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How To Give Feedback That Delivers Results

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Feedback should be a rite of passage. As you progress through your career you should have mentors, coaches, bosses and trusted advisors who have mastered the art of feedback. If you are fortunate, the feedback you receive is given with context, examples and clarity. The feedback has been well rounded; being positive, negative and somewhere in between. And, the feedback has come naturally, throughout the years, and not simply a scheduled event.

I fear however, that most employees (at any level of the organization) have not been so lucky and that most feedback has been attached to performance management, performance reviews and reprimand. If you are a manager, leader or coach, then you need to provide feedback outside of a review process.

Feedback should be regular, meaningful and authentic. It should help employees, co-workers and mentees grow in their roles; as leaders, as team members, as service providers. It should not be something that's only attached to performance management, feedback and reprimand.

The art of conversation is sometimes difficult. Giving regular feedback as part of an authentic conversation is an art itself. It is a practice that makes you better -- not perfect. So, how can you learn to give feedback outside of structured systems and be authentic, conversational and helpful so that it is regular and meaningful?

1. Start with compliments. Feedback doesn't have to be negative and you don't have to teach something. Telling people they have done a good job is feedback -- and welcomed at that! But "good job" is not enough. To make it feedback you need to put it into context.

There are three simple steps to all feedback: 1. What was the situation? 2. What was the outcome? 3. What to continue doing or stop/adjust/improve doing and why?

Mary has brought her project in on time and well under budget. Instead of simply saying, "Good job Mary!" It might go something like this. "Great job Mary. You not only managed to bring in your project on time, but you did it well under budget. By doing that you not only helped our budget, with your help we can leverage your savings to help other projects that might need extra budget support to deliver. You are a great example of finding creative solutions for your projects that deliver results."

Compliments are the least uncomfortable type of feedback to give. Make the compliments meaningful.

2. Continue with compliments that also have suggestions for improvement. This is not negative feedback. This is helpful, meaningful feedback where you act as coach for improvement. The same principles apply: 1. What was the situation? 2. What was the outcome? 3. What to continue doing or stop/adjust/improve doing and why?

Mary presented to her peers the third quarter results on business development activities with a view to the final quarter. The content of the presentation was good. The information was solid, accurate and the plans for fourth quarter were tracking to success. However, Mary presented the plan as final, didn't provide time for feedback and didn't encourage discussion. Yes, Mary was in charge of this project but her collaboration and consulting skills need improving. The result is, while her peers might have agreed with all of the information, they didn't feel that they were included in the process.

"Mary, your work on the business development plan is outstanding. We are achieving terrific results and with your help we should meet or possibly exceed expectations by year-end. I did want to give you some feedback on your delivery of the plan earlier today. The content was clear and the tactics were well communicated. Next time, I'd like to see you give more time to getting feedback from the audience on your plan. We know it is going to be implemented, but understanding how others are feeling about it can help you better meet the needs of the project and have your colleagues feel they were part of the process. And, you might learn that there are areas that could use improvement. How about you build in opportunities for a Q&A next time? I'd be happy to help you with that. I'd also like you to check in with a couple of team members and get their feedback on today's presentation. What do you think?"

Feedback for improvement should be timely, specific, helpful and authentic. Always coming from a good place.

3. Having the difficult feedback conversation follows the same path. 1. What was the situation? 2. What was the outcome? 3. What to continue doing or stop/adjust/improve doing and why?

This is the most difficult type of feedback. It's the one that parents have with their children naturally and authentically. The "never do that again because..." talk. In the workplace, these conversations are hard to have. Many people avoid these conversations and then wonder why the problem keeps happening. Frankly, you just have to do it and get comfortable with the process of giving feedback. Ensure that your feedback comes from a place of authenticity and helpfulness -- even when it is a reprimand.

If you've never done this before, think about why? Avoidance? Are you uncomfortable with that type of conversation? Do you already have the perfect team? Then think about some of the difficult conversations others have had with you. If the feedback was well delivered then think about how you felt and what you did afterwards. If the feedback wasn't well delivered, think about how you can do a better job with others.

Whatever the difficult feedback -- regularly late for work, bad behaviour in the workplace, not following procedures, or more serious problems -- the process is the same. I won't give an example because many companies have specific procedures and policies around difficult conversations. For that you should consult your HR practitioner.

Tips for difficult feedback?

Consult others on your situation and how you are going to handle it and what you are going to say (HR, your manager, your trusted advisor/coach/mentor). Ensure you have the facts of the situation and the emotional impact is in context. Write down what you are going to say and review it for flow and meaning. Determine the time, day and where you will deliver this difficult feedback. Consider how the person might feel and react. How will you manage that?

Be thoughtful, meaningful and authentic when delivering difficult feedback and understand that as difficult as it is for you to deliver, it is likely much harder for the receiver to hear it.

Delivering feedback is a responsibility of managers, leaders, coaches and mentors. It is a serious responsibility that can impact internal culture, productivity and relationship management. By participating in the art of feedback -- good, bad and in between -- you are participating in the rite of passage and helping others see how feedback can be delivered in a helpful, meaningful and authentic way.

Then, when it is time for the formal performance review, there is little chance that feedback and performance results will be a surprise.

So, what's stopping you?

Judy Mann is a consultant | advisor with Judy Mann Communications. She offers internal and external communications and pr services as well as specialized group and individual sessions and workshops on increasing interpersonal communications effectiveness, relationship building, public speaking and presentation style and delivery. http://judymanncommunications.com

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