Best Practices for delivering feedback

As a leader and difference maker, I am sure you are well aware that giving feedback is a powerful tool to help your people thrive and contribute meaningfully to the work they do and to your overall vision, purpose, strategies, and goals, not to mention theirs.

It is also a way to create psychological safety and build trust and connection.

While most of us are aware of the significance of feedback, not all of us know how to do it well, so in this blog I thought I would share both the ineffective and effective practices that leaders often engage in.

Let’s start off with the least effective practices and mistakes, leaders often make:

  • Lack of Specificity: Vague or general feedback can leave employees or members of a group confused about what they need to improvement or what it is they are doing well. Without specific examples it can be really difficult for team members to understand the particular behaviours or actions they are supposed to focus on.
  • Focusing Solely on Criticism: Feedback should strike a balance between constructive criticism and recognising strengths and achievements. Leaders who only focus on pointing out flaws or mistakes can demotivate their team members and hinder their growth.
  • Neglecting Context and Impact: When delivering feedback, Leaders should consider the context and impact of an individual’s actions or behaviours. Leaders need to understand the circumstances surrounding a situation and how it affects performance. Ignoring relevant context can lead to misinterpretations and unfair judgments. This is why asking lots of curious questions is super helpful!
  • Lack of Active Listening: Effective feedback involves active listening. Leaders who fail to listen attentively to their team members’ perspectives and concerns miss valuable insights and the opportunity to deepen relationships.
  • Overemphasis on Personal Criticism: Feedback should be focused on behaviours and actions rather than attacking an individual’s character or personal traits. Leaders need to separate the person from the behaviour to avoid damaging relationships and creating a negative work environment.
  • Not Providing or working through Actionable Steps: Feedback should offer actionable steps for improvement. Merely pointing out flaws without providing guidance or working through ways on how to address them can leave individuals feeling lost and unsure of how to grow.
  • Timing and Delivery: Providing feedback at the wrong time or in an inappropriate manner can reduce its effectiveness. Leaders should choose the right moment, allowing individuals to process the feedback without feeling overwhelmed or embarrassed.
  • Lack of Follow-up: Providing feedback once and not following up can limit its impact. Leaders should engage in ongoing conversations, check progress, and offer support to ensure individuals are progressing in their development. Regular follow-ups demonstrate commitment to their growth and reinforce the importance of feedback.

Most mistakes are unintentional and having awareness around them is how you develop and grow. Now that we have shone a light on what can go wrong, let’s briefly explore the best practices and things to bring to your feedback:

  • Be specific
    Specificity will ensure your people understand how they are meant to behave and what it is they are actually meant to do. By providing specific examples and details you will enhance clarity, provide direction, and ultimately boost performance.
  • Balance Feedback
    It is crucial to provide positive reinforcement and acknowledge your people’s contributions. This is sometimes referred to as the “shit sandwich” but my view is it is only shit if your intentions are crappy. Balanced feedback is essential in motivating your people to achieve their goals and yours, not to mention increase confidence.
  • Gain Context
    It is really important that you get a lay of the land before providing feedback. Having a broader perspective will ensure you don’t make unfair judgements and assumptions. This is where Stephen Covey’s “Seek First to Understand, before being understood” approach can be super helpful. Impact is important when providing feedback
  • Provide context
    As well as gaining context it is really important that you provide some sort of perspective about why you are providing feedback. This is step one to getting buy in around the feedback you provide, and it will set the tone for a psychologically safe conversation.
  • Listen
    It is important to create a safe space for open dialogue and genuinely listen to the thoughts and feelings of those receiving your feedback. When you listen intently you will get a better understanding of what your employee or the person you are providing the feedback to needs. Active listening demonstrates empathy and also strengthens the relationship and the likelihood of further collaboration.
  • Work through actionable steps
    It is imperative that you work through actionable steps after providing feedback. This is often a step that is missed and can leave the person you have given the feedback to feeling uncertain and unclear about the next steps. I always suggest you ask the other person first what they think the helpful resources, strategies, actions, and suggestions might be. Of course, this is situational and will depend on the type of feedback you are giving. This approach however, boosts confidence in the other person and also encourages accountable thinking and doing.
  • Think about time and delivery
    While some feedback structures are set, it is important to think about the timeliness of the feedback. Corrective feedback should ideally be given within a 24-hour window and privately and Constructive feedback should be done within a 3-month timeframe as a maximum, so examples are relevant and actionable. Tonality and body language are also really important for you to minimise defensiveness.
  • Follow up
    Feedback should not be a one-time thing, it should be consistent and ongoing, especially if you have worked through actionable steps. Checking in on progress and seeing what support is required are essential.

There are many more things I could share about feedback especially around the importance of taking a “Coaching-Like” approach, ensuring it is two-way and being mindful of the wording you specifically use, but I will leave that for another time.

I trust however, this information has been helpful.

If you are keen to learn how to bring these practices to life, please feel free to reach out, I would love to help!