performing - they just don't know what to do or are too afraid to ask for help. When providing feedback, try to spend a few minutes and either provide actionable suggestions or brainstorm with them. It will save you time down the road and help you develop more meaningful relationships.
Too much stuff to remember? Here's a cheat sheet: feedback cheat sheet.
Effective feedback is objective (or as objective as it can be). We wrote about this awhile back in another post: problems with traditional performance management. People are biased, and it's impossible to be truly objective. But you can put tools, processes, and mindsets in place to be better. Here are some tactical things we would suggest:
· Make unconscious bias training mandatory for all employees
· Enable 360 feedback by default to identify potential blind spots
· Focus on actions and behaviors, not observed traits or intentions (see #1)
· Provide tools/processes for employees to voice their opinions without fear, if they disagree with their performance feedback or reviews
· Document feedback in real-time, in one place, so that it is accessible in the future
Effective feedback is continuous. It happens in real-time, not just on December 23rd. By enabling real-time feedback in your workplace, you can minimize recency bias, celebrate accomplishments as they happen, and correct issues before they get out of hand. You can implement this in many ways - real-time notes or scheduled check-ins every week or two. One thing to remember: feedback is a double-edged sword. Continuous feedback is generally better than no feedback, but make sure your employees know how to share feedback constructively - see #1!
Effective feedback is relevant. Most employees have goals, objectives, and career paths that they care about. If you tie your feedback closely to these three aspects of their career, not only will the feedback be more relevant for them, they are more likely to listen.
5) DIRECT AND KIND
Two words: Radical Candor. If you have not checked out Radical Candor by Kim Scott, check it out below. We call it "direct and kind".