Four Vital Elements Of Feedback

Published December 11, 2015

In talent management, we consider feedback to be important for many reasons.  It raises awareness of strengths and development areas.  It motivates individuals to improve.  It makes people feel happy and valued.  Ultimately, it enhances individual and organisational performance.

Well, that’s what we think.  However, there’s a problem with feedback.

From research and practice, we’ve seen that feedback can decrease performance if not done properly.  Psychologists Kluger and DeNisi found this in 32% of cases from their meta-analysis of feedback research.  That’s a very high number for something to have the opposite intended effect.

Since then, we’ve learnt that creating an unfriendly environment, delivering messages insensitively, and/or focusing on the wrong things all lead to decreased performance after feedback.  Research, and our experience, clearly shows we need to start thinking more about the nature of the message we’re delivering, and the personality of the feedback receiver.

For greater certainty that you’re delivering effective feedback, think about the following four points:

  1. Positive feedback is statistically more powerful than negative feedback.

One of the main challenges in giving feedback is when you have to deliver a negative message.  Some people naturally respond well to criticism and actively seek it, whereas others avoid it and feel quite emotional in the face of negative feedback.  One thing is true; everyone responds well to praise and feedback on what they’ve done well.

Clearly it’s important to help people change in areas they need to develop.  However, ignoring people’s strengths is not only demotivating; it’s statistically the wrong thing to do according to research.  Constructive messages that are phrased in a positive way and framed around what an individual has done well will be more effective.  One technique to achieve this is called ‘FeedForward’; I encourage you to read about it if you’re interested.

  1. Feedback on behavioural change is more powerful than feedback on a task.

Feedback on a task in isolation (from what someone does more broadly) is not as helpful as when it either builds on previous experiences and tasks, or can be used in future scenarios.  Context provides the “so what” to people.  Show people how their behaviour has changed, and make suggestions on how to change it going forward.  Then there will be much more learning taking place.

  1. Feedback needs to maintain self-esteem.

One of the dangers with feedback is decreasing self-esteem.  Weakness can come as a blow to some if not handled tactfully.  This is where using a coaching approach to enable personal reflection is most useful.  Get your direct reports to give you the answers, and they’ll take ownership of their development areas.

  1. Feedback needs to be specific, and based on challenging goals/tasks.

Feedback also needs to be specific and based on challenging goals/tasks.  If the goal wasn’t challenging, it is something you could potentially do in ‘autopilot’.  Ironically this makes it less likely to be achieved, because it’s not motivating.  If the feedback is on an ambiguous task or outcome, then people are less likely to attribute their own actions to the completion of the task itself.

At a&dc, we help clients to give their people these kinds of feedback skills.  Give us a call if you want to learn more about how we do this, particularly if you see feedback as an issue for your organisation.

Author: Jordon Jones

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