Feedback – a gift of information

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about giving feedback, not least because I have been running training in this area and have been commissioned to write a book which may well include a section on it.

When I first started work, we used to talk about ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ feedback and we were taught to use the ‘positive sandwich,’ in which negative comments should be enveloped between two slices of positive feedback.  This became something of a joke at work, and we would declare “That’s a nice shirt you’re wearing; your work’s appalling but the shirt is nice.”

While the principle of softening the blow of ‘negative’ feedback may be laudable, it dilutes the real message.  If someone has not performed as expected, it’s useful that they know that.  Now this doesn’t mean being horrible to someone and it certainly doesn’t mean blaming them.  Instead it should be delivered in a way that helps them to understand the effects of their performance and encourages them to do something positive about it.

Stepping back from all this, feedback itself is a gift of information.  When I receive a gift, I can choose to cherish it, save it for later, give it away or sell it on eBay. The gift is neither positive or negative – it’s just a gift.  Feedback is not intrinsically positive or negative, when delivered in the right way.  So often, new managers find themselves tied in knots at the thought of giving feedback which may be construed as negative.  It’s worst for the managers who have worked in a team and then promoted to be the team leader.  Giving feedback feels like slapping their friends in the face.  All too often, the recipient of the feedback feels less upset about it than the manager delivering it.

So, in giving feedback, it’s useful to have a structure.  This helps us in delivery and the recipient in understanding that this is a serious conversation.  One regular problem when someone behaves in a way that’s deemed inappropriate at work is that they don’t appear to understand the effects of their behaviour on others.  Another is that the manager delivering feedback tells the staff member the corrective behaviour which they must demonstrate in future.  To remedy both of these problems, try this:

  • Example/Evidence
  • Effects
  • Change/Continue

First, describe what you see.  Be absolutely specific.  There is no sense in saying to someone “I think you have been a little grumpy recently.”  The answer is “No, I haven’t.”  Tell the team member about specific behaviours you have observed – give a time and location if it helps to make it even more specific.

Now, importantly, describe the effects. Be careful not to say “the rest of the team feels the same way as I do” because you’ll  create a division and mistrust in the team.

Finally, ask the team member what they will do differently in future.  It’s far better for them to tell you than for you to tell them because they are more likely to ‘own’ and commit to a solution of their own creation. Notice that the “C” in our little “EEC” structure can also stands for “continue”: the formula can be used equally for praising someone.

Here’s are some examples, first for offering praise and secondly for indicating errant behaviour:

“[E]George, last week when you knew that I was going to be away for the day and our new team member, Sylvia, joined the department?  I understood that you took her under your wing, introduced her to everyone, showed her round the department and took her to lunch with some other colleagues. [E] She was absolutely delighted and said she had been made to feel very welcome.  Thanks very much for that.  [C] Next week, when Fred joins us, would you mind doing the same again?”

“[E]George, last week when you knew that I was going to be away for the day and our new team member, Sylvia, joined the department? I understand that she was pretty much left to her own devices all day – that nobody introduced themselves to her nor showed her around.  [E] When I spoke to her on Friday, she was quite disconsolate, saying that she had felt unwelcome and rather excluded from the group.  [C]Next week, when Fred joins us, what could you do to make him feel more welcome than Sylvia?”

The structure is simple and it gives the nervous feedback-deliverer something of a comfort blanket. It’s important of course to allow the team member space to explain their behaviour.  It’s equally important to help them to see that, whatever the reasons, behaviour creates impact.

Take real care to deal with issues as early as possible.  You should, after all, be dealing with changes in behaviour rather than long-standing issues.  If you leave it too late to give feedback you effectively lose the right to do so.  Imagine saying “Helena – you know you haven’t attended the team meetings for the last five years – well it’s really important that you do.”  Helena has every right to ask why you didn’t question her five years ago if it was so important.

Avoid asking people why they are behaving in a certain way because it tends to provoke a defensive response.  It’s far better to ask them instead what has changed.  “You used to attend our team meetings, and I notice that you have missed the last two – what’s changed?”

At the back of your mind consider that, as a manager, your job is to get the best out of yourself and others as far as humanly and reasonably possible.  Good feedback, delivered early, is one helpmate in ensure motivated, high performing staff.

To discuss any aspect of leadership and management development, soft skills training or business consultancy, call me on +44(0)161 929 4145 or email David Cotton.

I look forward to hearing from you.

David Cotton

David Cotton is an independent trainer, management consultant, facilitator and speaker with vast international experience.

Nothing new under the sun – business books and deforestation

Around 11,000 new business books are published every year.  Many of them promise to turn you into a leader, manager or entrepreneur and make you rich.  I have a number of deep suspicions about these books and am fascinated to know how you feel.  Here we go:

1. They say nothing new – simply because there are no new things to say

2. Many of them remain half read on your bookshelves.  You got the idea in the first couple of chapters and didn’t need to read the rest to discover what they were about
3.  They had little effect on your working practices
4. They had little effect on your productivity
5. They haven’t made you rich
6. They seemed to repeat things that you had read before
7. The better ones were simply rehashed common sense
8. You read some of them and thought “well, that’s obvious”
9. You read some of them and thought “I already know that”
10. You read some of them and thought “I could have written that
11. You still buy more…
One of the bestselling business books of all time was Stephen Covey’s 1989 publication, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It sold over 15 million copies and was published in 38 languages; it remained on the New York Times bestseller lists for 250 weeks. I have carried out a straw poll among friends, colleagues and clients.  Almost all had heard of it, most had at some point acquired a copy of it, and almost none of them had read it from cover to cover.   Like all the other business books, it sat on their shelves, partially read and made little real difference to their lives.  I am reminded of the people who put on track suits because it makes them feel fitter.  Equally, having a good array of business books on your shelves or on your Kindle probably makes you feel you are ahead of the game.
Just as self-help books don’t help unless you choose to do something, business books won’t change your life unless you apply what they suggest, and given that most of them are repeating what others suggest anyway, why not pick one you believe you will enjoy, read it from cover to cover and then start to practise what it suggests.  Then write to me in a year’s time and tell me if it made a difference.
Meanwhile, I have a crime novel to finish.

To request a business needs analysis, discuss any aspect of leadership and management development or business consultancy, call me on +44(0)161 929 4145 or email David Cotton.

I look forward to hearing from you.

David Cotton

David Cotton is an independent trainer, management consultant, facilitator and speaker with vast international experience.

They made me come…learners, tourists and prisoners

To my mind, training course delegates fall into three broad categories: learners, tourists and prisoners.

Learners attend training because they have a real desire to learn something new.

Tourists come with the idea that there may be something of interested to be gleaned from the day, so they may as well stay and see what happens.

Prisoners arrive with the attitude “They made me come.”

Learners are a delight – they will join in activities and discussions, volunteer to present back, gee up the others (as long as the prisoners are not “mood Hoovers”, sucking all the positive energy out of the group.  Tourists can be fun, and it takes little to convert them to learners if you can engage them sufficiently early in the day in something they see as relevant.  Prisoners are harder work because, even if they find themselves enjoying the course and getting something from it, they remain reluctant to admit that they are benefiting from the day.

The trick, then, is ‘inoculation’ at the outset.  Instead of expending energy trying to win over the prisoners, which is often to the detriment of the learning experience for the genuine learners, tell the delegates about the three categories at the outset and ask them to name the category which best describes them.  The fact that you have acknowledged the possibility that some are prisoners amuses them and takes the wind out of their sails.  In a strange sort of way, because you have declared that it’s possible to be a prisoner on a course lets you into their world, and they find it difficult to display the huffing, puffing, “I don’t want to be here” behaviours that you might otherwise encounter.

So, if you have any suspicion that you have prisoners on the course, let them know and you (and they) will have a better, easier day.

Call me on +44(0)161 929 4145 or email David Cotton.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Meanwhile, happy new year!

David Cotton is an independent trainer,management consultant, facilitator and speaker with vast international experience.