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Stop Giving Feedback and Start Asking

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Recently, many people have asked me about my thoughts on feedback. First, I would love to rename the term ‘feedforward’ because the information shared should help people progress toward a goal or improved performance. Not that there is one way to skin a cat, but there are definitely a few outdated approaches that do not support performance improvement.

Second, if you are still using the sandwich method, please stop immediately! The sandwich method is giving a nice compliment about a person’s skill, behavior, or action, then giving the constructive information, and finalizing with another positive. The problem with the sandwich method is it’s usually all bread and no meat. The meat or the constructive feedback is what people crave and need to properly move the needle. The positives typically dilute the areas of opportunity.

Now that this is out of the way, let’s discuss a better approach to give feedback.

In my conversations with leaders and employees, I have noticed people are commonly doing 3 things wrong:

1. Giving Constructive Feedback Only

Regular development discussions should incorporate opportunities for positive and constructive feedback. Since we are human and mostly want to grow and improve, we tend to focus on what can be done better. But what are you doing to ensure people’s strengths are highlighted? Without knowing what to do more of, we can over focus on what not to do. People need to know their strengths just as well as their areas of opportunity.

How you do this:

Request feedback from peers and leaders and ask for 2 things:

  • what strengths to build on

  • what areas to refocus

Individuals who are naturally good or experienced in a skill typically do not recognize their strength in it. By taking time to ask your colleagues what you bring to the table, they will help you master a skill and help others become smarter in that area too. Explicitly ask these two questions and make it a habit.

Recently, when talking with my colleagues, we decided that we focus heavily on what we can do better but we all admire each other for strengths that help us do our own job better. We decided to plan a session to talk about what each other brings to the table and why we appreciate their talents and how it helps us improve in our own tasks. I’ll let you know how it goes.

2. Asking for Permission

For a long time, performance management gurus were preaching for people to ask, “Do I have permission to offer you friendly feedback?” The problem with unsolicited feedback is there is still a level of threat associated with this question even if you have a good relationship. Not saying that managers or colleagues should not ever ask permission to deliver feedback, but by putting measures in place to allow the receiver to ASK for feedback creates a better environment and leads to increased performance. Improved performance is the point of giving feedback anyway, right?

How you do this:

Train people (whether you’re a leader or not) to ask for feedback about specific things and from a variety of people whether it be clients, peers, leaders, or others that you work with. Have a regularly scheduled feedback session based on your operating rhythm. Whether you have a busy season, at the end of a project, during a project, every 2 weeks, once a month, etc. This gives individuals the opportunity to ask about what worked and didn’t from a variety of sources and in a timely manner. People walk in less scared and more receptive to the feedback they receive.

3. Offering Giver-Driven Feedback

In the old school world of work, managers knew more of the technical role, but that’s not necessarily the case anymore. Teams are filled with a variety of experiences and strengths in which the leader helps draw them together to meet business needs. Therefore, managers should not be the only ones offering feedback to employees. Chances are colleagues are likely to see holes in performance that affect one another’s work, even more than the leader. Also, it can seem directive coming solely from the leader and is unlikely to help a person improve and in the worst case, cause more harm in the relationship.

How you do this:

Peer-to-peer is the most well-received form of feedback and has a higher correlation with performance improvement, so what measures do you have in place to create an environment for this? My team does project-based work, so as soon as we launch a pilot program, we immediately have a huddle and discuss what went wrong and what went well. We include content, facilitation, materials, and logistics in the discussion. It is both expected and beneficial for everyone involved to share their perspective. Overall, there is a low level of threat because we all anticipate sharing at a designated time. How would this method look in your work space?

One last quick tip that people have found very helpful:

Stay authentic to yourself and the culture of your team, department, and organization. If something is scripted, then your conversation could come off as directive, fake, and will most likely hurt your relationship with the person you’re communicating with. Make sure the conversation sounds like a regular discussion you and this person would normally have and not like you are having a feedback session.

What methods or tips around feedback have you tried that work or didn’t work? How do your teams or colleagues improve performance with feedback?

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