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How could you improve feedback sessions? We all received and gave feedback but it can be puzzling as it may end up into a blaming or a congratulation session. As a manager you want to give constructive feedback in order to improve your team effectiveness. You may also be reluctant to give feedback because it is personal and can create discomfort. As an employee you may be looking for a way to get the feedback you need when your manager is not taking the lead.

Finding an approach that represents you and does not feel useless is sometimes complex . On one side, there is the feedback giver who wants the feedback to encourage the person to deliver a specific outcome or a new behavior. On the other side, there is the feedback receiver who may feel attacked because the comments may mean that he is not "good enough" or the feedback do not support him to improve his work. Feedback sessions can be an highly emotional moment when both participants come with some kind of angst. Giving and receiving feedback is hard when we focus on the "potential negative reactions". One key to success is to always focus on facts that can be observed from both sides.

Let's concentrate on how to give "negative" feedback in this article. You should always give positive and negative feedback in order to balance the discussion. I cannot believe this person is doing it all wrong!

A good feedback to see a change is a Fact feedback.

Can you remember a time when someone told you something sounding like "You are stupid! You should not have done that!" and your immediate reaction was "fight / flight or freeze". This did not help change anything. You should focus on facts and explain why the result of action "A" was not what you expected. For example, one employee may deliver bad oral presentations. You will not start saying that the person is a bad speaker. In stead you will mention facts like: I realized that you'r saying to many "hum", you do not look at the people.... Then you will give the person a detailed description of what you expect from them in the future. Help them to focus on those areas of improvement.  

Do not give feedback, give feed-forwards.  

Feedback are focused on a past that you cannot change. Focusing on the future actions that the person should take is empowering. It is your role as a feedback giver to frame the desired behavior the person should show. You have some homework to do before the feed-forward meeting. Observe and take notes about the feedback receiver's actions and list what you really expect from them. Be clear about what you expect from the person!

Steps to prepare for a feed-forward session

This method should be used to prepare for each individual session. The Feedback preparation starts way before the meeting itself. For each person, you should keep the following list up to date. 

Observe behavior: 

A leader that I know writes his observation on post-it and keep them all in a personal folder. He opens it few weeks before the meeting in order to clarify what the employee will need during the feed-forward session. 
  1. List positive behavior you observed. Use examples to back up your list.
  2. List new behavior that the person should start showing up. Use examples to back up your list.
  3. List undesired behavior that the person should stop. Use facts and example to back up your list.
Yes, there is a lot of repetition but please back up every observed / desired behavior with an example.

Prepare for the meeting: 

Are you sure that your suggestions as backed up with facts? Avoid being judgmental because it will not help the person grow. We grow when we believe we can learn more not when we think we are going to fail.
  1. Prioritize the list of behavior and create a list of things you want to discuss with the employee. Everything you observed may not need to be discussed. 
  2. Make sure you are talking about specific facts and please, not alternative facts ;)
  3. Do not make it personal. Do not attack the person.

Lead the meeting using facts to support your argumentation

  1. Explain that the aim of the meeting is to help the person develop itself and become better at what they do 
  2. Describe the positive behavior that you appreciate.
  3. Describe the new behavior that will help improve his / her work and give examples of how the person could implement it in the daily business. 
  4. Describe the behavior that you think the person should not have anymore and explain why. 

After the meeting: FOLLOW UP!

As a feedback receiver there is nothing less discouraging than not hearing from our manager after taking the decision to work on yourself. Plan follow up meetings with the person on a weekly or monthly rhythm. It is important that you follow up on the new behavior that the person should show and remind kindly that some behavior are not acceptable.

I hope you enjoyed this article and please share it with people who may need it or find it interesting.

I have worked in different companies and always wondered why change never happened. I studied Organizational Sciences in an attempt to understand why change strategies fail 70% of the time. I have read, discussed and observed bad communication, ineffective leadership, self´sabotage and many other factors that influence negatively change. I also found reinforcing information on how to create a functional change process. I decided to become a consultant in order to accompany companies. I am sure we can increase the change success rate by taking into account the human side of change. As individuals change is difficult even if we aim for a better work-life balance or to become a better employee / leader. Putting our ideas into action is difficult as we have to change our habits. At the organizational level it becomes even more difficult. It is not only one person trying to change it is a team, a department, a whole company... This group dynamic is difficult to apprehend. In this post I want to warn you about a trap in which I have seen too many companies fall.  

The consultant point of view: Managing everything but change

As a consultant. I faced disappointment. I was called in to analyse a company process and realized that the thing expected from me was to confirm that something went wrong. The decision to do something about the "problematic" process belonged to a higher level of management which I was not in contact with. I had little to no influence on the change process itself. It made me think and think again about how I could improve my intervention in the future. I realized how important it was for me to not only look at problematic processes but also do something about it. When I asked people involved in the process few months later. I heard the same complains from employees. Unfortunately, I am not the only consultant facing: Resistance to change. It is for sure a 2-ways dynamic where both the consultant and the client could better work together. 

Pain is the only reason why people and organization change but we are like frogs in boiling waters. We wait until it is too late...

Now, why do some companies change while others just cannot do it? It is all about feeling pain. If the current situation is not painful or unpleasant enough then companies stay where they are. Think of those frogs that are put alive in a pot of water. The cook increases the temperature until the water boils. The frog remains in the water because it does not feel the temperature increase, the pain. It will only react at the last moment but it is too late. The frog has no more energy to escape. This frog syndrome takes place in companies too. They are boiling in their own water. Some consultants outside the pot see it coming and try to alert the company. It does not listen because it is so comfortable. They know their pot very well and do not care about finding another one. They do not suffer. In companies, you need very alert and sensitive employees that cannot stand the increase in temperature. You need pessimist frogs. The one that jump out as soon as something is wrong. The one that see the danger coming and alert you. First of all you need to listen to them. If you are not ready to listen. Do not come later and complain about a failure.

Metrics as an alarm system to avoid the frog syndrome...

Let's get out of the frog comparison for a moment. How do you know that the situation you are in, is one that endangers your company? Let's look at some metrics because decisions without data is like Bungee jumping without a rope, deadly. You can ask your employees through interviews or questionnaire about their repetitive difficulties. You can use the rich picture methodology to help you visual processes. You can also analyse the employee turnover rate, the satisfaction level or the employee engagement. If those numbers are going in the wrong direction, you must think about the frog.

Alarm system & intervention crew

Putting an alarm system in place is a first step. The next one is to create a change intervention crew because why have an alarm system if it is not linked with a police station? The crew can be made of current employees at different level of the company or organizational development professionals. They will help recognize critical signs while understanding your company and how it ticks. This group should be responsible for the problem analysis and change implementation. The most important is to listen to your employees and develop a solution with them. Communicate about the planned change. Reuse the same metrics to evaluate the evolution. It should help you decide if you have still something to improve.

Learn to listen to your company

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I would love to hear from you and learn more about your experiences and thoughts, just comment this post and I will get in touch with you.