Guest Blog Post – 4 tips for giving feedback

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We are delighted to share a guest post this week from Kevin Watson of My Own Coach, a great company we have the privilege of working with on many leadership and team development initiatives; here Kevin offers some thoughtful reminders of what success looks like when giving feedback.



We're not very good at feedback, are we? We tend to give feedback by reflex, often using outdated feedback models we've taken from significant adults in our lives!
I find people fall into three categories when giving feedback:

Critical - never happy, always finding something to complain about, hard on people. Generally believes that you have to keep on top of people to get results. 

Nice - wants to be mates with his people, likes to entertain and have a laugh. Feedback is likely to be vague and useless.

Absent - never says much, expects people to get on with it. Believes that giving people a salary is feedback enough.

Then there are some people who've been taught the feedback sandwich. You know the one, say something nice, deliver criticism, say something nice. I've heard praise described as the bread with criticism described as the meat. Imagine what that says…that the negative part of the feedback is the most important part!!
Well, here's the news….the feedback sandwich simply doesn't work!
It doesn't work for two reasons:
  1. people giving feedback will only pay small attention to the positive feedback and;
  2. because of this most people can hear the "but" coming a mile off

What the sandwich implies is that feedback is for affecting a change in performance and the negative part is the most important.
So, how can you give feedback that works?
First, you need to consider some home truths about feedback
  1. people are, most of the time, hungry for more love, affection, warmth and respect, particularly at work
  2. sincere appreciation is like an oasis in the desert, like giving water to a thirsty traveller

Your success or not with feedback depends on how well you learn to give feedback to yourself. You'll tend to treat others pretty much the way you treat yourself and so the place to start is with the way you talk to yourself, about yourself and about your own results. Learning to give yourself helpful feedback is the single most important change you can make to how you manage others.

Say it the way you want it! Remember, your brain can't distiguish "don't" and "do" as it is only drawn to positive things. Try it out for yourself. When someone says to you "don't think of a purple frog!" what hops into your mind? With feedback, you need to say it the way you want it – "think of a red frog".
How to use the feedback properly

Be timely - give feedback within five minutes, as people find it easier to both confirm good performance and change current performance while events are recent. 

Be specific - start with three or four behaviours, praising, appreciating or drawing attention to them by being specific, e.g. "I thought the way you explained that by using your story was really helpful", or "I noticed you listening carefully to that customer explaining her problem and I was impressed, well done"

This is the most important part of the feedback because you are drawing attention to stuff that you want them to do more of. Make it pleasurable for them to do more of it.

Shine a light - highlight a single specific behaviour that would make it even better next time, e.g. "You could be even better next time if you remembered to write down their phone number and repeat it back to them as they told you"

Finish on a high - this time make the comment about their identity, NOT their behaviour, e.g. "You're a good salesman and I really value having you on my team"

Notice that this way of providing feedback is about recognising positive behaviours and keeping the focus firmly on future performance. This avoids the kind of "post-mortem feedback" that bedevils so many performance reviews.
Call to action
The way to get really good at giving feedback is to practice, practice, practice! And the best person to start practising on…is yourself. 
Practise using this feedback model by taking just 10 minutes at the start of the day to reflect, journal, meditate or just think about how you did in the last 24hrs.
Kevin Watson, Founder & Director, My Own Coach
If you want to read more of Kevin's thoughts on leadership, organisational development and coaching, then check out 'The Learning Group' on Linkedin.
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Banks, cultures, values and behaviours

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Before continuing I feel obliged to say that I worked for a bank (HSBC) for 11 years.  I left in 2001.

Last night I was listening to a previous executive of Barclays discussing the failure of culture, values and behaviour within his old company – and I suspect in particular within Barclays Capital.  I'm not qualified to comment on quite what went on; I join the rest of us in observing a relatively small number of people acting in a way that disappoints us but no longer surprises us and leaves a very sour taste in the mouth.

I am though very interested in culture, values and behaviours and a little bit more qualified having spent the last 10 years working with 360 degree feedback and working with organisations to design values and competency frameworks.

When I look at the lack of integrity and sheer greed involved in the current banking issues I don't think a competency framework and 360 feedback session are going to stop them!  However, over time, banks changed.  When I joined Midland Bank it was a generally dull organisation making some mistakes but its ethos was one of safety and security.  I suspect if we go back 40 years banks would be even more strongly associated with conservative values and behaviours.

And this is where having values expressed and  talked about each year matters.  Cultures build and change over long periods of time.  There is no short term magic bullet to move culture.  Instead, you have to make it a long term priority; checking it (surveys), talking about it (360 feedback) and making it part of everyone's responsibility (performance appraisal).   The public are not complaining that the banks were short of rules or regulations they are complaining that they lack the values we expected.

We can only suspect whether the CEO and board of the banks were complicit in the wrongdoing.  What I would be confident of is they were casual about ensuring that the culture, values and behaviours of all those within the organisation were aligned to those expected of companies we all trust with our savings and investments.  I don't know where Bob Diamond's values lie but I do know he ran an organisation where part of it lost track of its values.



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360 Degree Feedback slicing through ‘Self-serving’ biases

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A nice little article on the Harvard Business Review blog from McKinsey highlights essentially the idea that most of us are predisposed to rate ourselves better than our peers, direct reports, etc especially in behaviour-related areas and how 360 degree feedback looks to redress this 'self-serving' bias.

It is along the lines of 'It's not me, it's all them others…', a tendency to not perceive ourselves as part of a problem; as a group in an organisation we might all recognise the issue or problem, but the fail to see how we might contribute to it through our own behaviour.

It reminds me of the wonderful road sign in Germany which is placed by areas of high traffic congestion which says 'You are not in traffic, you are traffic'.


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What next after 360 degree feedback? Start in the right place with this top 5

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We have spoken many times about how 360 degree feedback ideally raises self-awareness within an individual and should have them take responsibility for the feedback and accept there is something worth paying attention to.

The move from the 360 feedback debrief discussion into one about development planning and action, is an interesting one; it may seem obvious initially what such development goals might be and it may well be that the feedback alone is all that a recipient needs to go improve their performance.

However, what if the recipient hears the feedback, accepts it and realises the need for change, but is unsure where should they start in terms of improving their performance in the highlighted area? 

As a Line Manager, we can help them work methodically through the potential reasons as to what is causing any issues or underperformance, and ensure they start work in the right place.

For us, we see the following top 5 inhibitors to effective performance, and suggest one starts at number 1 and works their way down before carrying on to 6,7,8,9, etc.

1. They don't realise they are underperforming or there is an issue - Give them feedback; the 360 degree feedback may be all they need.

2. They are not sure what is expected of them i.e. Objectives, Behaviours, Performance Standards - Tell them; they must know WHAT to do

3. They do not have the requisite skills to perform – Train them; they must know HOW to do it

4. They do not understand why they need to perform in this way - Tell them; they must understand the context and WHY they are being asked to do it

5. There are obstacles in the way – Remove them; anything which gets in the way of them performing must be tackled i.e. Systems, processes, etc.


If you can clearly identify the source of any underperformance and work through these top 5 most prevalent ones before any others, there is a greater chance of effective development plans and actions leading to improved performance.





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Is this ‘seven second’ performance appraisal throwing the baby out with the bath water?

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This article in People Management regarding the new approach by mining company, First Quantum Minerals, which hangs on the idea of a 'seven second' performance appraisal form, reminds of the appeal associated with those '2 second' pop-up tents you see advertised.

It's the promise of convenience, ease, speed and time not wasted doing something you are not that keen on, to do something more appealing, such as setting out the deckchairs and opening the wine.

Whilst I agree with much of the sentiment conveyed by Nick Warren, Head of Development at First Quantum, talking about how removing a focus on the form will free Line Managers to focus instead on the conversation, I don't follow the logic that a 'shorter form means a longer conversation'.

Similarly, I concur that the Performance Management process should be one where Line Managers are trusted to have meaningful conversations with their team members, and that HR can indeed get in the way with overly complex and bureaucratic processes; however, this needs to be tempered with a process which sends out the right signals around performance appraisals.

Having 3 boxes entitled 'performance', 'behaviours' and 'readiness for promotion', rated 1-4 and three headings in their competency framework, open to individual interpretation by Line Managers, feels a little like the pendulum has swung too far the other way – performance reduced to numbers, and behaviours up for grabs.

Without knowing the intimate detail of the process, some of my reservations may well be misplaced, and I do genuinely applaud organiations who are attempting to create a performance management process which seeks to fit with their culture, deliver the best for individuals and the organisation.

The nagging voice comes with the idea that completely throwing out the old appraisal system, form and process, to replace it with something highlighted as 'seven second', might be losing something worth preserving in places.

With a focus on Line Manager training, education and suchlike on the critical role of performance management, they may have felt less of a need to introduce and emphasise the 'pop-up' nature of the new approach.





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Is 360 degree feedback objective or subjective?

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There is a debate running on the HRZone linkedIn Group at the moment sparked by a contributor looking to see if people have been able to use 360 feedback for recruitment.  I won't rehearse the whole discussion but there is an excellent contribution within it where a Jennifer Marsden of HR Experts says "Assessment splits down into four types, formative OR summative plus subjective OR objective. 360* reviewing is a formative assessment tool that is subjective."

The initial contributor to the discussion argues that 360 feedback is more objective than a c.v. 

Now that HR Zone debate is and should run on a basis of what delivers effective recruitment.  But, for me, the interesting point is that 360 feedback is often seen by others as delivering objective feedback whereas I see it as very subjective feedback.  Indeed it is the subjective nature of the feedback that makes it useful.  What 360 feedback does for me is it gives a range of subjective feedback rather than just one instance of subjective feedback from a line manager.  It is the breadth of feedback that is useful not that it somehow provides one objective truth.

When working with a recipient of 360 feedback this perspective is helpful as it helps them see why the report is often contradictory with different people proferring different feedback.  Where many people give congruent feedback then that carries some added strength and is likely to be worthy of attention. but it is no more objective.

I don't want to take this debate into too technical a point – but there is a critical underlying decision here of what 360 is and what it is not.  Discussing this at the start of a 360 degree feedback project is essential as reports, project communication, and debrief sessions will all be influenced by this belief debate.

Oh, for what its worth – I wouldn't use 360 feedback in recruitment!



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360 Degree Feedback or face-to-face conversation?

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A recent article in the Guardian suggests how leaders can become exceptional through encouraging honest face-to-face feedback rather than relying on the anonymous feedback often associated with 360 degree feedback.

To all intents and purposes, we would agree that an organisational culture which can support open, honest, face-to-face feedback which is given well and received well, is a desirable state – leadership should indeed encourage and lead by example in fostering such an environment.

However, 360 degree feedback still has a place as a formal, structured way of gathering feedback which should complement such conversation; it isn't "either/or".

If a leader/organisation can encourage honest, open face-to-face feedback, then they can similarly encourage 360 degree feedback which is also honest, constructive and insightful for the recipient.

Beyond the individual, the recording of feedback in this way, allows the organisation to view the aggregated picture, and this is where greater value can be derived from the 360 degree feedback process; both in identifying wider trends across the business which help prioritise learning & development needs, and then further still in drawing out strategically important issues for the organisation which would be lost if only informal conversations were taking place.

Let's have both; informal conversations and structured feedback, and glean insight from both that improves leadership and business performance.





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Performance Appraisals and the new one-day diet!

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I have been conscious of and contributing to much debate again on the value of performance appraisals i.e. Are they worth it? The concerns are genuine, the points of view well presented, but I see a theme that connects these arguments against performance appraisals, and it is one which I feel weakens their persuasiveness.

The theme is this; most of the arguments against performance appraisals consider them in isolation and not part of the broader context of a Performance Management process.

If we consider Performance Management as a vehicle of communication between an employee and their line manger. which in turn is a series of conversations about performance, then the appraisal can be seen as but one conversation in this series which happens to take place at the end of a given time period; usually a year, perhaps with an interim.

The appraisal conversation serves to review performance, plan ahead and identify development needs; it can only be truly useful if the other performance management conversations have taken place throughout the year i.e. Objective Setting, Giving Feedback and Coaching Conversations.

Without these conversations, appraisals can indeed become meaningless and counter-productive – which brings me to the analogy….it's like going on a diet for one day a year and expecting to lose weight.



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A hammer looking for a nail? 360 degree feedback and teachers

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John passed me an article in HR Magazine - – which talked about using 360 feedback for teachers.  The article is well written and covers the new performance appraisal process introduced for teachers in the UK.  It was passed on to me with a "something is wrong here but I can't work out what".

I think the issue is that 360 degree feedback is generally a good way of gaining a broader perspective on how a person behaves or performs in the workplace but there are a few fundamentals.  And one of those fundamentals is that the people giving feedback must be in a place to regularly observe the performance/behaviour.

So, for head teachers and heads of department I can see 360 feedback from a range of teachers, support staff, and others working perfectly.  But 360 feedback on the teaching of the children/classroom performance has me concerned.  The only regular observers of the lessons are the children…and I'm not knowledgeable or qualified enough to understand whether getting children to give that sort of feedback is likely to improve classroom performance.  Any other contribution to feedback on the classroom performance is likely to be anecdotal or based on limited evidence such as lesson observation.

While I would advocate getting feedback on a teacher from more than one source (Head, Department head, etc.) it feels like using classic 360 feedback is a case of owning a hammer and seeing every problem as a nail.




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Training Zone Article; how to conduct an effective 360 feedback debrief

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Apologies! I forgot to add the link in to the aforementioned article in the previous post, so here it is:

"How to conduct an effective 360 degree feedback debrief" (Training Zone Article June 6th 2012)

We will be shortly making this article available in PDF format; if you would like a copy then do let me know and I will forward as soon as it is published.

Many Thanks




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Article just published in Training Zone; how to conduct an effective 360 degree feedback debrief

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A post just to highlight our own article published today in Training Zone entitled 'How to conduct an effective 360 degree feedback debrief'.

The article looks to, in our view, the most critical element of the 360 degree feedback process, and that is the face-to-face session where the recipient of the feedback gets to read it in their own report, supported by a skilled debriefer.

The key areas covered are:


  • Understand your role as a debriefer and what skills it requires
  • Preparation – what to look for in a report
  • Structure – the basic debrief process
  • Concluding the debrief – moving towards action

Hope you enjoy it and welcome any feedback or comments which help further the discussion.




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Thanks to all those who attended yesterday’s 360 feedback seminar

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A brief post to say thanks again for all those who attended, those who couldn't at the last minute and those who expressed an interest in this one and the next 360 degree feedback seminar!

It was a great morning with lots of discussion drawing out people's experience of 360 degree feedback, coupled with an opportunity for us to share our thoughts and philosophy around what makes for a successful implementation.

From preparing the ground, starting with the end in mind, considering how you want the debrief conversation to go, through to design of reports, questionnaires and competency frameworks, the underlying message was that it clearly 'wasn't just about the software'!

Look forward to scheduling the next one after the summer; in the meantime, I hope everyone enjoys the weather and Jubilee celebrations!

Many Thanks




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