I 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.
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?