Research shows that leaders typically avoid giving feedback, particularly the further away performance is from expectations. This week we look at a feedback structure that focuses on behaviour and the impact we have on others.
Hello and welcome to episode five of the Leadership Today podcast. Each week we provide practical advice to address some of today’s biggest leadership challenges. And this week’s leadership challenge is a doozie - it’s feedback.
I’m sure you’ve heard the expression - feedback is a gift. But, let’s be honest - not every gift we give is fantastic. In my family we have a Christmas tradition which is a variation of the Kris Kringle - the difference being that there’s a $5 limit on each gift and the aim is to be as entertaining as possible - we call it the Krap Kringle (both with Ks obviously). Sure, everyone gets a gift, but most people don’t keep them for very long.
And research indicates that leaders avoid giving these gifts at work - they avoid providing feedback, and that lack of feedback actually gets worse as an individual’s performance drops off. In other words, the further your performance is away from expectations, the less likely you are to receive feedback.
So what drives this? Well, leaders are often afraid to provide feedback - they are worried about how it will be received. But bad news doesn’t improve with age.
Typically the issue continues to build up, and there’s often a clumsy confrontation which makes everyone feel worse.
Of course, feedback doesn’t just have to be negative. However, in the busy-ness of life we tend to also miss the opportunities to provide encouraging feedback.
In contrast, if you have ever worked in an organisation with a high-feedback culture, you’ll instantly recognise how beneficial it was to your development. At a consulting firm where I was a leader, we made a habit after every client meeting of providing feedback - taking time to talk about what went well and what could be improved for next time. At first that felt pretty confronting and awkward. People would often just say that the meeting was ‘good’ or ‘fine’. But as trust was built, the appetite for real feedback increased. In fact, aspects of my behaviour that were completely blind to me were shared - both undiscovered strengths, and often simple changes I could make to improve my impact.
I spend much of my time now facilitating leadership programs, and this is a particularly rich feedback environment - feedback from the co-facilitator, from the clients and participants on the program as well. Sometimes that feedback can seem a little harsh. Sometimes the gift is particularly wrapped all that well. But that doesn’t mean it’s not the right gift. In fact that constant feedback has improved me a great deal and toughened me up.
So here are a few key principles to keep in mind when it comes to feedback:
- Make it a habit - and do it close to the time - that’s where my earlier example of providing feedback straight after meetings was great - it build the habit and it was immediately after the event
- Keep it balanced - look for the good as well as improvement - it’s all developmental feedback
- Start by sharing your intent - if people are afraid or concerned they can’t listen - let them know that you’re on their side - are you really trying to help them, or are you wanting to hurt them? Setting that up as a habit really helps to ensure you’re doing this from the right intent
- Stick to behaviour - it’s like watching a video tape back - what did you actually see, and what was the impact on you and on others
- Check in later to confirm understanding - ask them to restate what their takeaway was from the feedback that you provided
William Gentry shares a really helpful feedback format in his book called “Be the Boss Everyone Wants to Work For” - I’ve provided a link to the book in the episode notes. www.amazon.com.au/Be-Boss-Everyone-Wants-Work-ebook/dp/B01E4KC0V8
The approach is called SBI, named after the three components of the feedback approach he outlines.
S stands for Situation - and in that stage you want to describe the exact moment the feedback relates to, being as specific as possible
B is for Behaviour - what you actually observed - and again that’s like you’re watching a video of the event back and describing it
I is for Impact - this is describing the impact on you, and it can also be the impact on others if you observe that
So let’s apply that - I’d like you to compare these two versions of the same feedback:
The first version is this - “During meetings lately you have being really rude.” - so that feedback is not particularly helpful.
Now let’s compare that with using the SBI format - “(S) Yesterday at the marketing meeting when Jane started presenting, (B) you leaned back on your chair, sighed, and started to use your phone. (I) I felt disappointed that you appeared disengaged from Jane’s presentation”.
And then you want to allow the person to respond. Maybe they weren’t being rude. Or maybe they received a text that lead to their response. There are a whole host of reasons for why they may have behaved the way they did. But none of these reasons change the impact on you and on others, and that’s the important thing. You’re not trying to guess at what drove their behaviour - you’re just providing an insight into the impact they are having on others.
The SBI approach works equally well for positive feedback. For example:
- Situation - During the interaction you just had with that customer who came in with a problem
- Behaviour - I noticed how you smiled and offered a number of helpful suggestions
- Impact - the customer ended up smiling and shaking your hand, and I was really impressed.
This week I encourage you to practise feedback. Use the SBI model or similar. Try to catch people doing good things, and provide the positive feedback straight away.
Also, ask people for feedback on you, and be specific. If you just say “can you give me feedback”, most people will say “you’re doing fine”. But if you say “can you give me feedback on how confident I’m appearing in presentations”, you’ll receive much richer feedback.
Next week we’ll be talking about assertiveness - what it is, and how we can build it in ourselves and others. I look forward to speaking with you then.