An excellent article from Harvard Business Review titled “The Feedback Fallacy” captured our attention this month! It is a thorough argument about how traditional feedback models are flawed, and it immediately surfaced conversations about how we have all failed at giving and receiving feedback in the past. We thought it would be helpful to compare these traditional models with alternative behaviors that can make the experience more impactful for both your employees and you, while leading to better results for your business overall.
“The more we depend on [traditional feedback methods], and the more technology we base on them, the less learning and productivity we will get from others.”-- Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall
A typical HR team will advise managers and leaders that feedback is never a “let’s do this once a year and get it over with” activity. They recommend that feedback should be something that is done continuously and consistently throughout the year. Sound familiar? It’s great common sense advice.
So why is on-going feedback so hard and why doesn’t it happen in reality?
As the author details, feedback is often faulty and not well-received because it is a reflection of the provider’s perspective. And the feedback often assumes that the receiver is somehow less knowledgable about their shortcomings that the provider of the feedback. But perhaps the biggest flaw with giving feedback is this:
“Focusing people on their shortcomings doesn’t enable learning; it impairs it.”-- Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall
Here are a few key things you can do now to stop the dysfunction of feedback:
#1 FOCUS ON THE POSITIVE EVENTS WHEN YOU SEE THEM
As the article points out, the mind is much more open to learning and development when someone recognizes a strength of behavior — not a weakness. Think about that statement. Even if you have an employee who isn’t a top performer, they likely have situations where they do well. The advice? Point those situations out!! If they are tied to a specific activity, it will reinforce doing more of that in the future.
#2 REPHRASE NEGATIVE EVENT FEEDBACK INTO YOUR PERSONAL OBSERVATIONS
This is a subtle but very important shift. Instead of saying “Here’s what you need to fix” say “Here’s what I noticed and how it impacted me.” Or instead of saying “Here’s what’s wrong with this” say “Here’s how this specific move confused me. What can we do to make that more clear?” The goal is making sure that the receiver of feedback knows how what they did had an effect on you. That opens the door for them to come back to you with their own thoughts on how they might think about similar situations in the future.
#3 FOCUS ON SPECIFIC EVENTS AND DON’T INTERPRET THEM
This can seem challenging, but it is not. If a person receives an interpreted version of the feedback such as “I’m guessing you were just busy and didn’t notice that the report had errors,” they can easily think, “that’s not at all true,” and easily discount the message. Instead, say something like, “When the report was turned in, there were errors in it, including a, b, and c. It created challenges for our group when we shared it with others. How should we change this process to ensure there are not errors for future reports?” The second situation presents a challenge to the report creator to think through how to improve the report in the future without providing any implied feedback on what is perceived to be wrong with them. It gives them an opportunity to determine a fix and learn.
All three steps are easy to practice this year. So don’t delay! Giving feedback doesn’t have to be a painful experience. It just requires some reframing to make it effective.
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