Feedback is a gift to the receiver – it helps people understand when they are doing well, how they are contributing effectively to the success of their organisation, or why they need to change their behaviour.

It’s like having spinach on your teeth: you need to be told so you can take action.


So why don’t people engage in this valuable activity

  1. We may feel awkward about giving feedback.
  2. It can be uncomfortable receiving feedback, whether good or bad; it can make us squirm or blush.
  3. It takes skill to do it effectively. Add to this the lack of experience in giving feedback, and its scarcity is understandable. Effective management requires open dialogue, and lots of timely feedback.

Here are our tips for giving feedback – both positive and ‘developmental’:


  1. Aim for a culture where feedback ‘just happens’

Start with something easy and non-threatening.  A team meeting perhaps where you’ve got everyone’s attention. You can give some positive feedback to individuals and to the group. This gets the process started, and you’ll see pretty quickly that people enjoy the experience and can really benefit from it.  This is the beginning of people getting used to feedback


  1. Address the difficult feedback

Positive feedback is relatively easy to give, but the more critical the feedback, the harder it becomes.  So here are some principles to keep in mind:


2.1 Take the bull by the horns – act quickly

If feedback is required, and you miss the opportunity, you can’t go back. Give it straight away or very soon after the action or behaviour that caught your attention. Use frequent ‘catch-ups’ with your team to give regular feedback, and

don’t store it all up for the annual appraisal.


2.2 Focus on the specifics

Feedback needs to relate to what the individual or team has done or neglected to do.


2.3 Give feedback only on facts and observed behaviour 

Responding to hearsay or third-party information is hard to substantiate and can cause problems if you try.


2.4 Give feedback for the benefit of the receiver, not for your release or gratification

It should help them improve their performance.


2.5 Focus on what to do rather than what not to do

“Don’t forget to …” and “Don’t spill it” are rarely helpful or motivating. What should the individual do instead? A colleague worked for a manager who routinely asked, “What went well?” followed by “Even better if…”  All team members were asked to consider this after team meetings, customer visits, product launches and the collective feedback meant they all learnt for the next time.


2.6 Balance the good, the bad and the ugly

People need to hear all of it, and if balanced, it is likely to be more meaningful. We quickly tune out if feedback is always good or always bad. People consistently given ‘good’ feedback, especially that which is poorly delivered, will stop trying. Equally, those continually given negative feedback will lose their drive to improve.


  1. Ask them what they think

Most people will be harder on themselves than you would be – so ask people for their assessment on their own behaviour before you give yours. You can then build them up with positive observations.


  1. Ask for feedback on your own behaviour

This is challenging for some people, but it fosters this culture in which giving and receiving feedback is the norm. It enables us to exchange useful information and we can build our own feedback skills.


  1. Develop feedback skills – learn how to ‘BIFF’

I will focus here on the feedback situations which are hardest –the times when ‘developmental’ feedback is needed: poor performance, poor attendance, not doing things that have been promised, behavioural issues etc. When nothing is said, the behaviour is likely to happen again. Help your managers to develop the ability to give people a ‘BIFF’. This is a good quality, timely challenge which is both justified and fair, and leads the way to performance improvement:

Behaviour Behaviour:  When you do x it has the…
Impact Impact of y Which makes me / us…
Consequences Feel frustrated, let down – and in…
Action Future I would like you to do z


  1. Act on Feedback

The minute you start improving the flow of feedback, you will begin to find out things you need to act on like training, communications even housekeeping needs. When Sky set out to more effectively ‘engage’ with their employees, they got lots of feedback. In the top five complaints from staff was the state of the toilets. This was a surprise for management, but easy to fix. And the fixing went a long way in demonstrating commitment from management.


  1. Encourage multi-directional feedback

Generate feedback from customers, from peers, from team members, from other departments.  360˚ feedback is a challenge to get going, and an even bigger one to keep going, but it can help develop competitive advantage. Departments and functions within an organisation need to operate interdependently and exchange feedback on that basis.


  1. Develop a sense of collective ownership

What has caused the rise in customer complaints? Operations? Supply chain? Is it a marketing issue? Customer services? Or is it an amalgamation of all of these? Until there is good feedback and dialogue between internal functions, there is likely be finger pointing.  “It wasn’t us, it was them”.

If everyone is collectively responsible for the performance of the organisation, then individual feedback will seem less threatening, even useful. This does require management resilience and lots of dialogue.


 Don’t let up; engage in tough love with your managers

It is their job to get this feedback flowing around the organisation. It is their job to make use of the knowledge that comes out of this flow of information. Make them do it then give them feedback on how well it’s going.

Which brings me back to where I started – building a culture where feedback is the norm, where feedback is no longer feared and where it has a positive impact on individual, team and business performance is well worth the effort.

Steve Read

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