A brief introduction with a little “hard reality”
Someone honest will be able to say, “No, I don't know how to do it.” Another will say, “Learning it has taken me some time, perseverance and, above all, loads of effort!” And another, “It's simple, it's about sitting with someone, telling him or her what they've done right, what they've done wrong, asking them to do their action plan and that's all.” That last scenario really worries me.
Giving feedback is undoubtedly one of the biggest challenges we have as people managers and at the same time, it’s an outstanding development tool. If this work is already demanding when we give feedback to our own teams, it is twice as hard when we facilitate and guide leaders in other work units, so they get it right with their own teams.
The question that comes to my mind here is: “Are we really making sure that team leaders carry out their feedback sessions with the calibre required for such a task?” I’ll leave the question open for you to think about it.
My experience has revealed to me that in truth (I beg you to please contrast it with yours) is that many professionals in positions of leadership within organizations have reached them mainly by relying on their technical talent, but giving way to a significant and widening talent gap in people management. And here I don't mean the talent for organizing or planning tasks. No. When I talk about managing people, I mean the skill to efficiently manage:
- Conflicts occurring in everyday interaction.
- People’s expectations, collective and individual
- Their particular development plans
- Strategies to keep your people motivated and enthusiastic
- And more.
I suggest you think about your own management and the reality within your organization. How are feedback processes carried out? Which of these groups do you feel represents you: "We do it very badly", "We do it wrong", "We're doing fine”? I'll stop at this last one. When we think we're doing well, it's worth knowing that there's still lots of room for improvement.
That’s how it is. Giving feedback is a complex and challenging task. But the challenges and barriers present us with two alternatives: to let go of change and stay in “auto pilot”, or to renew the intentions and find new ways to grow. Are you interested in focusing on the latter? Then let's continue.
Before explaining the complexity of giving feedback, let’s get the key concept straight. Feedback is all the information we give (or receive) about another person; information about what is done "right" and/or "wrong" in a given context. The aim of feedback is to correct unsuitable behaviours and to reinforce the right behaviours.
In this article, we narrow down the analysis of feedback to organizations, but obviously we experience feedback in all areas of our lives.
So, why is the feedback process so daunting?
Let me put it in a nutshell: the cultural factor. Generally, we develop in overly critical environments, where attention tends to focus on errors rather than on success. When I came home from school with my report card, my mom would look more at the low grades and ask about them, rather than recognize the top ones. Did the same thing happen to you? Another element is the social consensus that it’s better to show we know everything or a lot, when it might not actually be so; in fact, more often than not, it isn’t. Another factor is wanting to pretend that everything is under control. What’s another factor? The fear of making a mistake, “If what I say is wrong, they'll make fun of me, and I'll look like an idiot.”
If you feel that none of these situations represent you, congratulations, you’ll be in a better position to weather a feedback process. However, if you've felt you could identify with any of them, that's normal. Unfortunately, this is a common reality. That's where the barriers come from.
In such an environment, feedback doesn’t stand a chance of surviving successfully.
The barriers underpinning solutions (that do exist)
The barriers underpinning the feedback process cannot be anywhere else other than in our own mind. The human mind is the cause of all our progress and it’s also the creator of the greatest barriers existing.
It is important to know that emotions are the source and cause of all human behaviour; and that all human interaction is biased by our paradigms. Emotions and paradigms are constantly interacting with, feeding back into, and reinforcing each other. Both factors in the long run spur feelings that condition our behaviour in various situations – some of which are relevant for organizational purposes – such as feelings of belonging and trust.
Awareness that these factors influence human relationships is essential to improving these relationships and particularly to succeed in making an organizational process like that for giving/receiving feedback is consistent and has positive effects for the company in unequivocal terms of profitability, of building trust, and without leaving a key element on the back burner: the other’s personal development and then as a reward, ours.
A feedback process leads to three possible scenarios:
- Greatly boosting an individual’s performance and driving their development
- Triggering a process whereby self-confidence is lost, self-esteem is damaged, development is held up and a potential reason for leaving the company, and in some cases, this is unnecessary and undeserved
- Initiating a process of "emotional disengagement" from the company by the employee and bringing about poor performances.
Three basic tips for rethinking the tenets of feedback
What we know: managing a feedback process is a challenge. So, what next? What can I do to be more competent in this process? How can I put my management on the right track, so things are done better in my organization? Here are three recommendations:
- Develop an understanding and awareness of the transformative power of the feedback process. What I am about to tell you now is very profound and has a philosophical basis: an individual's identity is completed and reaffirmed on the basis of the other's opinion. This is crucial and must be kept in mind.
- Work on managing the emotions that that the feedback process brings out in everyone (whether as appraisers or appraisees) before, during, or after it.
- Work on questioning the paradigms governing our company’s leaders and our lives. Question them. Think about them. Manage their change. I urge you to work on managing change.
I favour global and structured training on cultural management that addresses these three points mentioned. However, to get ahead independently, let me tell you that there is a lot of information (some of it highly valuable) on the internet for points two and three. I suggest you look this up using keywords like “emotional self-management” or “shifting/breaking paradigms”.
Can you make the commitment to undertake a journey of self-knowledge and make your own insights, and then after this learning experience, transmit and share them with your team and your peers?
Let's get down to work! Seven practical recommendations for feedback
Here the recommendations are given flowing from the perspective of someone who will receive feedback from you (they can also be used inversely):
- Accept that the individual right in front of you will never have all the existing qualities. Limit expectations – yours, and theirs — by letting them know what they are. Be aware of this when giving them feedback. He or she is not perfect, nor are you, remember that. Focus on what's really relevant to the job.
- Feedback must be based on concrete, observable and consistent facts, for example, two or three incidences of unpunctuality cannot become a sweeping generalization if there is a track record of regular punctuality. This “rule” applies both to the positives and to what can be improved. Facts and not opinions.
- The feedback session requires preparation. Become informed of the facts and impacts these have had. Allow questions from the appraiser, who will want to know the basis of your statements on their behaviour. It's only fair to ask. It's up to you to answer with proper substantiation.
- Feedback is about behaviours, not about the individual. The individual is not "irresponsible," but for example, “He or she has not delivered key monthly decision-making management reports on time.” If you “attack” the essence of someone’s being you can cause serious damage to self-confidence, and then to the team's working climate, and to that person’s engagement with himself or herself and with the company. Don't label.
- Understand that a series of emotions will accompany the feedback process prior to it as well as hours/days after it. Emotions aren't good or bad. They just exist. You must learn how to manage them. For example, fear is counteracted by taking into account the purpose of the process: to contribute to an individual’s development; anger can be managed by documenting every sign of appreciation you give and by providing context and detail.
- During the meeting, your great challenge is to be present at all times and to be attentive to the reactions that the appraiser shows and, above all, to the reactions he or she does not verbalize, but still communicates using non-verbal language. Manage the reactions you notice by asking about them, do not prejudge, explore, and verify. Eliminate any element that hampers your attention, one such great rival is for example: the mobile phone.
- Remember what the feedback objectives are: to reinforce behaviours and modify other behaviours. Also let the aim of the feedback process be your guiding light: the personal development of the human being who is facing you. That’s important: his or her development. I emphasized that on purpose. Focus on solutions. Guide by thinking about the short term, while still keeping the long term in sight.
Are you ready to help your team member build a new, better version of himself or herself? Are you aware of how you can impact someone's development? The power of words to build trust and to inspire is impressive. I encourage you to use that power and make a difference.
Make a success of your challenge!
“The true historical transcendence of an individual, organization or nation is determined by how many capable people he seeks and forges.” (Daisaku Ikeda, Buddhist philosopher and President of Soka Gakkai International)
My recommended bibliography that I found helpful:
- Smart feedback. Jane Rodriguez del Tronco, Rosa Rodriguez del Tronco, Naomi Vico García. Lid Publishing House.
- How to give feedback. Harvard Business Press.
- The art of giving feedback. Harvard Business Review Press.
- Thanks for the feedback. Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen