The Situation-Behavior-Impact™ Feedback Tool
Providing Clear, Specific Feedback
Imagine that you recently gave some feedback to a team member. You told them that they were good at presenting, but that they could improve the way they handle the questions-and-answers section at the end.
A few weeks pass, and your team member still hasn't made any of changes that you flagged. It turns out that they didn't understand what you wanted them to do. In fact, your feedback only led to more questions: "What's particularly good about my presentation skills?" and "What's wrong with the way I handle questions?"
If you'd used the Situation-Behavior-Impact™ (SBI™) model to frame your feedback, you may have avoided this problem. In this article, we take a look at each stage of the model and explain how you can use it to structure your feedback so that it's specific and effective.
What Is the SBI™ Feedback Model?
SBI™ stands for:
Situation: you outline the situation you're referring to, so that the context is clear and specific.
Behavior: you discuss the precise behavior that you want to address.
Impact: finally, you highlight the impact of the person's behavior on you, the team and the organization.
Why Is the SBI™ Model Useful?
Studies suggest that employees tend to prefer corrective feedback over positive feedback, but managers are often reluctant to give it. Also, according to research from Gallup, only 28 percent of people receive feedback a few times a year, while 19 percent say they receive it once a year or less.
Part of the problem is that performance conversations can be stressful. When people get defensive, and the mood turns sour, workplace relationships can be damaged. And when you factor in a busy working environment, it's easy to see why some managers might put off giving feedback until formal performance reviews.
But delaying giving feedback can lead to a disconnect between it and the behavior or action it describes. The SBI™ model avoids this.
You can use it every time you give a piece of feedback – not just in annual performance reviews. What's more, it enables you to give feedback that is precise, clear and specific. This also helps you to avoid assumptions or biases from creeping in that could upset the other person.
Applied properly, SBI™ feedback encourages people to reflect and improve on their behavior, and can help to build a team culture of openness and trust. This is a key element of receiving and using feedback positively.
How to Give SBI™ Feedback
Use the three stages of the SBI™ feedback tool to structure your feedback so that it's concise and nonjudgmental:
When you're giving feedback, put it into context. When and where did you observe the situation? This gives the other person a specific reference point.
For example, you could say:
"During yesterday morning's project meeting, when you gave your presentation..."
Avoid vague terms like "the other day" or "in that meeting last week."
Your next step is to describe the specific behaviors that you want to address. This is the most challenging part of the process, because you should only communicate the behaviors that you – and you alone – have observed directly.
Avoid making assumptions or subjective judgments about someone's behaviors. These could be wrong, and they may undermine your feedback.
For example, if you observed that a colleague made mistakes in a presentation, don't just assume that they hadn't put in enough prep work. Simply explain that they made mistakes and be specific about what these were.
Avoid relying on hearsay, as this may contain other people's subjective judgments or biases. Again, this could undermine your feedback and may even jeopardize the relationship that you have with your colleague. Stick to what you observed yourself.
"During yesterday morning's team meeting, when you gave your presentation, I noticed that you weren't able to answer questions about two of your slides. Your sales calculations were also incorrect."
Aim to use measurable information in your description of the behavior. This will keep your feedback specific and objective.
Finally, use subjective statements to describe how the person's behavior has impacted you, the team or the organization. Use "I" or "we" to make the point.
For example, you could say:
"During yesterday morning's team meeting, when you gave your presentation, I noticed that you weren't able to answer questions about two of your slides. Your sales calculations were also incorrect. The entire board was there, and I'm concerned it may have affected the reputation of our team."
Throughout the process, emphasize the importance of finding positive solutions, and avoid "passing the buck" or playing the blame game.
The Center for Creative Leadership suggests adding a second I (SBI-I), which stands for the Intent behind the person's behavior. Asking about intent encourages a two-way discussion. It can help you to uncover why your team member behaved as they did.
It also gives them a chance to assert themselves and to open up about any problems that they've been experiencing. Perhaps they have confidence issues, or they feel that their skills and knowledge aren't adequate.
Uncovering intent can also help you to address your own false assumptions. Your team member may have had a legitimate reason to behave the way that they did, which you haven't understood. This can help the initial feedback session develop into a useful coaching conversation.
Reflecting on the SBI™ Process
Once you've delivered your feedback, encourage the other person to think about the situation and to understand the impact of their behavior and the intent behind it. They may not have understood the impact of their actions, or they may not agree with your assessment.
The Perceptual Positions technique can help them to explore how you and others perceived the situation. Allow them time to absorb what you've said, and then go over specific actions that will help them to improve.
Also, remember that SBI™ isn't just for negative situations. You can also use it to give praise or highlight a situation where someone has excelled, and help them to think about how they can build on this. For example, you might say, "Your planning skills are very good, and your eye for detail is excellent. Perhaps you could help to project manage another big piece of work we have coming up?"
You can start using SBI™ feedback today. Simply download our interactive SBI template and use it to record the feedback you give, and your team member's reflections.
For more information on how to use and apply this tool in your organization, see the Center for Creative Leadership's workshop kit, Feedback that Works.
The Center for Creative Leadership developed the SBI™ Feedback model to help managers to deliver clear, specific feedback. SBI™ stands for Situation-Behavior-Impact™. You can use the tool by structuring your feedback around these three key areas:
Situation: describe the "when" and "where" of the situation.
Behavior: describe the other person's behavior (but only mention the actions that you have observed yourself).
Impact: communicate the impact of the person's behavior on you, your team and the organization.
Finally, discuss what your team member needs to do to change this behavior in the future, or – if their behavior has had a positive impact – explore how they can build on this.
SBI and Situation-Behavior-Impact are trademarks of the Center for Creative Leadership.
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