How to Deliver On-the-Spot Feedback
Improving Performance in Real Time
"Thanks Janel, for that excellent demo. It was really clear and well presented. My only suggestion would be to start with some background information the next time, before you get on to the nitty-gritty."
Janel knew she should have added more context to the product demonstration. She thanked her boss, Harvey, for his feedback, and made a note to amend her presentation.
When she delivered the new presentation to her next client, she got a much better response. The audience seemed more engaged and interested, and it had an excellent grasp of the product by the end of the session.
Harvey's on-the-spot feedback had proved valuable. If he had waited until their next one-on-one or performance review to bring it up, it may have been too late for Janel to put it into practice, and she may have missed some vital sales opportunities.
In this article, we look at what on-the-spot feedback is, and how and when to deliver it successfully.
What Is On-the-Spot Feedback?
When you deliver feedback on the spot, you let people know how they are performing in real time. So, instead of saving up feedback for a one-on-one or a performance review, you deliver it at the first available opportunity.
This allows you to "course correct" issues as they arise, and "nip them in the bud" before they become a bad habit. It also means that feedback comes as less of a "shock" to the recipient, because you aren't waiting for your next official meeting to pass it on to him or her.
But, on-the-spot feedback doesn't always have to be about problems. It can also be used to praise good deeds before they are forgotten. This can help to reinforce and encourage positive behavior.
The Pros and Cons
Done well, on-the-spot feedback can improve performance, build confidence, and even alleviate stress. A willingness to give and receive instant feedback also encourages people to be open and collaborative, which can boost trust and rapport.
Done poorly, however, it can cause people to become confused, demotivated, and even angry, especially if the feedback comes across as negative rather than constructive. It can be particularly damaging when it's delivered publicly or at the wrong time, so it's vital to know how and when to deliver instant feedback correctly.
When Is On-the-Spot Feedback Appropriate?
Even though on-the-spot feedback is all about giving advice "in the moment," there are still some things that you'll need to consider beforehand, such as:
1. The Subject of the Feedback
Ask yourself, is the feedback:
- Positive or negative? Most people like to receive positive feedback, so give it as freely and regularly as you can. But, if you're delivering negative feedback, your discussion will likely require more time, tact and privacy.
- Significant or minor? Small points can often be raised and dealt with immediately, but a complex issue will require time and energy to fix. If a team member uses an incorrect statistic on a sales call, for example, it can be highlighted straight away. But if someone breaches data regulations, it's an issue that will need more investigation.
- Specific to a single issue or an ongoing one? On-the-spot feedback is great way to "course correct" one-off errors. But, if a team member is repeating a mistake, a more formal discussion may be needed.
When you need to address a more serious matter, it's best to save it for a formal meeting, such as a one-on-one or performance appraisal.
2. The Recipient of the Feedback
Everybody has their own way of doing things, and that includes responding to feedback. So, before you share your advice, consider who you're talking to.
How has he previously responded to feedback? Did he welcome your advice and proactively try to sort it out? Or, did he get angry and defensive? People who are resilient and have "can do" attitudes are typically more suited to on-the-spot feedback.
If someone tends to find constructive criticism difficult, on-the-spot feedback may not be right for her. Instead, take a softer approach. Give her more support by talking to her in private and taking the time to explain things to her carefully.
Be mindful when giving positive feedback, too. Not everyone enjoys public praise. Some people find it embarrassing, or may even be offended by it because of cultural differences. So, make an effort to know your people, and use your best judgment when delivering positive feedback.
Generational differences can also influence the way that people like to receive feedback. Younger team members tend to be more open to on-the-spot feedback, while older members often prefer more traditional methods like private one-on-ones or reviews. Be wary of making assumptions, though. If you're unsure of which approach people prefer, ask them!
3. The Context
Timing is everything when you're giving feedback. Providing advice to someone as you train him on a new piece of software, for example, is far more effective than saving up all of your comments for your weekly catch-up.
Consider the industry that you work in, too. In healthcare, for example, consultant doctors can't afford to wait for formal review sessions to deliver feedback to junior staff, because doing so could risk patients' lives.
Finally, choose your moment carefully. If someone is really "in the zone," it's probably best not to disturb her. However, if it's a serious problem, or if you don't think you'll have another chance to chat to her for some time, on-the-spot feedback may be your only option.
How to Deliver On-the-Spot Feedback
Once you've decided that now is the right time, use the following strategies to deliver your feedback in the right way.
- Keep it professional. Remember the reason that you're giving feedback: to improve your team member's performance. Don't allow unconscious bias or personal likes and dislikes to tarnish your judgment. Keep your emotions in check by employing good feedback practice – be tactful, respectful, considerate, and empathic.
- Make sure that your observations are well-formed. Always base your opinions on fact, and deliver your advice as you see or hear a problem occurring. Use evidence to back up your feedback. This makes it more professional and less personal, which can help to defuse tension and ease tricky conversations.
- Let him take the lead. Did he notice his mistake? If so, you may not have to mention it. If he didn't, get the conversation flowing by saying something like, "I have a few suggestions but, before I share them, I'd like to hear what you thought went well or could have been done better." This will encourage him to reflect and to take responsibility for his own performance.
- Remember that praise is feedback, too. If a team member has done something really well, don't keep it to yourself – tell her! This is what Ken Blanchard calls "catching people doing something right." When you make an effort to praise people who demonstrate positive behavior, it will help to reinforce good habits and remove negative ones!
On-the-spot feedback is all about confronting issues and problems "head on." Doing this can help people to "course correct." It can fix problems quickly, and encourage the formation of positive habits.
However, for on-the-spot feedback to be successful, it needs to be delivered at the right time. To do this, you need to consider three things:
- The subject of the feedback.
- The recipient of the feedback.
- The context.
On-the-spot feedback must also be delivered in the right way. First, keep it professional. Make sure that your observations are well-formed and based in fact. And let the recipient take the lead by asking him to assess his own performance.
Finally, remember that feedback can be positive, too! Balance constructive feedback with praise. This will help to reinforce and encourage good behavior.