How to give great feedback

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It’s tough being a leader. It’s a demanding job with many challenges. One of them is having difficult conversations.


The temptation is to avoid them but as leaders we need to face up to the tough jobs. And one of the toughest things you’ll ever have to do is give feedback.


Feedback is hard because you need to tell someone they are underperforming. That is never pleasant. You also need to put them back on the right track. That is never easy. So how do you do it?


The praise sandwich


We’ve all had the dreaded praise sandwich, a sentence about what you do well. Then a 20 minute onslaught of all your worst points. And as an afterthought you get a positive throwaway sentence. Not much fun, not much help.


Don’t do that.


More than a sandwich


You need to offer people more than a stale praise sandwich.


Which is why I thought I’d share with you a technique I use for giving feedback. It is very useful when I’m coaching speakers and civic leaders but it applies to all sorts of feedback. You can use it when you are talking to staff or your team, you can even use it on other councillors.


Leader’s feedback


There are three sections to the Leader’s feedback technique

  • Praise the star
  • Raise the bar
  • They’ll go far


Together these three elements produce powerful feedback that really works.


Praise the star


You need to start by thinking of things that they have done well. It is much easier to get someone to do more of what they are doing well than it is to get them to do something completely different. Which is why you should start with the positives.


Pick two things you like about what they are doing and think about how you can communicate their success to them.


Be specific


The idea is to get them to do more of what they do well, so you need to be specific. Help them to do it again and do it more


If you like their customer service don’t just say you like their customer service. What specifically did you like about it? If it was the warmth of their greeting say that. If it was the promptness of their response, say that.


Be generous


No one ever complained that they got too much praise.


Don’t just say it was OK, rave about it. Be enthusiastic, be descriptive, don’t leave them in any doubt that you liked what they did.


You need to keep it in proportion, there is no point in telling them they are the best in the world if they’re just good at something. But bear in mind that you want your feedback to create a positive impression because then they are more likely to take the action you need them to.


Once you have explained the two things as specifically as you can with as much generosity as you can muster, it is time to move on to the next step.


Raise the bar


It is time to add in the elements that they need to improve on. It is important to note that this is not the section for criticism. What you need to do is identify something specific that they could do in the future to get a better result.


Again, you are aiming to be enthusiastic and clear. You are not telling them that they have done something wrong, you are telling them that if they do something differently they will be even better.


Don’t criticise


No one likes criticism which is why it is rarely effective. If the person you’re giving feedback to thinks it is an attack, then that person will become defensive rather than take your point on board. Which is why the aim is not to say something has been done wrongly, but to offer something specific to take to the next level.


As we all like to get better results this should give positive acceptance of your feedback.


What would you respond better to? Your speech was dull and lifeless. Or, if you added some variety to the way you speak your speech would be even more exciting.


The most important thing to do is to help raise the bar by giving the tools to do it.


Be concrete


Be warned though it is much harder to help someone raise the bar than it is to explain how it was done wrongly. Mostly this is because rather than just identifying the problem you must help fix it.


To do that you need to be very specific about what should be done. The difference between knowing that you have a problem and knowing what to do about it is massive. So make sure you are crystal clear about the action needed to achieve better results.


For example, if the problem is with time keeping just pointing out that someone is always late won’t help, people generally know that about themselves. If you give some specific techniques to try, like setting an alert on the phone or always leaving 15 minutes earlier than usual, then there’s a much better chance of an improvement.


Be singular


If the action you are asking is so big that there is no hope of it happening, then it really isn’t good advice. You could tell someone that a doctorate would give more credibility, which is true, but it would involve a huge effort and the results won’t be noticeable for many years.


What you need to offer people is something specific and small. You could say that by sharing existing knowledge of the subject there would be more credibility. That way existing knowledge would be much more effective. This dramatically increases the likelihood of your advice being acted upon.


You’ve given concrete and singular ways to show how to raise the bar and improve what is currently being done, now are going to move to the final section.


They’ll go far


This is your chance to reinforce what you’ve said so it is remembered.  But you can also to give that spark of motivation so your suggestions can be implemented.


Sum up


Start by reiterating the good points and the actions which can be taken to improve. This is perhaps the most important part of the feedback. You don’t want to simply repeat what you’ve said, you want to distil it down to its most memorable form.


People are more likely to remember the last things you say so make it count.


How far can anyone go?


The final thing you want to do is explain why your suggestions should be put into practice. It’s not enough that you have good ideas or that you are the boss, you must make whoever you are talking to, embrace your ideas.


Thankfully this is simple. Just tell them what can be achieved if your advice is taken. You want to inspire people with the bright future out there if what is done well is repeated and points for improvement are taken on board.


It is important to remember that the key to inspiring people is showing what the future looks like.


If you do this well, your colleagues will be motivated and will take the actions you are suggesting. Better yet, it will all feel like positive feedback.


Leave people smiling


Feedback can be disappointing. If you do it wrong it can be demotivating.


Or you can use the leader’s feedback system and do it properly. That really will leave people smiling. Use this simple formula and people will start to enjoy your feedback.

  • Praise the star
  • Raise the bar
  • They’ll go far


Over and above leaving people with a warm glow will be that people take action based on your feedback. That means improvement and better results. Ultimately, that means more help for you.

Duncan Bhaskaran BrownHow to give great feedback

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