Deliver feedback that sticks

We all know that feedback is important, but do we know why it is important? Take a look at some of these statistics from a 2014 Gallup employee engagement study:

  • 98% of employees will fail to be engaged when managers give little or no feedback.
  • 69% of employees said they would work harder if their efforts were better recognized.
  • 58% of managers think they give enough feedback.
  • 68% of employees said they want more feedback than they are currently getting.

Up until this point in our How to Coach series, we’ve focused on listening really well and asking great questions, which in truth is largely what coaching is. Sometimes, though, there is a need to deliver clear feedback. Until now, perhaps you’ve been giving feedback as a manager, but I encourage you to give feedback as a coach.

You may be wondering what the difference is. Feedback from a coach is an observation and a discussion. For example, a coach might say, “I noticed in the last senior leadership meeting that you were extremely quiet. How do you think the senior leaders perceived you? What impression did you leave?” In contrast, a manager might say, “You were quiet in the senior leadership meeting. I am concerned the senior leaders will not see you as a high potential and will not put you on the succession list. I need you to think about how you can speak up at the next meeting.”

Both of these approaches are perfectly acceptable, but with the coaching approach, the individual will tell you they weren’t happy with their input in the meeting, rather than you telling them. If you ask the right questions as a coach, they will also tell you what they need to do differently. This matters because it is more impactful for an individual to identify their own development themes and come up with their own solutions. Changes in behavior will always be more sustainable if individuals self-identify their course of action rather than being instructed.

I’d also like to share a very simple and very effective feedback model with you, to use during times when it is necessary to give more directive feedback. It’s an old model, but it’s a good one. The Centre for Creative Leadership’s Situation-Behaviour-Impact feedback model is a great way to ensure the feedback you give is direct, specific, and purposeful.

The first step is to define the “where” and “when” of the situation you are referring to. This puts the feedback into context and gives your staff member a specific setting as a reference. For example:

  • “During yesterday morning’s team meeting…”
  • “At the client meeting on Monday afternoon…”

The second step is to describe the specific, observable behaviors that you want to address. Avoid making assumptions; only comment on observable behavior to reduce defensiveness and minimize the opportunity for disagreement. For example, describe the observable behavior (that your staff member made mistakes in his presentation), not your assumption (that he hadn’t prepared thoroughly). More examples of step two in practice:

  • “During yesterday morning’s team meeting you walked into the boardroom and didn’t address any of your colleagues. You opened your laptop and continued to work until the meeting began.”
  • “At the client meeting on Monday afternoon when you presented your findings, you were very soft spoken and appeared to rush through your material without making eye contact with any of the clients.”

The final step is to describe the impact the behavior had on you or others. This piece is important because the individual needs to know why their behavior needs to change. For example:

  • “During yesterday morning’s team meeting, you walked into the boardroom and didn’t address any of your colleagues. You opened your laptop and continued to work until the meeting began. I believe this lack of socializing will impact your ability to collaborate with your team members and form meaningful relationships with them.”
  • “At the client meeting on Monday afternoon when you presented your findings, you were very soft spoken and appeared to rush through your material without making eye contact with any of the clients. This makes me think that you are not confident in the quality of your material. I am also concerned that the clients will have the wrong impression of the amount of time you have spent preparing these materials.”

Remember that feedback doesn’t just mean telling someone what they need to work on. Try to give more positive feedback than constructive. Teams perform best when they receive six positive comments for every negative one, and employees are 30 times more likely to be actively engaged at work when managers focus on their strengths. Use this model to deliver both positive and constructive feedback, and your employees will recognize you as someone truly invested in their development.

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