Feedback. How do you react when you hear, “May I give you a little feedback?” If you’re like most people, you cringe.
Purpose of Feedback
Feedback provides employees with information about how they’re doing compared with expectations. When done well, it guides the employees’ behaviors toward success. When employees feel successful about even small wins, they become more engaged and self-confident. Without feedback, employees wonder, “How am I doing?”
How the Brain Responds to Feedback
Current research on neuroscience unlocks some mysteries as to why feedback generally doesn’t work. Most managers dread giving feedback and therefore give it infrequently. People still operate largely on a “fight or flight” response. Faced with a threat (real or imagined), they tense up and prepare to either escape (flee) or defend themselves (fight). Either way, it’s unlikely that they will carefully listen to the criticism about to unfold.
In a recent article, “Our Brains Are to Blame: The Neuroscience of Feedback,” Jenifer Marshall Lippincott reveals that when managers shift the focus from what went wrong to exactly what the person did well and what they could do more of, the person is much more receptive to improving.
Creating a “feedback-rich culture” may be the answer. This requires all levels of an organization to give and receive feedback with positive intent. It’s time to get rid of the “here’s what you did wrong” approach and apply some simple principles of positive psychology.
Giving Effective Feedback
Rate Your Feedback Skills. Please answer “Yes” or “No” for each question.
1. I give feedback to employees on a regular basis (weekly, biweekly or monthly).
2. My feedback is based on observable behaviors (not opinions).
3. I focus on what the employee is doing well, offering specific examples.
4. I give timely feedback (as soon as possible to discuss selected behaviors).
5. I ask for feedback (i.e., “How am I doing in providing you with feedback? Would you like more, less or the same level of feedback going forward?”).
6. When giving feedback, I include all three feedback elements: a. the situation b. the behavior c. the impact of their behavior
7. My feedback is helpful rather than harsh or critical.
8. I believe there should be no surprises at performance review time.
9. Providing feedback to employees is a key responsibility of my leadership role.
10. I use feedback to address positive as well as undesirable behaviors.
Count your “yes” answers. Ideally, every item would be answered “yes.”
Probably the worst offender is the leader who holds back feedback until performance review time. This leader says little or nothing all year and then dumps a heap of negative criticism on the unsuspecting employee. This is simply destructive. It’s unfair to ignore poor performance for weeks or months and then suddenly “punish” an employee when the annual review is due.
Just like a great sports coach, a leader can leave a similar legacy by providing helpful, timely and specific feedback to all employees
Kathy Cooperman is a faculty member of LEADERSHIP USA