Feedback is a ninja leadership skill when done well- it helps others improve exponentially, it helps build a learning culture, it helps support an agile / lean environment. But done poorly, it can have serious ramifications for your leadership and culture - a lack of trust, openness, people pushing things under the carpet. Check out these six ways people regularly screw up giving feedback, and see what I recommend to do instead.
1.Get it off your chest.
Instead: Wait until you are calm. Focus on what you are trying to achieve. You need to come at it from what you are trying to achieve, not just on trying to make yourself feel better. By focussing on yourself, you are not focussing on them, and by doing that you are less likely to achieve what you want.
2. Tell them what they are doing wrong.
Instead: Focus 70% of the time on the things they are doing well. This way, when you need to give corrective feedback it will have more weight. Some leaders believe they don’t need to let people know they are doing a good job, as they already know. Meanwhile if you talk to these people, often in the absence of feedback they will assume something is wrong. There is nothing wrong with giving lots of genuine positive and specific feedback.
3. Be the primary giver of the feedback.
Instead: Encourage other people to appraise their own performance. By encouraging the person to appraise their own performance, it will be much more powerful, easier for everyone, and increases the chances of a change in behaviour. This is easy to do by asking “What went well”. “What would you do differently next time”. Only come in with your recommendations after the person has appraised themselves. You may well be surprised at how much their assessment covers what you had to say.
4. Create a script and then perfect it.
Instead: Tailor your delivery to the person. Everyone is different, however often they are different in predictable ways. Hippocrates first noted the four different personalities, or as he called them, temperaments, way back in about 400BC. Because we are all different, approaching feedback in the same way for everyone is only going to work about 25% of the time. For example, some people like to be told directly, for others that will crush them. For some people it will be exceptionally important to have concrete examples, others will take on board more generalised feedback.
5. Focus on the past.
Instead: Focus on the future. Regardless how much we may want to, it is impossible to go back to the past. The key is to learn our lessons from it, and then move on, applying those to the future. As such, it works best with feedback to always look to the future, and determine what we have learnt that we can apply in future. Or what you need to see change in future for things to work out.
6. Give it immediately.
Instead: Choose the right time and right place. Timely feedback is extremely important - however it is better to delay it slightly until it is the right time and right place than give it immediately. Aim for the same or next day. Find a quiet place free from distractions and with enough time (budget more than you think is necessary). It is important that both you and other person are emotionally calm and ready to have a discussion. Wait for this to happen.
Feedback is essential to high performance. If you want to build a high performance learning culture, and equip your leaders to lead well, then it’s worthwhile embedding some simple feedback strategies.
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