why do we suck at feedback?
The real question I want to ask is, why do we invest so heavily into Performance Management Systems rather than creating feedback skills as the fundamental component of the workplace culture?
Organisations continue to focus on the perfection of their performance system when the complex problem to solve is the practice of effective daily conversations which includes performance feedback.
Consequence: Employees leave managers, not companies
What I find, when talking with people, is that so many feedback opportunities are missed. Whether you’re walking down the corridor or sitting in a meeting together, it only takes a few minutes to provide the feedback which could be a game-changer for someone.
Maybe we think by saying “You did a good job” or writing an email advising a team member “I noticed you were late for a meeting” is good enough.
Nope – it’s not good enough.
It is essential when providing feedback, is that it is rich in data, it’s interactive, given with the honest intent to increase the performance of that person (or team), and that it makes an impact. And you know that it makes an impact because the communication flows and loops and there is action.
Between the intent and the impact is where the skill comes into play.
Research: It’s more than a hunch
Research tells us that people leave their manager, they don’t leave their company. Read that again.
In the 2015 Gallup Survey ‘The State of the American Manager’, 50% of people interviewed had left their company, at some stage in their career, to escape their manager.
People observe you. If you’re a manager/CEO/people leader, staff watch and listen to you, and have expectations of you in your role. They want you to action or at least feedback to them there is or isn’t progress.
And closer to home, Heads Up, the workplace educational unit at Beyond Blue in Australia, tells us that Psychological mental health is exacerbated when there is a lack of feedback about performance. And the cost associated with unhealthy workplaces which cause depression and anxiety costs Australian workplaces $10.8 Billion each year in lost productivity and compensation expenses.
Fact: Feedback motivates people
Motivating people might involve giving them a bonus but true motivation is the conversation that you have which acknowledges their effort, skill and the impact they’ve made. The effort and time you take to identify where they can improve, change or increase their performance is what motivates them.
Humans have an intrinsic motive to know that they’ve done a good job – so they’re expecting your recognition and praise – this is your opportunity to give feedback.
Martin Seligman, ‘father’ of Positive Psychology created the model, PERMA which identifies the elements that help people lead happy and fulfilling lives. Positive emotions (feeling good), Engagement (finding flow – immersion in what we do), Relationships (connections with people that you trust), Meaning (understand impact of life’s work), and Accomplishments (push us to thrive & flourish). Essentially, if your communication is constant and your feedback is welcomed, you’re helping people find true happiness in what they do while they work with you.
As Andy Grove, (former CEO & Co-founder of Intel) said, “a manager can damage morale, motivation and productivity of their teams based on their actions, or inaction. According to the Gallup’s study of managers, they found that the manager accounts for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement.” The manager has such an important role, it rises above their technical expertise.
Ken Blanchard (PhD, management expert, author) coined the phrase, Feedback is the breakfast of Champions. And, Peter Drucker (author, management expert) told us that Culture eats Strategy for breakfast. What I say is, if you have a culture which is continually engaged in conversations including feedback – no matter which role a person is in, then you’ll make it to lunch!
The Key Act: Follow up with Feedback
We spend days setting strategy, creating objectives for our people to achieve and identifying the key results to focus on and specific actions to complete (add up all those hours) – yet, what hours do we spend following up their progress?
I’m excited when I hear leaders tell me that the spend 5-10 minutes every week following up the people in their reach, providing feedback, seeking feedback and solving problems together. What disappoints me is when I hear staff tell me that they only receive feedback at their annual performance review (which they’ve written themselves).
Checking in on a daily, weekly or stretched out to monthly (depends on you and the individual) is a goal to set to seek and give feedback on performance.
“Hey, let’s talk about the presentation to the board. I’m confused about two items which you raised – can we discuss it now? There is no blaming here – it’s a good example of accountability of follow up feedback. This gives you the data and permission to keep the conversation alive and online.
The Feedback Goal: Feedback makes an impact
Consider the best feedback you’ve ever received.
Who gave it to you? What did they say?
I recall being told I said “OK” numerous times (try 70!) during a 45-minute practice presentation. Wow, it hit me like a tonne of bricks – I was totally unaware that I was an OK factory! That was almost 30 years ago, and I still recall receiving this piece of feedback. It was delivered directly, it wasn’t sugar coated, and I was thankful for their honesty.
What feedback could you give, right now, to someone in your workplace?
What would you say?
How would you say it so that it lands well and creates a positive conversation?
I hope this stretches your holding zone. Moving from your place in the comfort zone to the stretch zone or better still, I hope it freaks you out! And, quite rightly, it will freak you out because most of us suck at it.
The Workplace Goal: Let’s create Feedback opportunities
These opportunities present themselves every day, every hour and every minute.
It’s important that you observe people or at least hear them. You could be in a meeting, watching a staff member serve a customer or be in the middle of a conversation with a colleague.
If you see what you want to see or hear what you don’t want to hear – act as close to this moment as possible. Catch people doing the right thing and stop the wrong thing reoccurring.
I have a client whose leadership team shares and seeks feedback at each meeting. They commence with observed ‘strengths ‘in play and the impact they’ve witnessed and secondly, they (now) confidently share where they have ‘overdone the strength’ – with the outcome being a negative impact. This has been a game changer for this organisation. They have very quickly come a culture of feedback.
The Workplace Skill: Giving & Receiving Feedback
It takes skill to say it with the right intent, in a timely manner, in the right way to make the other person feel alright about receiving the feedback.
Everyone needs to be on board to know that it’s their role to receive feedback. And, that they have permission, that they are accountable to give feedback too.
Here’s an example of feedback which I recently received:
Louise, thank-you (gratitude) for your prompt response with the information I requested (specific task identified) it enabled me to quickly complete an important task for a client (connecting my involvement) – my client was surprised with the promptness and it looks like we may be closer to working on the project together. I really appreciate your help. (Impact)
There are many ‘right ways’ to give feedback – models, methods and frameworks which work for different situations and personalities.
Don’t get stuck using one technique – it might not be the right feedback technique for every situation and individual.
The Feedback Challenge: What will you do now?
If your intent is to positively improve the performance of your people, it’s clear what impact you’re seeking, then I can fill the ‘skill’ void – I will use suite of intelligence tools needed to seamlessly seal the intent.
If you are the CEO/the boss, then you can set yourself a key result of giving feedback every day.
How about you start today.
Your challenge is: to give feedback to three people and ask one person for feedback.
When receiving feedback, don’t accept, “you’re doing a good job”; rather respond with, “thanks, would you tell me specifically what I did today that you thought was good.”
Once you have your Feedback Skills embedded into your culture, and you no longer suck at it, you’ll question if you really need a Performance Management System or you’ll be surprised how more effective the process of appraisals becomes when Feedback is at the core.