An example of giving specific and immediate feedback and a frightening look into the alternatives
In my previous post, I introduced the idea that the more specific and more immediate the performance feedback you provide to someone, the more artistically you’re executing the skill. I used the analogy of directing someone to hang a picture to illustrate the point.
OK, let’s translate this to the workplace and see what it looks like. You are managing someone who just presented to a division leader on a proposal to upgrade the technology. In this scenario, you have the opportunity to provide feedback. The most artful is the most specific and the most immediate:
Specific and Immediate feedback: “Thanks for presenting, and it went well. There are a few things to note to make it better next time it’s presented. I think that we could have stopped after slide 6, and I think that we could have made the points on slide 4 graphically. Let’s find some time to work on that. Also, next time, make sure you state the “ask” at the beginning. I noticed that the VP was asking a lot of questions about this. She tends to take control when she doesn’t know where the presentation is going. Because of this, we might have to go back and re-explain. Let’s do a revision to make sure that it’s up front.”
Likely reaction: “Thanks for the feedback. I’ll work on that.”
Non-specific and immediate feedback: “Good job. The VP didn’t seem like what was being said. There were a lot of holes. But you seemed to do a good job. I think that we’re going to have to re-do it.”
Likely reaction: “I’m not sure what am I supposed to do. What should I do differently? I have no idea. I’m lost, and I hate my job. Even when I do something good, it feels like I did something bad.”
Specific and non-immediate: [On the annual review six months later] “In March, Jim presented in front of the VP. He could have stopped after slide 6, and the points on slide 4 would have better been made graphically. Jim also needs to make sure “asks” are stated at the beginning. I had to re-explain the information to the VP as a result.”
Likely reaction: “Why didn’t you tell me what to do differently back then? Are you scared of me? I made that same presentation 8 other times after that presentation to the VP, and now you tell me what I should do differently? I think my boss is insane.”
Non-Specific and Non-Immediate: [On the annual review six months later]: Jim doesn’t do very well presenting in front of executives. He takes a while before he gets to the point. Jim’s work often caused me re-work.
Likely reaction: “Hold on. This is a terrible assessment of my performance. I actually achieved the objectives of all of my presentations, as everything I pitched was adopted and created great results for the organization. My manager is the worst manager in the world. I’m thinking about quitting.”
In looking at these scenarios, the least artful of the feedback (non-specific and non-immediate) is also perhaps the most common. This is due to the fact that many managers are required to provide feedback only on the annual performance review. All other times, the manager is not really obliged to perform this duty, and the tendency is to avoid having to give feedback. Specific and immediate feedback does require a lot of thought, correctly identifying the preferred behavior, and a coming up with a lot of content in a short period of time, and yes, artful feedback is more wordy than saying “Good Job” or “Bad Job.”
Sadly, it is structurally built in to many organizations that managers provide un-artful performance feedback. And managers — via this dynamic — receive a lot of weird looks — or worse — from their employees when they are the recipients of un-artful feedback.
So for all of you managers out there: Attempt to increase the specificity and immediacy of feedback. Focus on the behaviors you would like to see, and don’t hesitate to make corrections. And if the feedback isn’t specific and immediate, then you risk creating more harm than good. And don’t wait until the performance review to provide feedback. Better to drop it entirely!
For all of you aspiring management designers out there: Is your current management design aimed at increasing or decreasing the specificity and immediacy that performance feedback is given? What are you doing to make sure managers are encouraged and enabled to give specific and immediate feedback? Is anyone helping the manager in improving in this art? Is your current management design such that managers are encouraged and rewarded in providing almost exclusively non-specific and non-immediate feedback? And what is done to make sure this toxic delayed and vague feedback does not surface on the annual performance review?
Have you ever given non-specific and non-immediate feedback? What happened? Are you encouraged to give feedback to your employees? What examples do you have examples of successfully providing feedback and correcting behavior? How specific and immediate was it?
The Manager by Design blog provides twice-weekly people management tips and discussion on the emerging field of Management Design. If you are looking for ideas on how to be a better manager of people and teams, subscribe to Manager by Design by Email or RSS.