My Uncle went off to study at agricultural college as a young man, this was before Facebook and mobile phones so he used to write letters. He sent a long letter to his mother. She corrected the letter, in red ink, and returned it. He never wrote again.
Giving good feedback is much more than knowing what is right or correct. It is understanding what will be useful, and delivering the feedback so that it can be heard and used.
The feedback model proposed by the experts at Manager Tools has some really helpful podcasts, it’s a three step model and it focuses on behaviour. Simplified to a script template it looks like this;
When you [describe behaviour] the outcome is negative [explain how], how will you repair this/change your behaviour next time?
In their podcasts the guys from Manager Tools give several working examples of this and I’ve found it a really simple, workable method. Using this script has kept me focused on the work behaviours that really matter, removed an personal or accusatory tone to the feedback and put the responsibility for the change/improvement squarely in the employee’s hands. Of course I’ve also offered concrete help when needed.
I’ll give an example. One colleague, let’s call him David, who I was coaching, tended to pack too much into meetings meaning that he would be rushing to get through all the content in the last ten minutes, even though the most senior people would be already preparing to leave. Instead of saying “hey, you should plan your meetings better” I had a conversation that went something like this;
|Me||Can I give you some feedback about today’s meeting?|
|David||OK, I guess|
|Me||Did you notice at the end of the meeting that the managers were closing their laptops and wanting to leave while you were still talking?|
|Me||They have other meetings to go to and when you plan your meeting to go right to the hour they don’t listen for the last about 10 minutes. What do you think would work better?|
|David||Um… Should I plan to finish at 10 to?|
|Me||Yes, be wrapping up then. So when do you think you need to ask for the decision?|
|Me||Yes, or perhaps earlier, to allow for discussion and wrap up. What will you do for the next meeting?|
|David||Put less on the agenda and try to ask for the decision at about half way.|
|Me||Let’s try that, I bet they listen to more of what you have to say that way.|
This works best when the feedback is about correcting a behaviour, but it can be extended to bigger changes, either with longer discussions or repeated discussions.
There are a couple of other things to look out for;
- the person has to be willing to hear the feedback, in the case above David was someone I was already coaching, so we already had an agreement in place that I could give him feedback. However I still asked his permission.
- the feedback has to be useful, David had been frustrated that people weren’t listening to him, so suggesting something to change that was useful to him.
- the feedback has to be specific, David walked away with something to try for next time
- the change proposed should come from them, you can ask them to think about it and come back to discuss with you or you can seed a few ideas if needed, but the answer should come from them.
- the person receiving the feedback should feel positive and that you are helping them get better at what they do.
It is as much about usefulness of what you’re saying and delivery as the correctness of what you say.
Back to my Uncle, although he did call his mother after he stopped writing letters, my Grandma later saw her mistake. She’d given feedback that wasn’t really useful, and delivered it in a rather cruel way. She did regret sending that letter of corrections.