The gift of feedback

Performance management is changing in many firms.  Annual appraisals are being replaced (or at least supplemented) with online and real-time feedback.  There is a long overdue push for people to share information in the here and now rather than storing it up for a formal performance review meeting.  Many businesses have invested in feedback tools to enable this change. But whether or not you choose to record it, feedback is most effective when delivered face-to-face and not at the push of a button.

Why Feedback?

In many ways feedback is now more present in our lives than ever before. I don’t just mean our ‘liking’ things on social media, I mean how we make day to day decisions. Do you read online reviews when deciding what to buy or where to stay? Maybe you even write them for others to read?   Either way you take the time to consider the views of others in your decision making or share your views with others to help with theirs.

In our personal lives we think feedback is a good thing. I will buy a new TV with a 5 star rating or eat at the restaurant with a high number of excellent reviews. But at the same time I will do anything in my power to avoid feedback at work.

I will avoid giving feedback at all costs. I will be convinced that by sharing developmental feedback with one of my team members I will destroy their confidence forever. Worse, by sharing feedback with my boss I will remove any chance of ever getting promoted. I will know that if I am ever tricked into giving feedback I will thereafter suffer an insurmountable awkwardness whenever alone with said individual. The receiver of feedback may be defensive or emotional. They might even cry.

Best put our head in the sand whenever the F-word is mentioned. And if anyone suggests we might like to receive some feedback ourselves we must smile, say ‘that would be great’ and then exit the room as fast as possible.

But stop. Feedback is a gift. It is not something to avoid.  Feedback helps us change, develop and grow. Without feedback we might not identify the key strengths that set us apart from colleagues and peers or the development needs that will hinder our progression or happiness.

Yes, it may be collated as an input to your annual appraisal, but feedback is not an annual exercise, it should be a daily or at least weekly one.

What Feedback?

So ‘What’ are we supposed to feedback? There is a significant body of research that says that people respond more to positive feedback. That is great. Let’s celebrate our strengths. I certainly agree that as a professional you are more likely to succeed by building on your strengths than trying to paper over your weaknesses.

At the same time I am not a buyer of feedback only focusing on the positive. However amazing we are at what we do, there is always something we can improve. If someone can spot something I can do better, please respect me enough to tell me. And in doing so please deliver your feedback in a constructive way: What did you Observe? What was the Impact? What could or should I do Differently next time?

How Feedback?

Finally, how should we deliver feedback?  How do you feel when someone says “do you mind if I give you some feedback?”

Personally, I am filled with dread as I try to imagine what I have done wrong. But we can overcome this with a simple formula: the 4 Ps.

  1. Permission

Seek permission to share feedback in a way that recognises shared purpose: “Chris, we were talking about your ambition to move up to the next level. Would it help if I shared some feedback on how you are doing in that context?

  1. Positive

Always start with something positive. We are not talking about the ill-advised feedback ‘sandwich’, we are talking about reinforcing strengths: “Chris, at our meeting this morning I noticed that you were really effective at building rapport with the client and created a positive first impression.

What did you observe that was good? What was the impact of this? How can this strength be leveraged? “It would be good for you to participate in more client pitches, building relationships appears to be a strength of yours“.

  1. Performance Improvement

The 3rd ‘P’ is the one people find hardest – not the improving bit the sharing bit.   

The hardest thing to share is the most important thing to hear.

Giving feedback is a skill and like any skill the more we practice it the better we get at it. In the same way, the more we receive feedback the easier it gets. If you wait 12 months for judgement day then it is bound to feel like a big deal. If you give and receive feedback regularly it won’t get blown out of proportion – it will be just one person’s view on one day.  As well as following the Observe-Impact-Different triad it is worth thinking not just about what you are saying, but also how you are saying it – particularly if the feedback might be difficult for the other person to hear:

  • Observe: explain what you have observed in a fact-based way (avoiding emotion or judgement)
  • Impact: talk tentatively to avoid a defensive reaction, but own the message
  • Different: rather than ‘telling’ what to do different next time, try asking what the persons receiving the feedback thinks
  1. Playback

Having shared the feedback you might be so relieved to have ‘done the deed’ that your instinct is to quit and run. But the 4th P is the most important. This final step is the one that checks in on self-awareness.

Ask the question: What have you heard? The colleague who is the great I AM (you know the one) will have heard how fabulous they are and what a great job they are doing. They may need reminding that the development point needs attention too. By contrast another person will not even hear a word of positive feedback and will only be trying to digest the ‘negative’ points you made. They need to do this, but in the context of being reminded of the positive.

As I said, feedback is a skill. You can’t just tell people the theory. Like any skill (hitting a tennis ball, driving a car) it takes practice to learn to do it well. Have a great Christmas and if you would like help sharing the gift of feedback in your team or business in the New Year please get in touch.

Louise Fleming, Partner, Aretai LLP

  • Feedback
  • Financial Services
  • Professional Services

You might also be interested in