Employee Feedback Is Only Effective If It's Done Right. Here's How to Make Sure It Lands.
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Giving effective feedback is an essential management skill that can define the trajectory of a person, a team -- or an entire project.
In a fast-paced work environment like Facebook, where I manage a number of people and teams, I know how easy it can be to give “drive-by feedback.” I set up time to meet with someone, tell them the feedback in a passive voice while caveating it heavily, and then congratulate myself on having had the hard conversation. Not surprisingly, feedback delivered this way doesn’t always land.
Effective feedback is clear, actionable and focused on growth. If you are thinking of giving feedback simply to change someone else's behavior, you should stop there. Good feedback comes from a good place. Doing it for the right reasons -- and in the most effective way -- means that it will stick.
As Wharton professor Adam Grant explains, people are very open to criticism when they believe it’s intended to help them. He suggests starting the conversation by stating, “I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them.”
Below are tips to guide the delivery of effective feedback, whether given verbally, visually, in writing or over video.
Verbal feedback: Start with the tl;dr (too long, didn't read).
The least effective way to deliver feedback is often verbally. You put the content out there, and you expect the other person to understand it and take action.
Unfortunately, verbal feedback is often sandwiched with so much other stuff that it is barely spoken, much less received. Here is a simple method to ensure your spoken feedback is heard:
- Set aside a specific time to meet and state upfront you are giving feedback. “Can we take 10 minutes of our 1:1 to discuss some feedback I want to share?”
- Say the tl;dr. “When we are together in meetings, I feel you are not listening because you interrupt me to get your point across.”
- Give a concrete example. “For example, during the meeting on Wednesday, I was talking about increasing our investment in growth. You interrupted me and diverted the conversation twice to discuss another unrelated topic.”
- Explain the impact. “It made me feel unheard, and I'm reluctant to speak up when you are in the room.”
Give time for the feedback to sink in and then discuss ways you can jointly address.
Photo feedback: A picture says a 1,000 words.
A colleague and I had been working together for some time, and we had weekly meetings to discuss updates and progress on a specific initiative. Every couple of weeks I would see him make a face as someone was speaking, and I would wonder what was wrong. Sometimes I would ask him right after the meeting, and he would look puzzled and say, “Nothing.” This went on for months, and ultimately became a running team joke.
One day, I pulled out my phone, snapped a picture and emailed it to him during the meeting. He took one look at it and said, “This is the best feedback I've ever received.” He and I had fruitlessly talked about his faces for months, and in one moment the photo changed everything.
Video feedback: Seeing is believing.
Sometimes it takes seeing and hearing ourselves to truly receive the feedback we are given.
I was mock interviewing a data scientist who was interested in transferring to another position on the team that required interviewing again. He was doing a good job overall but struggled with the interviews; his nervousness drove him to speak at a frenetic pace. I had a hard time explaining this to him, so I asked if I could record the interview and show him. He agreed.
We did a five-minute segment and then watched it together. All I said was, “Would you hire this person?” And he replied, “No, he is all over the place.” Exactly. Fortunately, he corrected it, and he has since become an extremely strong member of the new team.
Written feedback: Remember the power of the pen
There are times when in-person feedback just doesn’t cut it. After struggling to verbally communicate with a peer, I knew it wouldn’t be possible for me to give direct feedback face-to-face since the feedback was about the challenge of our direct communication. So, I wrote out the feedback in detail and emailed it to him.
Writing out the feedback gave us the space to consider why we fell into this dynamic without the pressure of having to respond in the moment. A couple of weeks later, we had a follow-up conversation, and we touched on the feedback I’d delivered in writing. That email helped us create a new mode of communication, and interactions since then are much more constructive.
Written feedback should follow the same form as verbal feedback -- simple and concise, with concrete examples that shows how the person's actions affect you without accusation.
Feedback is truly a gift.
Feedback is sometimes hard to hear and to give, but when given in the spirit of support, it is a gift beyond measure. In any relationship, feedback is both in the giving and in the receiving. The most difficult feedback I've received throughout my career was also a turning point, unblocking the internal hurdles that stood in my way that I couldn't see myself.
When done thoughtfully, the feedback you share whether through spoken words, photos, videos or emails have the potential to transform the person who receives it -- and impact your relationship inside and outside the workplace.