The Power of Giving “Actionable” Feedback (Part 1)

MP900341388I listened intently to the Vice President as she passed me in the hallway, “Nice job on that business case. It gave me something to work with. I’ll clean it up, shorten it, and then show it to the board. Good work!” In her mind she’d given feedback that should have informed and motivated me. What I heard did just the opposite. Why? Because the feedback I was given was not “actionable.”

I’d worked and struggled with the business case for over a week; finishing it up the prior evening well past 2 a.m. I wanted feedback as this was something new to me, a little outside my comfort zone. The feedback I received raised more questions (“something to work with,” “clean it up,” “I will shorten it”) than it answered. It gave no clear direction or suggestions as to what I could do to improve. An important opportunity for learning was lost.

Read Part 2 of the series, “How to Give Actionable Feedback,” by clicking here.

The objectives of “actionable” feedback are to influence future behaviors and improve quality of work. They can be achieved by offering praise or correction. In either case, you are looking to either reinforce or alter how someone does something in the future based on learning from the past. The primary goal is to provide an opportunity for improvement to those receiving the feedback.

Giving “actionable” feedback is a powerful and important function of being a leader. It’s a critical component of development. There are four key benefits:

  • It makes your job easier. The receiver will ultimately act in ways that you want, and deliver what you need.
  • It makes their job easier. The receiver will know where they stand. They’re not guessing or worse, thinking something is ok when it’s not.
  • Allows growth and development. They learn how to handle different situations and develop confidence in themselves to do so effectively.
  • It builds loyalty. Helping others to learn and grow builds loyalty as they see you’re working for their best interests.

The key to giving “actionable feedback” is to be specific. Feedback becomes actionable only if there are examples of what was done well or what could be done differently in the future. My VP could have said that my business case needed to be shorter by “x’ pages. Or, that I should have elaborated on the section describing the project benefits. Maybe, I just needed fewer words; so a little more aggressive editing was required. In any case, the receiver must leave the conversation with firm ideas, and specific examples, of what to do in the future.

The same approach is used when praising performance as you want to reinforce what was done well (so that it gets repeated). My VP could have stated what she specifically liked about my business case. Perhaps she could have said, “Your financial analysis was well done, complete and easy to understand.” With this feedback I would surely continue to use the same model.

When you make a conscious choice to give feedback you empower others to be productive and effective. Done properly, giving “actionable” feedback won’t be agonizing, or daunting, and the more practice you get, the better you will become at it. It may never be your favorite way of communicating with others, but it can make you a more respected, influential, and even sought-out leader. That’s powerful feedback we’d all like to hear!

Still stuck on agonizing and daunting? Next week we’ll discuss the mechanics behind giving “actionable” feedback. I hope you check back on this site next Monday, March 24, for Part 2, “How to Give Actionable Feedback.”

Now I’d like to hear from you. Do you give “actionable’ feedback? What tips can you share?

Read Part 2 of this series on feedback, “How to Give Actionable Feedback,” by clicking here.

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About Dale Myers

A San Francisco Bay Area Project and Program Expert
This entry was posted in Managing People and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Power of Giving “Actionable” Feedback (Part 1)

  1. Paulina G. says:

    “Actionable” but also Timely and Well-Framed, accordingly to the capabilities of receiver.

    • Dale Myers says:

      Thank you for commenting Paulina. Next week I will cover how to give “actionable” feedback. I will surely incorporate timely and well-framed into my next post. Thanks again for visiting – hope to see you back next week!

  2. Sheila Llewellyn says:

    As a Program Manager, but not an actual “People” Manager, I sometimes struggle with giving feedback to the Project Managers who work with me. This article is just what I needed to put this into perspective and give me perspective on how to give feedback to PMs who work for me, but not for me. Thanks!

    • Dale Myers says:

      Thank you Sheila for reading and commenting. There can be a lot of stress in giving (and getting) feedback; especially when it’s negative. I suggest just practicing giving feedback – even outside the office. You can practice your “I” statements (from my 2nd blog post on how to give feedback) and the “What and “Why” statements anywhere. I love to do this in my local Starbucks – or even with me wife (she rolls her eyes a lot). After a while it just becomes second nature. One idea – every time you say something like, “you did a great job” or “I don’t like this” – think about what you are saying this (even keep a log). To be specific you have to express – why you think it was a great job or what in particular you disliked about something. I hope that this makes sense to you. If not, please contact me and I will be happy to provide some suggestions. Thanks once again for your comment.

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