Giving feedback – making informed choices about intention vs impact


By Elisabeth Goodman, 12th March 2020

Professor Yeun Joon Kim and Junha Kim feature in an interview in the latest issue of Harvard Business Review (Meeker, A. 2020).  Their conversation, based on a study in a Korean health-food company, and amongst students at a North American university suggests that feedback might have a different impact depending on whether it comes from superiors, peers or direct reports.

Their results suggest that individuals might react more defensively to negative feedback from line managers and peers, whilst their creativity might be boosted by negative feedback from direct reports. (Although there could also be negative repercussions on those giving such feedback.)

They thought that positive feedback could be good for creativity, and might help people feel valued and more motivated as a result.  But they also thought that the effect of positive feedback might wear off as people got complacent about their performance.

These conclusions raised a couple of questions in my mind:

  1. Would these conclusions hold true in other cultures and in other kinds of organisations?
  2. Might any of the results vary depending on the personality of the recipient and their receptiveness to feedback?

I did a mindmap of what I’ve read, know about and thought about on giving feedback.

Giving feedback - intention vs impact

Giving feedback – a mindmap of intention vs impact

Understanding your intention for giving or collecting feedback

I know from people that I’ve worked with through RiverRhee, as a trainer and as a coach, that individuals value getting feedback, albeit for different reasons.  For some people it is an extrinsic motivator:

  • It’s reassuring to know that they are doing well
  • Or they thrive on receiving suggestions about what they could work on to be even better at what they do
  • It can help them to feel valued

At the same time, there are people who don’t welcome feedback:

  • Positive feedback can feel uncomfortable or patronising
  • Or they can feel threatened by what feels like negative feedback

Tools such as the MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) can give some insights on what people’s feedback preferences might be.  They could well be different from those of the manager!

For managers and leaders, giving feedback can feel like an essential tool for developing the performance of their direct reports:

  • They might use positive feedback to reinforce new or improved behaviours that have been agreed with an individual
  • They might use constructive feedback (an alternative definition of negative feedback) to highlight gaps in performance or further discussion

There are several options for how to give feedback, and who to get it from

These options are summarised in my illustration above, so that I will just pick out a few of the points.

Evidence-based immediate feedback

The most effective feedback, in my experience, is that linked to evidence, especially when given as soon as possible after an event.  These are central tenets of the “STAR-AR” model that we use in RiverRhee’s management and appraisal training.

For positive feedback this works as follows:

  • Cite the SITUATION or TARGET relating to the feedback that you wish to give – for instance a presentation that the individual gave yesterday
  • Describe the ACTION that they took – for instance a  request to the audience that answers be kept to the end
  • Describe the RESULT that you observed – for example the audience’s level of engagement

For constructive feedback the model starts in the same way – with STAR.  But then, if the result could have been improved upon it follows with:

  • An ALTERNATIVE action they could take in the future
  • What the anticipated RESULT of that would be

Self-reflection by the individual

An ideal approach to take with any form of feedback, for more buy-in and more effective development of the individual, is to invite them to reflect on what they noticed about an experience, and what they would like to do differently or the same next time as a result.

This more effective approach to feedback is also described in one of my earlier blogs (Goodman, 2019).

However Carucci (2020), suggests that people are often unaware of the gap between what they intend to do, and the actual impact that it has, so that some form of external feedback is essential to close this gap.

5 questions from 5 people (or Ask five people)

Is a tool for gathering feedback that we have been trying out on the Barefoot Post Graduate Certificate in Business and Personal Coaching that I am currently completing.

It has a more positive and empathetic slant than other tools that I’ve come across. The questions are:

  1. What one word of phrase describes me best?
  2. What do you think is my greatest achievement?
  3. What do you value most about me?
  4. What one thing could I change for my own benefit?
  5. What do you believe to be my greatest strength?

I have found the insights gained from the people who answered those questions about me very enlightening, affirming and also useful in my further development.

Collecting feedback from project managers

This is just a quick reminder that many of the companies we work with operate a matrix structure, whereby people spend a lot of their time working with project managers who are not their line managers.  It is therefore invaluable for many reasons to obtain feedback from these project managers too.

The impact of feedback

My earlier blog (Goodman, 2020) also includes a reference to the neuroscience of the impact of feedback, which I will re-quote here.

Buckingham and Goodall (2019) cite the following insights:

  • When we focus on areas that we need to correct, our sympathetic “fight or flight” survival system kicks in and actually impairs learning.
  • When we focus on  dreams and how to achieve them, our parasympathetic or “rest and digest” system is stimulated and fosters openness to learning.

So their take is that people are more likely to be receptive to feedback and more open to learning if the feedback is framed in a positive way – a finding that partly confirms, and partly contradicts this blog’s opening references to Meeker (2020).

Conclusion

Some possible next steps are summarised in the illustration at the start of this blog.

It does seem as though having a clear appreciation of the purpose for collecting and giving feedback will help to inform what is collected, and how it is given.

Understanding what form of feedback will be most effective for an individual, and actually having a discussion with them about this beforehand would also seem like a recipe for success.

It may be that individuals will benefit most from a coaching approach and self-reflection.

Finally, as with everything to do with managing people, this is an area that is ripe for continuous evaluation so as to ensure that the intent of giving any feedback does indeed have the desired impact.

Notes

References

Buckingham, M. and Goodall, A. (2019)  The Feedback Fallacy. Harvard Business Review, March-April: 92-101

Carucci, R. (2020) Giving feedback to someone who hasn’t had it in years. Harvard Business Review, January 22nd. https://hbr.org/2020/01/giving-feedback-to-someone-who-hasnt-had-it-in-years (accessed 12th March 2020)

Goodman, E. (2019) A more effective approach to feedback? https://elisabethgoodman.wordpress.com/2019/03/04/a-more-effective-approach-to-feedback/ (accessed 12th March 2020)

Meeker, A. (2020) A subordinate’s criticism makes you more creative.  Harvard Business Review, March-April: 30-31

About the author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, through courses, workshops and one-to-one coaching, and with a focus on the Life Sciences.

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting teams on a global basis.  She is developing her coaching practice, with a focus on helping individuals to develop management and ‘soft’ skills, especially associated with change, and with Neurodiversity.

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of the ICF (International Coaching Federation) and of the APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG. RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus.

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