10 reliable ways to make effective feedback a part of your management style today
To provide effective feedback, you need an atmosphere of trust where both parties feel comfortable to speak up and be honest (ESB Professional/Shutterstock)
Traditionally, the performance review was often a high-stress, fear-inducing annual ritual of dubious merit. Once all the paperwork—and there was a lot of it—was signed off, everyone made sure to forget about the whole thing until the next year.
But times have changed. When done well, the process of giving feedback becomes a normal part of working life—and a part that aims at continual improvement, not just a once-a-year reset. Here are some tips from experts on giving effective feedback.
1. Have a plan
You cannot provide feedback in a vacuum. Employees and managers first need to agree on a performance plan, which includes setting specific goals. “Goal setting is very effective, because it focuses attention on what employees are supposed to be doing and how they can do it well,” says John Oesch, an associate professor of management at the Rotman School of Management in Toronto.
2. Follow through
Remember what kind of feedback you agreed to provide. “If you say to the employee, ‘I’m going to be giving you feedback on how you deal with clients’, and then you only talk about the person’s report writing, you’re not keeping your promises,” says Oesch.
3. Make it specific
Typically, you should give feedback on specific behaviours, says Thomas O’Neill, associate professor and founder of the Individual and Team Performance Lab at the University of Calgary. “The more general the feedback is, the more it becomes subject to interpretation, confusion and misunderstanding.”
4. Make it frequent
Feedback should be given on a regular basis, and not just once a year. Every time you see the employee, you should ask how things are going. But you don’t need to set up a formal meeting, says Oesch. “You can meet in the hallway or stop by the employee’s desk,” he adds.
5. Remember the positive
Don’t provide feedback only when correction is needed. “Giving positive feedback shows the behaviour was noticed and appreciated, and this positive reinforcement makes it more likely that it will show up again,” says O’Neill.
6. Be authentic
Any feedback should come from an honest and benevolent place. “The feedback giver must genuinely want to help the person improve and should not have an ‘angle’ or a ‘grudge’ or an ‘agenda’,” says O’Neill.
7. Be accurate
Feedback should be specific and based on observable behaviour or outcomes, says O’Neill. “Being late for a meeting is a fact, but assumptions that a person doesn't plan might be unfounded,” he says.
8. Provide a psychologically safe environment
To provide effective feedback, you need an atmosphere of trust where both parties feel comfortable to speak up and be honest, says O’Neill. “Otherwise, you can create a defensive or avoiding response,” he says.
9. Want to turn the tables? Get buy-in first
Although providing feedback to a boss can be worthwhile, you first need to make sure that person is willing to accept it, says Oesch. “The person has to want to get better. If you force feedback on someone who doesn’t want it, the chances of it being accepted are very low,” he explains.
10. Want a 360-degree review? First weigh the benefits and costs
They might sound like a good idea, but 360-degree reviews—assessments in which people are evaluated by peers and direct reports as well as their bosses—aren’t as popular as they used to be, says Oesch. “You need a lot of time, energy and money to actually do them properly and you have to train people,” he says. “It’s a huge investment.”
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There is no shortage of models in the marketplace for delivering feedback. But before choosing any technique, it’s important to think about your audience and your own management style. “No one technique is perfect,” says Gabor Herczeg, a Toronto-based management and technology consultant. Here are two models to try:
THE SITUATION-BEHAVIOUR-IMPACT MODEL (SBI)
Developed by the Center for Creative Leadership, this tool works especially well for task-oriented jobs. In giving feedback, the manager outlines the situation (S), what he or she saw (the employee’s behaviour; B), and the impact (I) on the business.
“This is a traditional management approach and can cause resentment if it is used all the time,” says Herczeg. “But it usually allows minor problems to be resolved quickly.”
THE FEELING-BEHAVIOUR-IMPACT MODEL (FBI)
This model was developed by the Barry Wehmiller company and is offered to those outside the company through its learning institute. Here, “feeling” (F) is added to the situation description. For example, you might deliver a statement like this: “I feel disappointed that you arrived late at the all-employee meeting yesterday. Now I’m not sure I can rely on you in future.” According to Herczeg, the FBI model is more difficult to implement than the SBI, because management lines become more blurry.
“Interestingly, this approach works better with millennials, who deeply resent the mechanical ‘do this or else’ subtext of the SBI model,” he says.