Make 2018 the Year for Feedback

Make 2018 the Year for Feedback

December 31, 2017

Resolutions abound around January 1. We commit to all sorts of new behaviors, we set goals, and we feel the excitement of starting anew.

I’ve found that one resolution always worth making is to commit to better feedback practices. Make a commitment to request and offer feedback effectively.  If you are already doing it, how can you do it better? And if you are not doing, how do you start?

We think this makes a great new year’s resolution because, even for the best managers and leaders, it’s a practice that’s often lost in the day-to-day crush of organizational life. Yet it’s one of the most valuable things we can do in our daily work as leaders and as colleagues. Here are some tips to get you off on the right foot:

1.    Make Feedback Helpful by Being Specific

If you are giving feedback, describe what the person did and why it matters. For example: “John, when you spoke up today in the meeting you reframed the problem for all of us in a way that did not diminish anyone’s contributions. I like how you changed our thinking by asking a new question. I hope you’ll continue to feel comfortable speaking up in this way.” In other words, if it was good, say why, be clear about what worked, and encourage your colleague to repeat that behavior.

Similarly, if you see an opportunity to correct a behavior, name it, describe it, and say why it matters. Then ask your colleague to think with you about what modifications and strategies might help to improve outcomes the next time. For example: “John, today when you interrupted Susan to redirect our conversation about the program you seemed impatient and curt.  You cut her off and then directed everyone to a new issue in the program development. Susan looked hurt and others felt uncomfortable. How might you have helped us move forward without shutting others down?”

If you are asking for feedback, encourage your colleagues to be specific and to help you develop new strategies. You might ask: “When I spoke up today in the meeting, how helpful or positive was my contribution. What worked and what would you advise me to do differently?”

2. Connect Feedback to the Bigger “WHY”

Feedback helps everyone when it’s grounded in the larger context of mission, strategy and values.  Praise and criticism need to align with your larger purpose, helping you and others understand why certain behaviors or actions help or hinder the organization.

For example, if you are giving critique, you might say: “John, when you interrupt Susan in a meeting without sensitivity, you operate against our core value of respect and teamwork. You also shut down her engagement in team problem solving, which doesn’t help us collaborate or innovate effectively. Your ideas about the new program are important, but we need to work together and Susan’s eye for detail is valuable. How can you facilitate better dialogue so we can continue to build a culture of collaboration and keep her invested?”

If you are asking for feedback, you might say, “I’d like to know what I am doing that is most helpful in terms of our goal to redesign this program. What am I doing that you think is less valuable or unnecessary?”

Everyone wants to contribute and feel included in a larger aim; your feedback helps people see themselves in that context.

3. Make Feedback “Just in Time”

It’s not always possible to offer or receive feedback in real time, but do try to get it done as close to the event as possible.  People’s memories are short and they learn best in context.  If the situation permits, offer correction or praise in the moment (public criticism is rarely helpful). Otherwise, follow up as quickly as possible. Consistent, just-in-time feedback is the best pathway to coaching and cultivating new behaviors.  And don’t be afraid to shine a light on great feedback: public praise can be a big benefit both as a model of what works and as “psychic income” for people who are contributing significantly to your work.

4. Keep it Short with No Mixed Messages

When asking for or giving feedback, there is only so much messaging that is effective. Keep the delivery short and don’t mix up praise with criticism. It’s confusing. For example, for your critique to have impact, you don’t want to say “John I love your ideas but…” By layering praise over criticism you dilute the message and undermine the clarity of your critique. Of course, in any given context you are likely to want or need both kinds of feedback. The key is to separate them. For correction or praise in the moment stick to what’s most important. Schedule a follow up time for another discussion and broader feedback.

Keep these four tips in mind and try to practice giving or asking for feedback daily.  And Happy New Year!