Giving and Getting Feedback

Sometimes giving feedback performance to staff is difficult to do and because of that, managers may avoid doing it. This approach isn’t recommended, as staff who don’t receive positive feedback often don’t know how well they’re doing. They fail to get their efforts acknowledged and endorsed. They may feel devalued, lose heart and their productivity may suffer. Similarly, staff who don’t receive constructive feedback have no opportunity to know their efforts could be improved, and miss the opportunity to learn or do something differently.

Managers may avoid giving feedback for a number of reasons. They may not be sure of the process to be followed, nor the forms to be completed. They may not have the appropriate tools in their management toolkit to do the job. Necessary tools include updated position descriptions; the organisation’s strategic plan and strategic goals; a business plan, the performance appraisal/professional development documentation; and a feedback model.

Another constraint may be more personal. If a manager has poor time management practices (i.e. doesn’t allocate time to prepare, book or conduct the meetings); and poor administrative systems (i.e. loses the paperwork; fails to give staff adequate notice of the meeting dates; fails to complete the paperwork), then feedback meetings may be random affairs. Another barrier may be the confusion for the manager (and staff) with the interchangeable use of some terms i.e. goals and objectives; developmental needs and goals. In most workplaces today however, giving performance feedback isn’t an optional extra. It is a requirement, yet it is still a task that can sometimes slip through the cracks.

The basic feedback framework is simple: (1) know the standard the performance is going to be measured against. The standard should be specific, known and agreed to, by both parties (2) have a measure of the current performance (3) determine if the current measure meets the standard or not, to see if there is a performance gap (4) discuss and agree to what can be done, to minimise/eliminate any identified gap.

The essential elements in giving performance feedback are straightforward: it should be given on an ongoing basis and not annually. It should be immediate, specific and descriptive. It should identify and endorse what’s done well (achievements) and identify areas that need development. It should be appropriate to an individual’s needs. It should always be ‘constructive’; and positive and negative feedback shouldn’t be mixed.

In theory, constructive feedback is supposed to focus on the performance, not the person. Yet in practice, with human beings being what they are, almost all feedback is taken personally, no matter how it is delivered. Whether the feedback gift is positive or negative depends upon the recipient’s experience. What makes feedback constructive? It is constructive if it is logically tied to a goal in which someone has invested energy.

The nature of feedback is simply that – a focus on past performance. As such, it can be static or limited, can imply judgement and the need to change; and may reinforce negative self-perceptions. Feedforward, however, has a focus instead on future performance and can reinforce the possibility of change. It is a different approach entirely.

Managers often wonder ‘what is the best way to give someone a ‘difficult’ message?’. An assertive communicative approach is a good one to use in these situations. This approach requires the manager to: (1) identify the issue (2) explain what is at stake (3) describe their response to the situation (4) invite a response (5) ask the person for their thoughts, views and opinions.

In practice, it looks like: ‘when I hear/saw/realised…..’ (the issue/behaviour), ‘I feel/felt……(feeling/response)’, ‘because……(the effect of the behaviour); ‘and I’m wondering what we can do to improve on that, for next time?’ (the invitation to change). This approach is neutral, considered and highly effective.

The best way to get feedback is to ask for it. Do your homework – know what you’ve done/not done; give thought to your own development needs; and reflect on your own performance. Specify the areas you want particular feedback in and listen, without interrupting. Ask clarifying questions then paraphrase and summarise what you hear. Then thank the person for their feedback and comments.

Giving and getting feedback isn’t the easiest thing to do. However, it is manageable. All it requires is commitment, adequate preparation, good systems and processes, and constant practice. ©


September 2005�