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?

Mr. Rogers in the Boardroom? You Bet!

The Boardroom was the U.S. Senate Committee Hearing in 1969 as Chairman John Pastore was investigating whether to pass a $20 million funding bill to PBS. And he was losing his patience as PBS was losing the verbal battle—until Mr. Rogers stepped in. You know him—Fred Rogers, PBS star and … Continue reading

Remote Presenting: Commit to Connection

Last week, I shared what not to do on a video conference. Here’s some tips on what TO DO to ensure a great experience, every time. For most of us, the challenge with video calls is treating them like in-person meetings. It’s important to remind the audience that they matter … Continue reading

Remote Presenting: Set Up For Success

Webex GoToMeeting Zoom BlueJeans Google Hangouts You’re probably using one of these and if you’re not, you should. Here are some tips to make any and all video conferencing better: If you look at every video call as an experience, you’ll want to make each one that much better. Avoid … Continue reading

SHARPen Your Edge

For those of you who know anything about Decker, you know we always push people outside their comfort zones—that’s where change happens! Last week, the marketing team here at Decker pitched a new idea to me. They were seeking buy-in on something that’s outside the scope of what we’ve done … Continue reading

When a Presentation Turns into a Conversation

I’m not big on sports, but a few months ago a friend “forced” me to watch a football game. Heads down, charging forward, the players reminded me of so many office presentations I’ve sat through where the leader was determined to get his or her point across regardless of comments … Continue reading

Ready for Take-off: Create Better Connections

While on a recent JetBlue flight from Baltimore to Boston, something unusual and unexpected happened: Before takeoff, the captain stood outside of the cockpit, faced the passengers and greeted us over the PA system. Instead of the usual disembodied voice, he looked us in the eyes and smiled. With one … Continue reading

Great Messaging is Edgy

Great messaging is edgy. It’s easier to be safe—like when you’re sailing. For any of you who have ever been on a catamaran, it’s safer to have both hulls of the sailboat in the water. But to win, you have to go up on one hull—and the professional sailors even … Continue reading

Presenting With Your Hands Tied

Do you ever feel like there are so many people weighing in on your slides and talking points that you’re actually presenting with your hands tied? I recently worked with a client who was asked to present to the board of its Fortune 30 company. In preparation for his presentation, … Continue reading

High Stakes Q&A: Try These Tips

Even if you’ve been avoiding the news at all costs, you probably heard that one of the most high-stakes, public Q&A sessions of the year happened last week. An estimated 19.5 million people watched it on network television, and that doesn’t count those who live-streamed it from their desks, since … Continue reading