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How to give good feedback

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How to give good feedback to increase motivation and performance in your teams – Are your team members delivering their potential?

What is giving good feedback and performance management all about?

The difference between leading a high performing, winning team (not common) and fighting for economic survival (all too common) is stark. Having a sense of being in control whilst applying a dependable approach is at the core of sound team performance management. A significant part of that overall process is your approach to and delivery of feedback. That’s what we are examining today.

how to give good feedback

A Guiding Principle.

I should probably start with clarifying the guiding principle that defines our rationale and approach to managing the performance of our people using the most effective feedback strategies. Tim Gallwey expressed it elegantly and simply in his book – The Inner Game of Work – P=p-i

P=p-i – is where any and everyone’s actual Performance is equal to their potential, minus anything that interferes with them delivering their best. Interferences could be lack of skills or knowledge, attitude, relationships, beliefs, hardware, software etc. It can be the existence of something, or the absence of something. It could even be you.

The essence of effective feedback is to identify and remove all interferences and enable each team member shine by fulfilling their own potential.

Let me, up front, signpost that whilst this subject can be simple enough to explain in principle it is underpinned with a myriad of subtleties when delivering it. Every time you see <> in this article it indicates that there is more to the surface message that is well worth investigating.

Where to start?

A prerequisite here is that your enterprise has clear, unambiguous and measurable performance standards that are understood and accepted by everyone – KPI’s, Targets, outcomes, norms, standards (what’s the bottom line and how do we best get there?) – whatever they’re called in your organisation. Without this, effective feedback has no foundation, no inarguable reference point. Clear, mutually understood objectives and expectations are essential – do not skimp on getting them right <>.

Armed with our performance standards we now need to apply habitual and frequent monitoring of each member of our team (without being intrusive) – what someone once called MBWA – Managing By Walking About – though it may need supplementing with Zoom meetings (other platforms are available) and data analysis for remote workers. It seems to me that first-hand knowledge of what is going on is central any supervisory role.

Your key task is to notice what is being delivered and how. To then appraise and provide feedback early – immediately is best – the closer to the action you can deliver your feedback the more likely it is to be understood and accepted <>.  Reinforce effective performance and outcomes and address the less effective ones. Timeliness is fundamental in that it connects to their unconscious neural networks (they are more likely to remember and act upon it) when delivered immediately <>.

How much and how often?

Some people talk about striking a balance of positive and developmental feedback. Whilst agreeing in principle I’d like to add a word or two about feedback balance. It’s common for feedback to be divided into positive and negative (or ‘developmental’). Doing this is, based on my experience, fraught with difficulties.

My preference is to regard all feedback as just ‘feedback’ because the intent is (or should be) to help the recipient move towards their potential by removing interferences and refining effective behaviours. Feedback only works when it’s accepted as fair and well-intended. Therefore, having a consistent approach that is always fact based and about measurable behaviours and outcomes will fairly reflect anyone’s actual day to day performance.

For example, you notice one of your team doing a good job. Offer them instant feedback. Describe specifically what you noticed, how you feel about it, why it’s good and encourage them to keep doing it. We all like to be noticed and appreciated. This reinforcement of desirable, effective behaviours is vital. It nearly always creates a virtuous circle of effective behaviours and successful outcomes.

A word of warning – you’re almost certainly very busy and time is precious, but do not neglect this vital component of effective feedback. Always find the time to notice and appreciate the good work your team is delivering – it will pay dividends <>.

Another time, you may notice something that is not so good. Exactly as with the wanted behaviour, as soon as is possible <> explain precisely what you noticed, what the unwanted impact was or will be, what you want them to do instead, and how that will help.

A key point here is that the feedback is focussed exclusively on their behaviour and its consequences and is not personal. Praise is personal (and welcome), but it’s not feedback. Chastisement is personal (and sometimes unavoidable) and it’s not feedback. Effective feedback always begins by focussing on what they did – not who they are. That said, who they are as a personality is obviously important and we need to modify our tone and approach to acknowledge their particular character preferences. <>

What’s an effective structure for giving good feedback?

There are numerous feedback models around and the one I find that works rather well is AIDI – Action, Impact, Do, Impact. Four logical steps for clarity and consistency. 1. This is the evidence-based Action you took, (what they did – puts them ‘at cause’) 2. this is the Impact it had (fully describe the reactions and consequences), 3. here’s what you need to Do next (describes an effective way forward), 4. and the Impact of that will be this. (Positive outcome of change or repetition).

You can tell them simply and straightforwardly or deliver it as series of open questions. A ‘tell’ approach is safe with positive feedback and using an open question approach usually lands more softly. Either will work when you make the right choice <>

Then what?

So, you’ve provided feedback and set an expectation for future behaviour. Assuming expectations are met then all is well and our virtuous circle keeps turning – you obviously need to prove feedback on their positive response. But what if the errant, unwanted behaviour continues and they have not responded to your feedback? In simple terms this will either be because a) they will not or because b) they cannot. Let’s examine the easier one first – they cannot.

What’s stopping them? You need to explore the situation with them, gain a sound understanding and propose or negotiate a way to remove the interference <> – do they need training or coaching? Is there a lack of resources? Is their workload too heavy? What is stopping them? Assuming a workable solution can be found, agreed and implemented then the performance outcomes should enable us to provide appropriate supportive feedback and the virtuous circle starts turning again.

What about when they ‘will not’?

Sometimes they are capable but are choosing (making excuses) not to. What are they doing instead and, most importantly, why? In my experience this as almost always driven by something they believe that conflicts with doing what is needed. Beliefs act as decision-makers for all of our behaviours – sometimes consciously and often unconsciously.

When beliefs and required behaviours align all works well. “I need to do this and I believe it’s a good way to proceed”. When a conflicting belief is present then we get excuses, avoidance and non-compliance. This frequently looks and sounds like an attitude issue. You want me to do this but I think it’s the wrong way to ga about it.

To us, as their manager, it feels like they’re being difficult or obstinate. But beliefs are very powerful and need to be respected as such. When you or I believe that a course of action won’t work we almost certainly don’t give it our best shot. Even if all the evidence indicates that it’s a great way to proceed, not believing so matters more when deciding what to do.

Beliefs are not facts but are sometimes applied as if they are. If we believe” I’m almost certainly going to fail” we probably won’t even start, and at best will give it a half-hearted attempt. It doesn’t matter what the facts and evidence are, our belief acts in place of facts and informs our decision – ‘Flat Earthers’ still exist despite overwhelming evidence.

We’re pretty much all wired the same way. The key is to find out what belief of theirs (or ours? <>) is interfering, where the belief came from and attempt to loosen or dispel it. This is not always easy (and sometimes is), and it’s usually possible with patience and persistence <>. Usefully, if you do manage to remove the interfering belief you will notice an immediate change in behaviour.

If they say that have let it go but their behaviour does not change then I’m afraid they misled you and you need to have another go. Start with providing feedback on their lack of change.

How to tackle an interfering belief?

This is where taking a coaching style approach pays dividends. The coaching skills of asking effective questions (particularly open ones) and focussed listening to fully understand can take time to learn <> – though some people are instinctively good at it. When the performance interference is a belief, that belief needs to be uncovered, understood, then changed or set aside in order to allow progress.

All of this is best achieved by using open questions, patience, open-minded listening and avoiding trying to solve it for them – it’s their performance and their interference after all. Trying to persuade someone of your solution when their interfering belief still exists will almost always result in push back, possible rejection and non-acceptance. You will probably have wasted your time.

What if they’re still non-compliant?

Decision time for you. It’s well worth discussing it with someone else – another perspective can be so valuable. Is this situation the limit of their potential? Might outside professional intervention clear the interference?

Has HR a role to play in formalising procedures? Your beliefs about them and what is the right thing to do play a vital role here. We’re beyond feedback and not where we want to be. Learning how to fulfil your own potential in using feedback as a tool for helping others succeed will make this decision point a rarity.

A final thought?

When providing feedback an excellent belief to adopt is Steven Coveys 5th habit – Seek first to understand – then to be understood.

I hope there is something in this article that helps and please feel free to ask for clarification or expansion. Well intentioned feedback is always welcome.

Keep an eye out for a video series on this subject coming soon.

Giving great feedback, written by Vince Coombs

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