Alright, continuing on from last week…
We’re all on board with the fact that feedback is valuable, we all want better feedback, and we can probably do a better job of writing it than we have been, yeah? Good, then we’re on the right track!
Next up … the hard part … HOW!!
Lots of processes you read about online are great at identifying the reasons why you should do something but often don’t go into enough detail to really support the hypothesis or provide a clear way forward to assist in making any real change to the habits you currently have in place. You should KNOW this isn’t that kind of blog, right?
The fact is, upping your game from where you are to where you want to get to can be accomplished by focusing on the strategies mentioned in part 1 and following through the steps outlined below. Before we jump right into it, however, lets talk about why I think this particular process so great, and why I think it really unlocks your ability to up your game!
There are lots of books written on the ideas of managing people and businesses, or even specifically on providing valuable feedback. This list is a sample of some of the books I’ve read, most of which are pretty good with the exception of Crucial Conversations and (ironically) Thanks for the feedback. These books put a stronger emphasis on the people and practically disregard applying any one particular method over another. The idea that values and relationships come before process or rules is absolutely critical (check out Start With Why as a bonus read for a deeper look at this exact point – or watch this video for the “short short version“). The interesting thing, which may be obvious to some, is that when you look at some of the common themes presented throughout most of these books, you end up with a pretty short list:
Honesty, Trust, and Transparency
This feels a bit like: if people trust you, believe that you have their best interest at heart, have the capability to understand where you’re coming from, and you’re willing to put your name on those opinions (lending some additional credibility) in a forum that can be reviewed by both the receiver and their managers, then they’re more likely to take your observations and grow from them.
Hmmm … this suddenly feels a like one of those obvious information is obvious moments doesn’t it?
I subscribe to the ideas put forward in the Alan Fine and Dale Carnegie books as guides for how to engage with people and help them realize their own potential. Luckily, we can also derive a few strategies for facilitating the creation of the best possible feedback with ideas merged from those two books as well.
The first key to great feedback … is to avoid writing it at all
I mean this in the most literal way possible. When you’re sitting down to write feedback don’t write anything down at first, someone else can (and probably should) do that for you.
One of the biggest breakthroughs I had in coaching people on this topic is when I realized just how powerful a facilitator can be. Acting as a record keeper and assistant during an initial brainstorming process. This is true brainstorming. Sit down with a facilitator you can trust (there’s that word again) and suddenly the words just start spilling out of your mouth probably faster than they can be recorded (make sure its all getting captured before moving on, however, your ideas are all gold!). It’s amazing how much of an improvement you’ll see in your own feedback when you advance from writing on your own to using a facilitator. It’s so easy to give yourself an “out” when you’re sitting there drumming your fingers on the keyboard or tapping a pen/pencil on your notepad. There is nothing stopping you from just throwing your hands up and saying “Bah I can’t think of anything!” and then finding yourself doing something else within a few minutes.
To start, we’re going to come up with a list of themes or concepts that can describe the person for whom you will be providing feedback. This is just a list words, don’t worry about the grammar, don’t worry about phrasing, don’t worry about antagonizing language, just get it all down. Pretend as though you were posed the following question:
Give me the first set of words that come to your mind when you think of … <Mr. Black>
Positive things, negative, it doesn’t matter. Just get all the descriptors you can think of out of your head and into the hands of your facilitator. The idea here is to get enough points down to be able to describe the person in 20 words or so.
For example, here’s a list:
- Project Management Skills
- Organization / Organized
- Leader / Leadership
- Task Completion
- Time Management
These concepts aren’t associated to things they excel at or need to improve on. Are they a fantastic Project Manager, or do they need all the help they can get? Are their communication skill excellent, or lacking? We’re not worried about any context, stories, or extra words at this point. When the list is done, you can move on to step two.
Context is key
We talked about this a bunch in the last post. Without context, the receiver won’t have any clue what it is you’re talking about. We need to make sure that isn’t the case. Now we mentioned the first step was a good brain storming session with a facilitator, and one of the keys there is that the facilitator doesn’t provide any opinions on the results. Next up … context!
The faciliator’s job is to ensure the completeness of the information provided. This is a definitely a skill that requires practice, but asking questions that demand answers will definitely help to flesh out the categories noted in our previous step. Leading with questions like:
“In what way could they be [better / improved / more like ____ / etc.] (this counts for both areas for growth as well as strengths)
“Compared to the [best / worst] person in the same / similar role how do they compare at ____”?
Leading (or being led) through this exercise should result in a conversation where your feelings about the individual are put forward in a way that feels natural and un-hindered by the constraints of typing, sentence structure, or even tact. The idea here isn’t to write your masterpiece, its to make sure that when you do sit down to write it everything you need is already there.
Some of the most valuable things to focus on when providing this additional context are:
- Why the category you’re discussing matters (to you).
- Managing the perception people have as it relates to the category at hand
- How you feel they could improve in the future
- Frequency of their successes or failures (as a result of the trait)
Remember, the goal here is growth … you want to make sure you’re truly celebrating the individual’s successes as well as assisting them in overcoming their weaknesses (perceived or otherwise).
Give me an example
We have now created for ourselves a list of categories and provided an explanation as to why those categories are relevant (to you). You know what really pushes your feedback right to the peak?
Nothing says …
I care enough about your continued growth that I can literally cite moments, meetings, deliverables, or conversations in which you really [excelled/failed] while working with me
…like an example of when / why / where / how / with whom something happened.
It proves you were paying attention and valuing the contributions of the individual. Remember we’re being timely with our submissions here – so the success/failure (however small) recently happened. It also acts as an additional support to the contextually relevant stuff you provided in step two!
Clean up after yourself would ya?
When you’ve finished all the work leading up to now, you’re just about ready to put this thing out there. Last order of business is, at the same time, the easiest as well as the most important. Now is when you need to go through all the content you have, add in your own flavor, and start to massage the language (not the message) to up the likelihood that the receiver believes that you believe in their growth and will respond positively to your feedback.
It’s really crucial to practice, practice, practice till you get better at this last step. Forget what you know about the sandwich method, everyone who’s been on the receiving end of it knows that its not genuine anyway (especially if you can’t think of a good top or bottom “bun”). Forget about softening the blow; I’m not suggesting you behave rudely or degrading to anyone. In fact, quite the opposite. What we’re looking for here it a genuine, truthful, and honest write up that recognizes someone’s strengths, challenges their areas for growth, and proves to them that you care enough to spend some time thinking about their abilities and potential for even greater successes.
I have been told that his approach is a complete game-changer when it comes to writing feedback. It’s been nothing but a huge success working with my clients and co-workers leveraging this method. It’s so incredible and empowering to see someone go from frustrated to immensely proud after working through a particularity challenging write up. Now, this isn’t to say that there isn’t some degree of difficulty in working with this. Following the steps is easy enough with a facilitator, learning to facilitate is a bit more challenging (but as I said above, hugely rewarding).
Shoot me an email if you get a chance to try this method in either role, or leave a comment if you’ve previously tried it and can vouch for its effectiveness!