Feedback is one of the most powerful tools for enhancing performance. Providing feedback to individuals and teams is a critical skill that must be developed by all leaders. We all crave feedback because we want to know how we are doing in our jobs and in our relationships. The problems is that many of us are not very good at giving and soliciting feedback. Providing feedback can be awkward and as a result people shy away from delivering it or at least they do not deliver it effectively.
I believe that giving and receiving feedback is a skill that is often under developed, especially in a business context. Teaching leaders to provide, solicit and receive feedback should be done in more companies, but unfortunately this type of training is seldom a priority. The problem with ignoring the power of effective feedback is that in its absence an organization’s culture and performance suffers. Some aspects of delivering effective feedback are quite simple and only require common sense, but that is what makes them so hard to implement.
When teaching leaders to deliver feedback we use the analogy of a feedback piggy bank. You make deposits and withdrawals from the feedback piggy bank. Deposit represent positive feedback. Catching someone doing something right and recognizing them for their work would be a deposit to the bank. Deposits typically have a two for one value versus withdrawals meaning for every deposit you can make two withdrawals. Withdrawals represent developmental feedback or course corrections. If you provide an employee with significantly more (twice as much) developmental feedback as positive feedback you will bankrupt the relationship and the piggy bank will run out of money. Therefore, as a leader it is important to balance the feedback that you provide to each employee. Keep stock of the feedback that you are providing to each direct report.
Let me provide an example.
Jerry is a marketing analyst for a consumer products company. His job is to analyze the effectiveness of the marketing campaigns that are delivered in print and on social media. Jerry has developed his own campaign for the company which he pushed out on social media without asking the creative department and without permission from his boss. The campaign he created has outperformed the other campaigns in the company. As his boss, you found out from the head of creative services that Jerry launched this campaign without gaining permission and the creative services group is upset that the marketing analyst has been focusing on a project outside the scope of their job.
As Jerry’s manager, it is your responsibility to address the situation with Jerry. On the one hand the campaign he created is performing really well and helping the company, but on the other hand he did not follow company policy and released an unauthorized campaign to the public. Additionally, Jerry has been late in delivering his weekly analytics report. You assume that he was late on the report because he was busy creating his own campaign.
How should you approach Jerry on this issue?
That depends on your goal. I believe strongly that feedback is a gift. When giving gifts, it is our desire to show that we care for the receiver. Before sitting down with Jerry, it is important to be clear on your desired outcome for the feedback conversation. Do you want Jerry to feel badly for his actions and to recognize that what he did was against company policy? Do you want Jerry to stop being creative and to only focus on the tasks he has been assigned? Do you want him to feel dejected and quit? Do you want Jerry to understand his priorities and to recognize how to collaborate more effectively with the creative services group?
If you approach giving feedback to Jerry as a gift with the intention to make him and the organization better then you will tailor your feedback to solicit the desired outcome. Clearly Jerry is a talented and creative employee. He is a self-starter who took the initiative to create his own campaign and it was very effective. Why was it so effective? It may have been luck, but more than likely it was so effective because Jerry spends most of his time analyzing the company’s campaigns to understand what works well and what does not. He probably applied the logic from his analysis to create his highly effective campaign. The goal of the feedback session should be to help Jerry to understand that how he went about his job was inappropriate. He needs to learn to balance the “what” with the “how”. Below is a role play of the feedback session as it occurred:
Connie (Manager): Jerry, I would like to provide you with some important feedback
(First step is to gain permission to provide the feedback and to set the tone for the meeting that it is important)
Jerry: OK, what is this about?
Connie: Jerry, you created an unauthorized creative campaign that you launched on several social media channels without gaining permission from the creative services team and I was not made aware of it either.
Jerry: Yes I did. The campaign is our most effective campaign of the year. It is outperforming all the creative services campaigns.
Connie: Jerry, you are missing the point. Your job as a marketing analyst is to track the performance of campaigns and to analyze the results to provide feedback to the creative services team so that they can improve future campaigns.
Jerry: I understand what my job is, but the creative team continues to put out poor performing campaigns.
Connie: Jerry, you are a very smart and creative guy. We value your contributions, but you must work on your tact. You see when you overstep your area of responsibility it creates distrust and devalues the work that you can perform. I want you to be successful and I want you to have the opportunity to apply your analytical skills in new ways so that you can contribute to future campaigns. This will require that you collaborate with the creative services team. Do you understand the problem with what you did?
Jerry: Yes I understand that I should have taken my idea to the creative services team and worked with them to launch the campaign rather than going rogue. I had the data and should have been more willing to share it.
Connie: I appreciate the fact that you have owned the mistake. I have spoken to the head of creative services and the three of us will be meeting later this week. I want you to share the data you collected and explain your thought process for creating your effective campaign. Clearly your analysis led to a better result and the head of creative is interested in further involving you in future creative team meetings.
This feedback session accomplished a few things. Jerry left with a clear picture of what he had done wrong. He understands the severity of his actions and the potential impact it could have on his career at the company. At the same time, he was given some positive reinforcement about his capabilities and given an opportunity to partner more closely with the creative services team.
Feedback is about making people better. Connie understood that her goal in the session was to get Jerry to own his actions and take responsibility for his future actions in a way that would benefit Jerry and the organization. The challenge when providing feedback is to separate the emotions from the actions. Providing effective feedback takes practice. Leaders must embrace the opportunity to develop this skill and to focus on the desired outcomes when preparing for a feedback session.
Feedback is a powerful tool when used effectively. When abused or used poorly it can have a detrimental impact and can bankrupt an employees motivation.