Last week, we talked about the power and importance of giving “actionable” feedback. I told the story of the Vice President who gave feedback that was not informative or motivational. There was no clear direction or suggestions on what could be done to improve. It was not “actionable.”
So this week, I want to focus on “how” to give “actionable” feedback.
The most powerful way to give “actionable” feedback is to respectfully share what you’ve observed, deconstruct it together, and create a vision of a better way forward.
Here are few specific suggestions on how to do this:
Be Timely. Bringing up issues from the past (more than one week old) is never motivating. Immediately give feedback while the facts and behaviors are still fresh. Waiting till the next review cycle to raise an issue rarely brings desired change.
- Prepare your comments. Giving feedback is serious stuff. It can be either motivating or painful to the receiver. So plan what you want to say carefully and be prepared for questions and maybe even a little pushback.
- Limit the focus. During a feedback session you should discuss no more than two issues. Any more than that and you risk making the person on the receiving end feel attacked, demoralized, or even overwhelmed.
- Don’t be fake. Positive or negative, don’t mask the issue with insincerity or over-the-top praise. People see through this, and it undermines the message that you want to pass.
- Make it Regular. Feedback is a process that should be routine. When something needs to be said, say it. People need to know where they stand. There should be no surprises. This is not a once-a-year or a once-a-quarter event. Feedback should be given often – perhaps every week or even every day, depending on the situation.
- Be specific. Clearly frame the actions or behaviors you want to discuss. State what you observed and felt. Provide examples of what can be done differently in the future. Again it’s important to be specific. Giving general feedback such as, “You did an awesome job,” without being specific on why you liked the work, often seems “shallow,” “mechanical,” and more like “cheerleading.”
- Answer the “what” and “why” questions. For each feedback issue try to answer “what” you liked (or disliked), and “why” you felt this way. An example, “When you interrupted Bill at the team meeting, I thought it was disruptive. It showed a lack of respect towards our team rule that encourages open dialogue. Your action stopped the dialogue and threw the meeting off course.”
- Use the “I” word. Use phrases like, “I saw this…,” as opposed to, “You did this…” Making accusation statements often puts the receiver on the defensive which can limit their ability to listen. Clearly state what you saw and frame the issue from your perspective.
- Criticize in Private. No one want to look bad in front of his/her peers. It’s belittling and demeaning. If you have something critical to say, close the door, and have the conversation in private. This way, they can focus on what you’re saying and not on what others are hearing.
- Use the sandwich technique. When you need to be critical, start first with something that was well done. Then state what needs to improve. Finish with something positive about the person. This technique is useful for those who are sensitive or already hold themselves to high standards.
- Follow-up. Sometime receiving “critical” feedback can be hard. I like to check back a day or so later after giving feedback to see if there are any lingering doubts, concern, or questions. I ask the person receiving the feedback how they felt about our session. I let them know that I’m available if they have further questions. The point is to insure communication channels are open.
Some find giving feedback to be hard since it can raise emotions for both giver and receiver. The key to controlling emotions is to create an environment where feedback is viewed as a crucial component of development. If the receiver realizes that feedback is valuable, and it serves their best interests, then they will welcome the input.
Before giving feedback make sure you remind yourself why you’re doing it. The purpose of giving feedback is to improve work quality or performance. You won’t accomplish that by being unclear, harsh, overly critical, or offensive. You get the most from people when your approach is focused on positive change.
I hope this 2 part post helped you to understand the importance and the mechanics of giving “actionable” feedback. I encourage you to try the suggestions given here and experience the power of giving feedback. Please feel free to share comments of what you have learned.