You’ve worked nights for many days this month and at least three weekends in a row on a big project. You’ve shown the commitment and done the time but Peter, the project manager, has called you for a meeting and has started pointing out some errors you made and the things he is not happy with. Here’s the difference between feedback, and feedforward coaching.
Nobody likes to hear about their mistakes. The same goes to the person giving the sometimes necessary negative feedback.
Don’t they know how hard you’ve been working? Doesn’t it matter?
Naturally, you’re not happy with Peter’s focus on what does not work, even though he did sandwich the criticism between two positive comments. The good didn’t seem to matter. Why can’t he see all the work you’ve put in and recognise that?
This is the problem with feedback.
Feedback is typically focused on the past and mostly, on what is not working. Managers do not like to provide feedback and faced with the situation, would often sandwich negative feedback between two positive ones. The problem with that is that it has the tendency to reduce the impact of what needs to be said and often enough, comes across inauthentic.
Most of the time, negative feedback is sugarcoated, which can diminish the intended effect and create an environment of misunderstanding.
Looking back or looking forward?
The focus on the past also leaves you feeling disempowered. It has already happened and there’s nothing you can do to change that which naturally brings up a host of negative emotions – you feel helpless, upset, frustrated and uncertain as to how to move ahead.
The question you have to ask yourself is, “Are most people raised to accept criticism well?” You only have to look inward and realise from your own reactions and behaviour that criticism is hard to take. We see criticism as a threat, we get defensive and we react or hit back verbally (sometimes physically).
What’s the point?
The entire point of criticism is to learn from the past and change what we can about future actions. But if people are focused on the wrong things, then everyone loses. The manager does not get a person who has learnt from his mistake and that person is bound to repeat the mistake because he knows what is wrong but not necessarily what is right and what works.
As Joe Hirsch, author of The Feedback Fix : Dump the Past, Embrace the Future and Lead the Way to Change shares, there are three reasons why feedback does not work. First, it shuts down our mental dashboards – i.e. it becomes all about our emotional state and reactivity to what is upon us. Second, it focuses more on ratings than on development. This feels more like a test than a way to improve what we are doing. Finally, feedback reinforces negative behaviour because the focus is on what has happened.
So what can we do when feedback does not work? Here’s a hint: go forward!
This is where feedforward comes in as a bright and workable alternative to giving feedback. Feedforward is future-focused by allowing people to pay attention to what they can do differently in the future. It’s not only about what happened but what can be learnt and then adapted moving forward. It is positive, provides background information and options, makes suggestions for improvement and focuses on developing the person, not just rating them.
It also becomes less about feedback and more about coaching. By involving the person in the feedback loop, he becomes an active participant in the process, thus enabling him to feel more in control. As Marcia Reynolds explained in her article, Why Feedback Doesn’t Work, and What To Do Instead, people want “conversations that pull their ideas out and have their eyes opened to greater possibilities they could explore, not one-way directives focused on what they did wrong”.
Kevin Kruse, NY Times bestselling author (latest book, Employee Engagement 2.0) talks distinctly about feedforward coaching as a great tool for creating a more engaged workforce, specifically that it is a continuous process focused on future performance and career pathing. Engagement is then tied to growth.
How should you start?
- Focus on goals, not standards. This means articulating these at the start and being very clear in your communication about what is expected;
- Let the coaching include career guidance so that you focus on the skills, experience and expertise the individual needs to build upon to do their job.
- Anytime, all the time. Do not limit it to an annual review or set time. The more times these two way communication channels are open, the better the communication of expectations, of problems and issues that need addressing.
In the end, through active participation and a clear focus on the end objectives, you, your peers and managers can come to the realisation that feedforward presents the better alternative.
When we talk of feedback, most of the time, what we’re really talking about is our ability to deal with constructive criticism. No one has an issue taking a compliment but nearly all of us find it challenging to hear something negative about our personality, work style or behaviour.
It starts with truth.
Is feedback not working for you? Understand that our solutions lie not in the quality of answers but in the quality of questions we ask. Let’s examine some examples.
Asking a close-ended question with no consideration or empathy gives the impression that you do not care about your workers’ well-being nor current workloads. Even if the question was not designed to be insensitive, an external party could view it as a “no-excuses” obligation to say – “yes”, or a simple “easy-way-out” – “no”.
Leaders can instead ask an open-ended question with the simple addition of “How” in front of their prior question, opening the door for innovative answers and initiative. It also opens up avenues to be empathetic, in terms of catering to how employers can provide the environment or means to allow workers to take on more responsibility. Perhaps through more L&D events? A robust incentive program? This question invites such responses.
It starts with the truth, a recognition of what we see in front of us and a call for us to be honest about how this may make us feel about the people we’re managing and circumstances we find ourselves in. It calls for humanity, yes, humanity.
The thing about corporate life is that it puts a layer between you and your people. We call on this when we need help and when we’re in a mess. “Am sorry about this, my hands are tied. I wish I could do more.” “I’d really like to help you but my boss says this is how it has to be.”
When it comes to helping a colleague in need, too often we are jaded by the selfish demands placed on ourselves regarding our own responsibilities. Hence, we resort to putting up excuses instead of being honest with our colleagues.
What are we really protecting?
We hold on to this protective layer because it helps us out of tough situations. We’re busy protecting ourselves. But if we want feedback to work, we not only have to listen, we have to take action.
We have to show our people that we’re serious about what we want to discover and then remedy. When we show this to them, not through our words but in our behaviour, then we show our people that we mean what we say.
It is easy enough to see things from our point of view – it is the only view we know and are comfortable with, that we believe is the right view. It takes a big pause for us to step outside ourselves to look beyond at this wide, wide world and consider an alternative to what we’ve always seen and understood. So, “what’s not working?” is less about you see as the way things are and how things need to go and far more about what others see and make sense of things.
You owe a duty.
As an organisation, it is your duty, your responsibility to gather and provide feedback to your people. As an organisation, you should regard as serious, this opportunity to grow your people, to inspire them, to bring out the best in them and to lead.
Gather as much feedback on how you can help your employees grow, then deliver actionable behaviour to cater to those needs and wants.
As much as there are things you are expecting your people to provide you in terms of experience and expertise, they are also looking to you for guidance, hope and faith in carrying out their duties. And more than anything else, remember that they give you the best hours of their days and best years of their lives in the fulfilment of their obligations.
That is a lot.
Allow the space for providing and receiving feedback to be one that is less chastisement and more of support. Ask questions about what’s working so you know where you need to reinforce certain actions. Ask questions about what’s not working so you know what needs to be fixed. Ask questions about what’s challenging or frustrating them so you can see what support you can provide. Explore a variety of channels, both formal and informal, to collect and collate feedback.
Ask great questions for great feedback.
Marcel Schwantes, in his Inc article, Here’s how good managers give bad employees feedback, shares that good managers analyse the problem first in order to understand all perspectives. He shared four questions crucial to helping a manager and setting the right expectations and accountability measures with both parties :
- Does the employee understand what the problem is?
- Does the employee really understand that expected level of performance?
- Does the employee fully understand what will happen if performance standards are not met?
- Have you, as the manager, gotten all the facts? Who, what, where, when, why, and how?
Learn to read between the lines.
You’ve got to treat people the way you want to be treated too. Stay aware – learn how to open your eyes to the truth because there is no one version of the truth. We all bring different experiences and insights to our situations and no two situations are alike.
If you’re facing difficulty, you’ll want a good manager who can spot it early, who will come forward to talk about it. You’ll want a manager who is sensitive enough to know how, when and where to bring it up.
Ask the right questions. Be the support your team needs. Learn to read what your colleagues are telling you.
And you’ll want them to be more of a coach about it – asking probing questions, allowing you to come to the solutions yourself rather than being prescriptive and judgemental. Yet, on top of all of these things, you need to remember to stay compliant and stay legal. Do what you need to do and do it right.
Springing up from your desk when your colleague informs you that your boss is calling you in a cabin to give you feedback with questions in mind like, “What have I done?”, “Did I make some huge mistake?”, “Are they going to fire me?” or “Am I not doing my job properly?”. This mindset of people makes the word feedback so negative and you are spoken to or given feedback only when you do something wrong or incorrect.
Today let’s dive into the depths of this word which makes people sweat and see if there can be a positive change which will help people develop their skills or motivate people to continue with the same effort and produce strong output.
Positive and negative feedback
Everybody knows that there are two types of feedback one is negative other is positive. As the names suggest, positive feedback is when an employee has achieved a milestone or has been performing exceptionally well. Negative feedback is the other side of the coin, i.e. when the performance is not up to the mark, behavior or professionalism issue. It is easy to give positive feedback as there are no awkward silences or discussions that take place. However, one must be very cautious while providing negative feedback as it can be demotivating and the person at the receiving end might lose their morale.
One on one and group feedback
The generic feedback that applies to a group or all the team members that do not specify a person’s performance can be provided during a team meeting. However, it is of utmost importance that individual feedback should be given in a one on one manner. Discussing feedback in front of others can cause low self-confidence, and it might be difficult for the employees to trust you with any concerns they may be facing, or they would be reluctant to approach you which can hamper productivity.
Ensuring regular feedback
It is very crucial to provide regular updates and feedback as an employee will feel looked after and have a clear mindset of the target to achieve and how to progress to achieve the same. Keeping your employees updated about their performance, checking for any difficulties and challenges that they might be facing. It can get tedious to provide constant feedback to employees, so use a software that helps ease your life; employees can share their problems on these platforms, or you can use social media to be in constant touch with your team members. If you are approachable or available to your team in their time of need and there is a healthy bond between team members the feedback given gets implemented much easily.
Mix and match your feedback
Nobody likes to listen to negative things, and neither do your employees. Try and understand why there is a downfall or dip in the performance of an employee, start with the positives and do not compare. When you include positive and negative, it cuts down the negativity, and the employee feels that they are appreciated for the work they are doing. The sense of being critical to the organization develops a bond which can benefit both the employee and the employer immensely. With this technique, the negative feedback is taken as a guide to improve their performance rather than a judgment.
Feedback should never be one-way it should always be two-way conversations. Every day is a new day, and we learn many new things from our peers and colleagues. When you implement feedbacks and get critiqued for your work is when you grow as it helps understand the right method to get the assigned work completed. You can achieve your goals and a post in an organization that has or follows to and fro feedback system. If management is open to feedback from employees, it will enhance the work environment and functioning. Be a leader, not a boss and strive to improve your team alongside, learn and grow together to attain goals and immense job satisfaction.
People spend more than half of their life at a workplace, and if one does not feel valued and do not get the opportunity to grow, work can seem hectic and stressful. Hence, it is significant to tend to your employee’s needs and assist them to develop with accurate feedback. You will grow when your team grows. No matter how great or poor the outcome is, always give and receive feedback positively.
Do not let your emotions or perception about someone command over your better judgment. Try and place yourself in your employee’s shoes before you give feedback to understand what the reaction might be or if you sound harsh as words cut through sharper than a knife. Just like Frank A. Clark states, “Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots.”
Anonymous feedback can be disastrous. But it might just be your best option for a progressive workplace The panic! Your boss just added you on Facebook or followed you on Twitter. There is a tendency that most of us will ignore the friendship request. Some of us would...
“SelfDrvn encourages participation by all in a campaign primarily because what colleagues do on the platform is highly visible. Furthermore, being rewarded for taking part in certain activities certainly help drive participation”
– Jian Long, Engagement Champion, CA Trust PAC
A leader in audit, tax, and advisory services
CA Trust Pac is an independent member of the TGS Global Network Limited, an international network of professional business advisors. They offer audit, tax, and advisory services to small and mid-sized businesses, government as well as non-profit organizations.
The Challenge: Employee Retention
CA Trust Pac had one primary challenge – address retention levels.
As a small organization of 90 employees, growing the team was much less a priority to retaining the people they had and ensuring employee engagement was on the mark. One of their goals was to be seen as an employer of choice for young Accounting talent. Addressing employee social well-being and health and wellness were, therefore, top concerns.
They decided that events would be a primary platform through which they would undertake greater employee engagement as these were in-person activities. These events would provide a better listening channel as well help them provide better analysis of any data collected.
The Solution to increase employee engagement: Listen to the Voice of the Employee (VoE)
SelfDrvn represented a single yet comprehensive platform to manage multiple drivers of employee engagement. With a variety of tools and touchpoints including employee pulse surveys, reward, recognition, peer feedback, goal setting, and wellness, it was possible to tackle a number of aspects of the employee experience.
Take the app, Message in a Bottle, for example – this motivated employees to participate in idea generation, provide feedback as well as make suggestions for improvements. It is designed to allow for anonymous feedback and ideas generation that in turn, made it more engaging, fun and rewarding. And gamification meant that employees could compete among themselves and earn rewards for their contributions.
Message in a Bottle allows you to receive collective anonymous feedback from your employees and let them vote on the their top 3 most agreeable and top 3 answers they disagree to. This helps organisation to focus on issues that matters most to their employees through their collective voice.
The Newsfeed allowed employees to keep engaged socially, collaborate and stay informed.
Real-time rewards and recognition fuelled greater participation and by incorporating many of the employees’ ideas, participation rates increased which had a knock-on effect on the rest of the activities.
Success in increasing employee’s participation rate
As the statistics show, employee participation rates went through the roof at 97.5%. This increase in participation led to the creation and sharing of 1 idea from every 2 employees too (which is 4x more than traditional methods) all of which contributed to making their internal campaigns and initiatives an overwhelming success – signifying the true embodiment of a campaign that is “driven by employees for employees”.