Failsafe Feedback

By Davon Cook on November 9, 2015

Early in my career, I worked in several corporate environments with extensive systems in place for giving employees feedback.  The process that was most helpful for me was simple, and I've used it for many years since.

It has three steps:

  1. Make an OBSERVATION about actions you see.  If you use specific examples, it's easier for the person receiving the feedback to understand how to apply your critique.  
  2. Describe the IMPACT of the actions:  the impact on you, on others, on the person doing it, on the company.
  3. Make a SUGGESTION of what he/she should do more or less.

Why does this work well?  It takes out the personal accusation and replaces it with more objective observations, and it links the feedback to WHY it matters.

One example of feedback, which I wouldn't recommend, is: "You are not managing your employees well, and we're not getting enough done.  You need to keep them busy!"  Rather, you could use the method outlined here to say, "I observe that your team members sometimes finish their work and don't know what to do next.  The impact is we aren't as efficient as we could be and pay people for time they aren't working.  I suggest you try to have an "extra task" list posted at all times so they can pick up some odd jobs until you are able to reassign them."

The first statement can quickly escalate into conflict because of the potential confusion created between a criticism of the person and observations about his or her actions.  The second statement takes some of the emotion out and leads to joint problem solving.

I recently read in family business guru David Bork's book The Little Book of Family Business:  "Effective communication starts by being clear and constructive.  Because why would anyone wish to be unclear or destructive?"  If you feel your feedback isn't hitting the mark, try the 3-step method above.  And remember, feedback can be positive too!