6 Steps to Giving More Impactful Feedback

Research has shown that when you pay attention to people and show them you are bothered about what they do, they will perform better.

As a leader, your feedback can make a positive and motivational difference to others. 

Here are some tips to refresh your thinking on effective feedback and ensure it is getting the results you want.

When you give feedback to others, remember to…

1 BE SPECIFIC:

Effective employee feedback is specific, not general. For example, it is more meaningful to say, “The project plan that you sent me was thorough, easy to understand and you made a sound business case rather than “it was a good plan.”

Useful feedback always focuses on a specific behaviour, not on a person or their intentions. Tell the person exactly what they need to improve on by giving examples. This ensures that you stick to facts and there is less room for ambiguity.

Remember to stick to what you know first-hand, not to feedback based upon other people’s views. You will have more impact if you describe how their actions made you feel. Always discuss the direct impact of the behaviour and don’t get personal or seek to blame.

2 BE ACTION FOCUSED

Successful feedback describes actions or behaviour that the individual can do something about. When you share information and specific observations, you are providing feedback that someone can then use in practice.

Ask the person what they might do differently as a result of hearing the feedback. You are more likely to help them learn or change their approach than if you tell them what to learn or how to change.

Discuss things that could have been done even better. If there are improvements that could be made, the main message should be that you care and want to help the person grow and develop. Set goals and make plans to monitor and evaluate progress. Use the SMART goals acronym and define specific steps and milestones, or coach them using the GROW MODEL to motivate people to deliver the change you want.

3 LET THEM ‘EMPTY’ FIRST

Often when we have experienced something, we have lots of views about how well we did and how we would improve next time. Many people over-think about what they did, or they become their own worst critic – these things can become a demotivator. 

If we are then offered feedback from someone else straight away, we might feel obliged to accept it but because we haven’t ‘emptied’ our own thoughts first. Sometimes, we can’t even take in the well-intentioned feedback because we’re a bit ‘full up’ and the feedback we are trying to give may not have the desired impact.

It is therefore, preferable to ask the person “What went well?” “What didn’t go so well?” and “What would you do differently?” Then ask, “Would you like some feedback from me? This is also helpful because you get to hear their thoughts first and this can help you tailor your own feedback in a more constructive and motivating way.

To understand whether your feedback has had the desired impact, ask the person to provide their perspective. Use phrases like, “How does my feedback resonate with you?” or “Is this a fair representation of what happened?” Listen actively to what they have to say and try to get them to offer some suggestions for improvement. This way they have an opportunity to own the solution and are much more likely to follow through with it. To avoid sounding like you’re preaching, stay away from words like “good,” “bad,” “must,” “need to,” etc.

4 BE TIMELY

Provide the information as close to the event as possible, this means that they can easily connect the feedback with their actions, meaning a greater impact. The closer to the event, the better. Feedback isn’t about surprising someone so the sooner you do it, the more the person will be able to reflect and make sense of it. With frequent informal feedback, nothing said during formal feedback sessions should be unexpected, surprising or particularly difficult.

5 FEEDBACK REGULARLY

Feedback is a process that requires constant attention. When something needs to be said – positive or otherwise – say it. People then know where they stand and there are few surprises. We often give feedback through our body language or tone of voice, so we should make sure the words you use are honest, because people can often tell when we’re not. Also, instant feedback can re-enforce positive behaviours. If you feedback promptly about areas that could be improved, this will help to avoid problems getting out of hand. This is not a once-a-year or a once-every-three-month event. While this may be the timing of formal feedback, informal, simple feedback should be given much more often than this – perhaps every week or even every day, depending on the situation.

The whole purpose of feedback is to re-enforce, support and improve performance. You need to measure whether or not that is happening and then make adjustments as you go. Be sure to document your conversations if you think it will be helpful for following up on someone’s performance and discuss what is working and what needs to be modified.

6 BE POSITIVE

Before giving feedback make sure you remind yourself why you are doing it. The purpose for giving feedback is to improve the situation or performance. You won’t accomplish that by being harsh, critical, or offensive. A good rule is start off with something positive. This helps put the person at ease. It also lets them “see” what success looks like and this helps them to take the right steps next time. As long as it’s not forced, it can also help to give positive feedback at the end of a feedback session too. I know that this is often referred to as a ‘sh**’ sandwich, but if done authentically and honestly, it can help people to finish the conversation feeling more positive and motivated, i.e. because you’re positioning the feedback in the bigger context for them.

Give the feedback from your perspective and this way you can focus on the behaviour or the facts of the situation and you’ll avoid labelling the person. Say, “When you criticised your colleagues in front of everyone, it may have demotivated people unnecessarily” rather than “You were insensitive yesterday.”

Sustained learning or change only starts if we have something called the ‘Positive Emotional Attractor’ (Richard Boyatzis). We get this through positive emotions and because human beings experience negative emotions stronger than positive ones, you have to overemphasizing the positive. You must still be honest, but if you incorporate a more empathetic and compassionate approach, you’ll get much more from people and they will also tend to focus on improvement.

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