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A Quick SNIP at the Importance of Delivering Feedback

23 November 2010

Consider the last time you visited the hairdresser to get your hair cut. The chances are that you weren’t sat facing a blank wall, but instead, in front of a mirror enabling you to analyse every stage of the process. And once the masterpiece is complete, rather than the hairdresser simply describing what they have done to the back of your head, you are presented with another mirror so that you can see for yourself exactly what has happened to the back of your head. Doubtless, we then proclaim how delighted we are with our new look, even if secretly we may not be too sure and vow never to return again.

This relatively straightforward routine tells us a lot about the importance of feedback, and the challenges that both delivering and receiving feedback can throw at us in the commercial world. After all, until others give us the feedback we need, we will not know what it is we don’t know.

So what is feedback? Well, in its simplest form, feedback can be viewed as any information an individual receives which allows them to evaluate whether their behaviour at any time is appropriate, in terms of:

Achieving their own needs and goals.

Achieving the needs and goals of others.

The extent to which they are socially or culturally acceptable – often the most challenging feedback to deliver!

The importance of feedback as a core management skill is increasingly highlighted by the rising popularity of 360° feedback by organisations. I have certainly noticed the emergence of this process in recent years as more clients have participated in such programmes. It is also emphasised by the emergence of managerial coaching whereby managers are asked to develop and hone the talents of their direct reports. Further, the importance of skills in seeking, receiving and giving feedback is critical to improving self development.

Delivering feedback

The reason of course that hairdressers sit their clients in front of a mirror is that it is easily the simplest and most effective method of enabling them to see themselves as the hairdresser themselves see the client. Likewise in business, it is through feedback that we can see ourselves as other see us. This is not an easy task and rather than the use of mirrors (often in addition to smoke!) requires the key criteria of:

  • Caring
  • Trusting
  • Acceptance
  • Openness
  • Concern for the needs of others

Feedback enables people to perform better, closes the commitment gap and can encourage trust, creativity and build a better corporate climate.

It is not easy to give feedback in a way that it can be received without threat to the other person. To do this requires practice in developing sensitivity to other people’s needs and empathising with these effectively, without being so over sensitive that we merely hint at the core issues and keep our fingers crossed that the recipient will work the rest out for themselves, without being offended in the process.

Neutral feedback which is given about a particular behaviour as opposed to the individual themselves is more likely to be acceptable. In other words, consider the difference between the following statements:

“John, you’ve missed out certain parts of the project and you’ve made some grammatical errors”

“John, the introductory part of the report lacks some detail and there are some grammatical errors in the concluding paragraph”

Meaningful feedback is therefore:

  • Specific
  • Neutral
  • Immediate
  • Practical

Receiving feedback

The key to receiving feedback is to actually listen fully to what is being said, as opposed to merely hearing what is being said. Notice and acknowledge your feelings as well as your thoughts. Talk directly to those giving the feedback.

Key questions which you need to address to be effective in receiving feedback include:

  • Do I understand the feedback?
  • How valid is the feedback?
  • How important is the feedback?
  • To what extent do I need to change and to what extent am I prepared to change?

360° feedback

This, as its name suggests, is feedback to an individual on specified competences from the key people they work with within an organisation. Data is collected, typically using anonymous questionnaires from those above (manager), those alongside (functional and or non functional peers) and those below (reports or subordinates).

The key value of this tool is considered to be that it is the only way to reveal how successful an individual is in all their significant working relationships and how much of the skills and behaviours they exhibit that the organisation requires for:

  • Achieving business goals.
  • Enhancing employee’s performance.
  • Promoting cultural change.
  • Team-working especially in the current climate of constant change

One of the key components to a successful 360° process, other than its anonymity and how this is protected, is the way in which people are invited to participate in the process. It may be tempting to invite four or five of your favourite colleagues to tell you how wonderful you are, and engage in a mutual back slapping exercise. Which mirror are you actually looking into however? Perhaps one from a particular fairy tale?

Rather, a lot of thought should go into considering who should be invited to deliver feedback, including those with whom you have had the odd run in with now and again. It is also worth avoiding the pitfall of simply sending a group e-mail out inviting people to ‘dish the dirt’ on you.

You may wish to consider instead picking the phone up or better still where feasible, having a face to face chat with the other person to explain to them just how important the feedback is to you, and that you would far prefer comments and examples than simply marks out of ten.

Finally, what about when you receive the document which contains all of the information regarding how people really feel about you? It is advisable to take yourself off somewhere quiet and read the document three times over. The first time will enable you to get to grips with the format of the report and to work out how the scoring system works. Inevitably you will be drawn to the so called negative comments, even if there is only one!

The second time you read the report, it will begin to make more sense and you will begin to get a feel for the report as a whole. That comment might still sting a little bit at this stage – you have been warned!

By the time you have read the report for a third time, you are far more likely to be looking at in a more objective manner. You will have discovered one or two positive comments by now (honestly!) and you will be in a position to start thinking about how to respond, i.e.:

  • What am I currently doing that I should continue doing?
  • What am I currently doing that I should stop doing?
  • What am I not doing that I should start doing?
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