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April 25, 2016

How to Give Feedback

Bruce Murray

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Imagine being forever immune to heart attacks and strokes because you take a daily dose of medication. Great! But there's a little hitch. The medication can be very sour and it takes 10 minutes to prepare. Would you take the medication or just hope that your heart is strong enough without it?

This question is a metaphor for what faces a manager. The medication – called giving feedback – does indeed take some time. When your feedback is negative, the tone of the conversation can be sour. When it is infrequent, the metaphor's heart ailments are poor workplace performance, unmotivated disengagement, and your best employees walking out the door to find it somewhere else.

A busy manager might object by saying, "My annual performance reviews are up to date." This is a lame excuse because, as GE and IBM now acknowledge, once-a-year feedback just doesn't cut it any more. Arlene Hirsch reports that a TriNet study showed that 69 per cent of the Millennials who took part find the traditional performance review faulty.

Gen X and Boomers want feedback, but Millennials need it. Haydn Shaw reminds us that, “Millennials grew up with highly involved parents coaching them, instant access online to grades, and thousands of texts with their friends… Fewer than one in 10 Millennials think weekly communication is enough. In fact, 35 percent want it multiple times a day, while 25 percent think once a day is fine” [emphasis added].

Start by telling your people that you want to provide more feedback and ask them how they want it. Brief face-to-face meetings, email, or Twitter? Giving them the format they want will make it more effective. Overall, because you’ll offer feedback more often, there's no need for the pomp of the annual review. Keep your feedback brief and informal.

A Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) study found that positive reinforcement is far more effective than negative. It's best when it goes beyond a one-on-one conversation and, "…when direct supervisory feedback was coupled with feedback from peers and managers." So ask others for feedback about presentations, reports and projects they observe.

In short, create a culture of feedback. Let people choose whether or not their feedback is identifiable or anonymous. Give them guidance, advising them to focus on behaviors, competencies and outputs. Leave out comments about personality.

In the feedback you offer, shoot for an overall ratio of at least a 2-to-1 positive. It's often best, when giving criticism, to be direct by making it the sole topic of that discussion. Do you fear the tone of the conversation to follow? Twilio's Jeff Lawson advises that, "If you get into the habit of regular feedback, it's not confrontational; it's just the ebb and flow of conversation and a constant tweaking of how you work with somebody."

Pixar Studios uses "plussing," in which a person can only criticize someone else's idea if they also add a constructive suggestion. Marshall Goldman's blog suggests a way to bypass feedback's "focus on the past [… which is] limited and static." In his article, "Feedforward Instead of Feedback," he recommends that reviewers provide two suggestions for the future to overcome the problems they saw.

As crucial as feedback is in guiding workers to better performance, Eric Jackson offers some additional advice about it:

  • Avoid dispensing advice while you are performing other duties.
  • Be clear and specific, not vague.
  • Follow up on key topics you raise.
  • While positive feedback is good, publicly praising good performance is better.
  • On the flip side, negative feedback or criticism should be delivered in private.
  • As your feedback discussions move along, learn people's goals. Regularly discuss their next steps and how you might help.

And here's a final word on annual reviews (trust me, they aren't going away altogether). Perhaps it contains some feedback for you. If your annual review has surprises for your team member, then you had better engage in more regular communication with that person.

I'm guessing that, while you agree with the points of this blog, the voice in your head is muttering, "I'm already overworked. How can I find the time to give more feedback?" It's the Age of the App. Forbes' Josh Bersin's long article describes the value and mechanics of feedback apps before identifying a slew of them.

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4 comments on “How to Give Feedback”

  1. Outsourcing the work is sometimes easiest and sometimes toughest task. So, proper deadlines must be met so as to satisfy the clients while working as a freelancer. Meeting the deadlines and proper organized routine work with time management may lighten the stress level which shows the good results.

    1. Starting off in a way where everybody knows what is expected of him/her definitely helps. It also makes the feedback process easier in the end! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Giving feedback is good when give feedback to your official who understand what feedback is alabout when executing a task.

    1. You need to give feedback to an employee as soon as you can. If you wait too long, the feedback loses impact. Feedback must also be specific and relevant to the task executed.

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