#018 - FEEDBACK. Giving and receiving good feedback is one of the most difficult tasks you will face as a new leader. Join Dr. Charles Boyer for a discussion, tips and techniques about this most important topic.
Hello, my friend, and welcome to KEYS FOR NEW LEADERS, a podcast just for YOU, the leader who serves others. This is your host, Dr. Charles Boyer, but my friends call me Charlie, and that’s YOU, my friend. I’m so glad you are here for this episode. It’s so good to see that, as this is being recorded, the “Keys for New Leaders” podcast has had more than 700 downloads from more than 240 different cities in 16 countries. That’s amazing to me! Thank you to everyone who has tuned in. I started this podcast as a way to give something back to new leaders, and I hope that these episodes have been helpful in some way to you. If you’ve already subscribed, thank you so much! If you haven’t, it isn’t too late. Click on the “subscribe” button on your podcast audio platform, and you’ll get updates whenever a new episode is posted. And as before, I’ll include three open-ended questions for you toward the end of this episode to help you focus on how you can improve your feedback skills – both giving and receiving.
This is Episode #18, and it’s about FEEDBACK. No, it’s not the kind of squeal you get when holding the mic too close to the speaker. It’s the kind of feedback that you give to others about their job performance, or that others give to you about your performance. Giving and receiving good feedback is one of the most difficult tasks you will face as a leader who serves others. Most of us – and I include myself in this group – aren’t’ very good at giving feedback to others. I’ve really had to work hard at it to get a little better over the years. And most of us – and again, I include myself in this group – don’t receive feedback well. We don’t accept criticism or judgment easily, even when it is intended to help improve our performance of our jobs. Why is that? Well, unfortunately, what is meant as constructive criticism often isn’t constructive. Criticism tends to point out what was wrong, rather than what was right. It’s very easy to point fingers and find fault. It’s a lot harder to find positive ways to help someone improve. Too often, criticism tends to trigger our natural “fight or flight” response, and we end up feeling as if we’ve been personally attacked.
An article by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall, titled “The Feedback Fallacy” takes the position that feedback really doesn’t work well, mostly because the type of feedback practiced in some businesses and organizations has tended toward what they describe as “rigorous, pervasive, and often critical feedback” as ways to increase performance. Well, that type of “General Bullmoose” feedback may increase performance slightly in the short run, but it sure won’t improve it. Telling people what WE think and how WE think they should improve won’t get good results. Remember that old saying: People tend to avoid what they’re hit with.
We seem to have a lot of “Monday Morning Quarterbacks” these days, always eager to point out what was wrong with the performance of the players on the weekend games, and how they could do it so much better. It’s not limited to criticizing football or baseball games. The news shows are full of talking head second-guessers who seem to have all the answers. Well, I don’t know about that, but they certainly have plenty of opinions to cover just about any subject.
That’s not helpful feedback. Anybody can point fingers and say what’s wrong, and often they do in great detail. But – how to make it better? How to improve the situation? Let’s be honest here – most of them seem to have no clue.
Employee performance reviews often fall into that negative trap that’s more of a “gotcha” approach. That’s when the boss looks for something you did wrong - “HA! GOTCHA!” That’s not very helpful either – for several obvious reasons:
· This approach tends to ignore what the person has done well, which likely is most of the time.
· It puts the person being evaluated on edge, and he/she likely won’t hear much more of what’s said
· It doesn’t provide any positive reinforcement and it doesn’t invite any thoughts on what could help make improvements in the person’s performance.
Remember, People tend to avoid what they’re hit with!
Yet, feedback CAN work and DOES work, if it’s done well. And that’s the essential element here – DONE WELL. Giving good feedback is not easy. It takes an enormous amount of preparation and practice to make it effective, both for you as the leader, and more especially, for those you serve as leader.
Hanna Hart, a highly experienced executive coach, has identified several key elements to giving good feedback. First of all, it’s so important to start with a growth-oriented mindset. The goal should be how best to improve overall performance, not find fault. It’s also very important to focus on several specific, observable results and to avoid judgment and generalizations. One thing I learned from many years of serving as a music contest judge is to focus on the results, not on how many mistakes were made. Focus on what’s good about the performance and what could make it even better in the future. That’s so much more positive than looking for mistakes and pouncing on them, pointing them out. The students didn’t make those mistakes on purpose. Pointing out three wrong notes tends to ignore all the many notes that were played correctly. Those mistakes are already in the past where they belong. Look and listen forward.
Hart also pointed out the need to speak with humility from your own point of view. That’s such an important part of giving good feedback. We can only speak from our own perspective and observations. It’s so important that we don’t allow our own views to crowd out the views of the person we’re speaking with. Remember, this should be a two-way conversation, not a finger-pointing session. It’s important to listen to the other person and take into account their perspective.
One thing that I’ve found to be helpful is to de-personalize your remarks as much as humanly possible. Avoid using “I” and “YOU” in all your statements. Try this one on for size: “I noticed that you failed to get your reports done on time.” What’s wrong with that statement? Wow – let me count the ways! Helpful? Hardly! Talk about a “General Bullmoose” type of feedback! How would YOU like to have that said to you in a performance review session? … I didn’t think so!
Brené Brown, author of “Dare to Lead,” wrote that when giving or receiving feedback, one of the biggest challenges we face is staying aligned with our values. Yes! Here’s where our values once again are tested. For example, if we hold Credibility highly as one of our values, how does that help frame what feedback we give or receive? How credible is what you are saying to the other person? How credibly will it be received? How credible is the response? Do you begin to see how your values can shape what occurs? How might this work with your other values?
Brown provides an excellent list of guidelines to help you ready yourself for the feedback session – and YES, you must prepare for it. I’ll include just three of her points here, and invite you to check out her excellent book for a more in-depth study and reflection. Brown says to plan the feedback session to sit next to rather than across from the person. Also, it’s important to “… put the problem in front of us rather than between us...” I like her use of the word “us” here – it helps put things in perspective as a shared experience. And, she adds, it’s important to acknowledge what the person does well, not just find fault with the person or his/her performance – and I certainly do agree with that suggestion.
One thing that I learned from my years of serving as an accreditation evaluator for university music programs was to work from a particular standard and then ask how that standard was being met. This approach worked very well, because it made no reference to a person or group, and did not prescribe how the standard was supposed to be met. This approach also opened the door to consider ways to better meet the standard. It’s more involved work, but it pays off in improved performance without getting all wrapped up in personalities, AND it encourages some exploration of different ways to reach the same goal. I invite you to try this approach – establish a clear standard that everyone can meet, and then ask each person how he/she meets the standard. You just may be amazed at the variety of ways people can think of when you empower them!
I mentioned earlier about preparing for a feedback session – both when you are giving feedback and when you are receiving feedback. I can’t emphasize enough how important that is to the success of the process. It helps to mentally rehearse the session. Go over it in your mind, imagining a positive experience, a shared experience, and a focus on positive outcomes. And don’t’ forget that old but most valuable Golden Rule – treat others as you want to be treated. It’s simple, it’s direct, and best of all, it really does work!
Another important way you must prepare is to look for signs of the person shutting down, of tuning out. When the person is no longer receiving your feedback, there’s a “law of diminishing returns” that is at work. You won’t get any more accomplished, so you might just as well stop trying. it’s time to shift gears, to go on to something else and circle back, or else cut the session short and reschedule it for another time. Can you picture a cornered cat with the ruffled tail and arched back? Sometimes it’s best not to force the issue!
Joe Hirsch wrote some tips in a good article, titled “The Feedback Fix.” He pointed out that good feedback should help to expand possibilities by being particular, that is, giving pointers during the work, not after. Good feedback describes the problem and prompts for a solution, and should help regenerate the person, rather than discouraging them. All good points to keep in mind.
One of the most intriguing ideas in an article by Marshall Goldsmith is the concept of Feed Forward, rather than “Feed Back.” Feed Forward helps produce future-oriented options or solutions. The more I think about that, the better it sounds to me. Feed Back looks at the past – what’s already happened, what’s already gone. Too often, Feed Back stops there. Feed Forward makes such good sense. We can do something about the future. We can’t change the past. Feed Forward helps people be right. It doesn’t try to prove that they did something wrong. It helps people be more successful by looking ahead to what can be, not what was. And, if there is a forward-looking, positive mindset to the feedforward process, people will tend to listen more closely because they are not engaging their “fight or flight” response. Sounds like a win-win to me! How about YOU?
There’s a lot to think about in this episode, so let me leave you with those three questions I promised you, and ask you to think about how your answers will be most helpful to YOU:
1. When has a feedback session been most helpful to you – either when you have given feedback or received feedback?
2. Why do you think that session was most helpful to you?
3. What are some positive things that you would include in a “feed forward” session?
And the Special Key for this episode is the Key of F, not for Feedback, but for FEED FORWARD! Look ahead – you can change what’s coming for the better. You can focus on what’s possible. YOU can help make a positive difference in someone’s life. Let what’s in the past stay there.
In the next Episode, we’re going to talk about what most of us are very good at -- the fine art of PROCRASTINATION, of putting things off. Remember the Procrastinator’s Motto: Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow. I was planning to do this episode much earlier, but I kept putting it off.
So until next time, whenever I quit procrastinating, get up off my blessed assurance and get around to recording the episode, please stay safe and well, my friend.