Feedback That Others Can (Actually) Use

“Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots.” – Frank A. Clark

A few months ago, as Decker was wrapping up a series of programs with a large pharmaceutical company, an L&D leader surprised us with his takeaway, stating, “This program made me love feedback again—it was given with care, balance, candor…and it was actually useful! We have to replicate this type of feedback across our team.”

It’s tough to make feedback feel safe, supportive and actionable; and this leader spotted a common gap.

We all have an opportunity to build a stronger feedback culture in our organizations: across matrixes, down, up, sideways, across business functions…everywhere. Through 40 years of working with clients and refining our methodology, we’ve discovered six best practices critical to delivering feedback effectively:

  1. Be timely. Don’t delay.
    1. The closer to the event, the better. It’s much easier to provide feedback about a single 30-minute meeting than to provide feedback on a year’s worth of failed meetings.
  2. Keep it balanced.
    1. At Decker we follow the 3×3 Rule, sharing 3 keepers and 3 improvements after any key communication situation (call, meeting, conversation, etc.). It’s less about the number and more about balance – you could also give a 2×2 or 1×1.
    2. The take away: don’t lean heavily into only praise or criticism, give equal weight to both.
  3. Make it concrete.
    1. The tension between caring personally for others and challenging them directly often means we keep things high level. In other words, vague.
    2. Be specific and provide examples. Labels like ‘that was really good,’ “inspiring’, ‘great,’ ‘you need more executive presence” are of little use without clarity and definition.
  4. Make it actionable.
    1. Provide clear next steps and suggestions of what that person could do differently. If an action step isn’t appropriate, this is also a great time to ask that person for their perspective or how they think they can incorporate this feedback.
  5. Strike the right tone.
    1. Candid, yet caring. That’s the goal. Consider the tone of voice and facial expression in your delivery. Try to keep it conversational, even if the content is difficult.
  6. Make it a regular occurrence.
    1. This is similar to timing, yet important to call out separately.
    2. Create a regular feedback cadence after meetings, within events, even during impromptu conversations. Frequent, informal feedback ensures there are no surprises during more evaluation conversations like performance reviews.

As Margaret Fuller said, “If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it.”

Where could you support others today by providing caring, candid, concrete feedback?

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