The Power of Feedback

The Power of Feedback: Providing clear, concise feedback is the making of a stronger leader

By Ardele Karaganis, Senior HR Consultant

Feedback is not your enemy. It’s actually a process that we should be very familiar with. As babies when we learned basic life functions — walking, talking, eating, playing with others —we received feedback on how to do these tasks better. We continued to receive feedback through school — comments on homework, scores on papers, coaching to play a sport better. Feedback follows us into the workplace and by this time, we should be experts in giving and receiving feedback. Yet, at some point, feedback has been given a negative connotation. You might even say we’ve become afraid of it.

Instead of offering valuable feedback as soon as the opportunity presents itself, too many leaders save their comments for annual reviews and water down the message with positive comments — making the feedback far less impactful. They let their fear of feedback stop them from giving direct, constructive, helpful feedback.

I repeat: feedback is not your enemy. It’s not something to be scared of or avoided, and it definitely isn’t fundamentally negative.

Feedback is a gift.

Carol Robin says to get better at giving feedback, you must change how you think about it. “It’s a gift. It’s data. It’s data I didn’t have before with which I can now make more informed choices.” (Carol Robin) Reframing how you perceive feedback makes it a tool you can use to strengthen your skills and your team.

When to give feedback

Annual reviews have their purpose and place in the workforce, but they are not meant to be a feedback dump session. Feedback should be given year-round, as required, so it can be actioned in a timely matter.

“Real-time feedback is a performance management strategy,” says Madeline Miles, Better Up. Miles adds that real-time feedback can help employees correct their mistakes, create behavioural changes, and perform tasks better in the future.

“Encouraging real-time feedback at your organization sends a signal to your people that you’re supporting them every step of the way,” says Miles.

Once it comes time for an annual review, Miles suggests addressing the feedback given throughout the year during the conversation. Rather than being new or surprising information, it’s a chance to review comments and suggestions you’ve already discussed. Leaders and their employees can talk about if the feedback helped, whether performance has improved or if there is still progress to make.

How to give better feedback

The Management Centre says great feedback is:

  • Based on observed behaviour
  • Specific to a given situation
  • Balanced 

To give better feedback, start by framing your comments with these three elements in mind. Focus on what really happened and not what you think happened, reference events or activities instead of vague or general statements, and provide a combination of what worked and what didn’t work.

Kim Scott, author and co-founder of Radical Candor®, says the key to giving feedback is to care personally while challenging directly. Scott used these two elements to create her feedback quadrant which serves as a guide for achieving ‘radical candor’. According to Scott, when you care personally and challenge directly, you give feedback that’s both kind and clear, specific and sincere.

Because of the fear of hurting people’s feelings, a lot of leaders give feedback that Scott calls ‘ruinous empathy’. This type of feedback shows they care, but is vague, leads to no real change and is ultimately unhelpful.

Kim Scott’s steps to better feedback.

  1. Get feedback. Get used to getting it, ask for it, and learn from it.
  2. Give feedback.
  3. Gauge reactions. How are the people you’re giving feedback to reacting? Hurt? Up your care. Not sinking in? Up the candor.
  4. Encourage others to give feedback. Stop the gossip mill, stop venting, and encourage your team and others to talk to the person they are frustrated with.

Practice makes perfect

Giving better feedback may take some practice but over time, just like walking and talking, it will become easier. Start by reframing how you view feedback — remember it’s not something to be feared, but a gift for improvement — and prepare your feedback with the steps above in mind. Then, make sure you’re sharing often, keeping it direct and delivering with care.

To help leaders in your organization develop their feedback and leadership skills, contact People First HR. We support leadership growth through a variety of solutions including leadership development training, assessments, and coaching.

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