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Feedback: Feeding Great Performance

Feedback has the power to liberate and enable and keep people on track to great performance. Unfortunately, if neglected, it will potentially encourage increasingly poor performance and debilitate and freeze people under pressure so they cannot perform at their best. So how can we best use this tool?

Doug Montgomery
1st November 2020

My recent article talked about Eoin Morgan’s approach to leading his team under extreme pressure.  I want to follow this with some thoughts on how effective feedback (and feedforward) feeds great performance, confidence and trust. 

Feedback has the power to liberate and enable and keep people on track to great performance.  Unfortunately, if neglected, it will potentially encourage increasingly poor performance and debilitate and freeze people under pressure so they cannot perform at their best.   

Most people I ask about feedback tell me about their annual review and performance conversations in which feedback is gathered by the manager and feed into the annual conversation about how well the person did or didn’t do.  I remember this from my corporate days. It’s a really ineffective way of using feedback. 

Why? – Because it’s anything up to 12 months out of date and is therefore of no practical use other than to make someone feel bad (or occasionally good) without feeding into their day to day performance. It can lead to the loss of a bonus and salary increase and does nothing to foster great performance. It can also be the source of a really difficult, emotionally charged, confrontational and demotivating conversation for both the manager and the individual. 

Let me reframe feedback as the following: “timely information about what you are doing”. This is key to making feedback effective: sharing factual observations on what is being seen, heard and experienced as close in time as possibleto when the observation was made. 

To perform well I need to know whether I’m on the right track or moving off track.  

“Your presentation today was really clear about what you needed from me and the way you dealt with the questions – short clear answers to what was asked – made me felt confident that you had the bases covered”.

An example of good feedback

When I know these things in real time, I can correct my course or continue on it with confidence, encouragement, trust and support. Without this information, I may continue to veer off course, leaving you to tell me how far off I’ve got at my annual review – potentially months of deviation from course and with no opportunity to correct it, plus a very difficult conversation to be had for both of us at the year’s end. 

So tell me when you notice me doing things well. Tell me when you notice me doing what you need from me. Tell me specifically what it is you want more of and what makes my performance or behaviour good – give me the data so I can use it to keep performing well. 

The track to good performance
Stay on track with useful feedback

A vague “you did really well” is nice but not useful

On the other hand: “Your presentation today was really clear about what you needed from me and the way you dealt with the questions – short clear answers to what was asked – made me felt confident that you had the bases covered”.  This is useful; I can take this into future presentations and Q&As.

I also want you to tell me when you’re not seeing things you need from me – share your observations and the impact I’m having or not having.  I need to know when I’m off track specifically and quickly. However, saying “Your presentation was poor!” is not helpful as it gives me no clue as to why and how to correct it.

Consider this alternative: “In today’s presentation, it took you too long to get to the key messages and it was not clear what you wanted from me. It had the effect of making me nervous about where the project has got to and what you need”.  This is really useful.

Then you could be curious about my point of view and you could ask me:  “What did you notice about your presentation and how did you feel it was received?”

Once you’ve heard my point of view you could ask me “What could you do differently next time?” and “How can I support you in this?”

So, to summarise this simple feedback approach:

  1. Be Timely – Give feedback as close to the event as possible
  1. Check Your Intention – Are you doing this to support me and to get me to perform at my best?  If yes – go ahead. If not – don’t speak. 
  1. Check I’m Open To Hearing It – Tell me you’ve got some feedback for me and ask if it’s a good time to hear it.  If I say yes – go ahead, if no, ask: “When would be a good time?”
  1. Share The Specifics – Tell me the facts and data of what you noticed and its impact on you or the team or the work. Don’t give me opinions, just data and impact.
  1. Be Curious About My Experience – Ask me what I noticed about the event you are describing and how I felt it went.
  1. Help Me Move Forward – Engage me in a conversation about how to move forward and what support I need.

The principle here is to keep nudging performance and behaviour back on track and to encourage and support the good work others are doing. Feedback is not just for Christmas; it’s a daily gift that keeps on giving.

What do you think; is there anything you would add? What experiences have you had with giving or receiving feedback? Let me know in the comments; I’d love to hear from you.

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