The Four F’s of Feedback

[this is  a summer re-post series re-post]

Fast, Friendly, Frequent, Focused

Giving feedback sucks. For whatever reason many managers aren’t good at it. I won’t list all the reasons I’ve heard , but I’m sure you can think back to some of your own, perhaps from bitter experience.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

It doesn’t have to be torturous, drown-out, or dramatic. My clients who give fast, friendly, frequent, and focused feedback to their staff  have found it doesn’t take very long to see huge changes in performance, both individually and at the team level.

Fast

10 seconds is all you need to give feedback. Longer that that you’re not getting to the point. Think about what you want to say, then say it. End of story. Don’t make a big deal about it. Giving feedback should be as natural as breathing for a leader. Treat it that way.

Friendly

Giving somebody feedback is an act of love. You’re trying to help them get better. Helping people do better is part of your job. It’s not the end of the world. If the person you’re giving feedback to treats it that way, it’s their choice, and that’s a different conversation.

Keep it friendly, keep it relaxed, keep it informal. Remember also that while positive feedback isn’t as powerful a kick in the pants as constructive feedback, it’s more likely to result in the behaviour you want. You just have to give it more often. Catch them doing something right.

Frequent

My wife was driving back from giving a presentation in small-town Saskatchewan once. It was late, it had been a long day, and she was tired. She fell asleep in one town and woke up in another 50 kilometers later when the smell of farmers burning their fields got her attention. Good thing the highways in Saskatchewan are so straight.

Usually when we’re driving we are continuously making small corrections using the steering wheel, instead of waiting just before we hit the ditch to yank on the wheel to get us back on course. Feedback is the same thing.

Start by giving feedback once a day. You’ll quickly see what difference it makes, and you’ll want to do it more often.

Focused

By focused I mean specific and actionable. Tell them what you want them to do, what behaviour you want them to change (or keep doing), or what physical, tangible action they need to take in order to improve for next time. Feedback is useless if the target of your feedback doesn’t know what to do with it.

 

Bernie works as a leadership and business coach, consultant, and facilitator. He believes there are simple things outstanding leaders do well, and that not to do anything about bad leadership once you know about it is abuse. Check out what he does with RESULTS.com

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How Often Should I Give Feedback?

[this is  a summer report series repost]

My Smart House Cat

Sometimes our cat thinks she’s a dog. I believe this because when we house-trained our dog, we hung bells from the back door knob and he learned to ring them with his nose when he needed to go out. Persephone (my daughter named the cat for the Queen of the Underworld, which says more about my daughter than the cat, but not by much) observed this for a while, and then started to ring the bells herself.

I dutifully ran to the back door and let her out before realizing what I’d done. In that instant I’d trained the cat to expect that when she rang the bells somebody would open the door for her. Action and reward.

It’s been cold here in Calgary for a while, so even when we know Persephone is just checking to make sure the weather is the same out the back door as it was out the front just five minutes ago, she’s learned to be quite persistent. Eventually somebody will come along and let her out. Listening to the jangling bells is too annoying. Behaviour and reinforcement. The dog passed away about six weeks ago. We really could take the bells down, but I just don’t have the heart.

Many Fat Happy Monkeys

Training animals and giving feedback have some things in common. No, people aren’t cats, and humans aren’t monkeys. Yet there’s something to learn here. If you want to train a monkey to ride a skateboard, you don’t slap it on the skateboard and then yell at it for not performing tricks. First you put the skateboard in the cage. The monkey doesn’t freak out at this new and strange object that’s invaded its space.* You give it a slice of peach when it stays calm when the skateboard appears.

Maybe the monkey moves towards the skateboard. Peach slice. Maybe then the monkey touches the skateboard. Peach. The monkey sits on the skateboard. Peach. The monkey allows the trainer to push the monkey. Peach. Pretty soon you have a fat, happy monkey doing kick-turns and axle stalls.

The Human Advantage

Giving feedback to people isn’t really much different. The biggest difference is that because if we use language properly we can accelerate the process. Every movement, behaviour, or action in the right direction gets noticed and praised. Immediately, specifically, and sincerely. Progress ensues. Many fat happy monkeys, er, staff.

So what happens when the monkey throws the skateboard at the trainer? Nothing. Any body language, tone of voice, or facial expression that gives away anger is a clue on how to control the trainer. Animal trainers know that reacting to bad behaviour (shouting, waving arms, angry faces) is only letting the animal know what they need to do to provoke you.

Again, people are not monkeys (at least most aren’t). Funny enough it works the same way with many people. Emotions leak through, and that affects how the message we’re trying to give is received. Even on a subconscious level. If you can give specific, sincere feedback and still smile, then go ahead and give the feedback. If you can’t smile, then wait until you can. Otherwise you risk doing more harm than good.

Your Actions

In the next week, look for opportunities to give positive, specific feedback (or just a thank-you even) for people who are moving in the right direction. When somebody is trying, they’re actually looking for approval and encouragement.  Even if you suspect they got lucky or did it accidentally, recognize and reward at as many opportunities as you get. Don’t hold out on the peaches!

I wonder what it would take to get the cat on a skateboard?

Previous Blogs on Feedback:

Everybody Wants Feedback – having the courage to give feedback pays off for you, them, and the company
We Owe Ourselves Feedback
– how do you react when somebody gives you feedback?
Why Feedback Doesn’t Work

Train Yourself to Give Better Feedback
– start by practising this everyday for a week
Getting Better at Giving Feedback
– from their behaviour to your reaction and back again. Knowing what going on underneath the surface.

*I can’t remember where I read this example. If you know the source please let me know in the comments so I can give proper credit. Thanks.

Get Them as Spurred as Angry Birds

Why are online games so addictive? And what can we learn about motivating people from them?

Here’s why all jobs should mimic angry birds

Track and Post – Setting Goals that Get Done #5

My niece, who I’m very proud of, recently completed her last year of gymnastics competition. She had a full-ride scholarship to the University of Illinois in Chicago. After winning her senior competition (and posting a personal best score), she went on to state championships (another personal best) and regional. All while maintaining a 4.0 GPA.

I tell you this because I want you to imagine how successful she would have been if her coach had – instead of daily if not minute-by-minute feedback on the gym floor – given her quarterly or yearly performance reviews? How successful she would have been if her teachers hadn’t told her what her marks on her papers were until the end of the semester?

She had big goals (win competitions, keep a high GPA), broke them down into specific, actionable milestones (get better at balance beam so I can score well in the March competition for example), and worked hard every day with feedback from her coaches to improve.

I also know that every member of the team knew where they stood every day as far as their personal best score, and their rankings in the NCAA that week, and what their best routine was.

That kind of “track and post”, where progress towards a goal is posted and visible – whether it’s a personal goal, or a team environment – actually improves your chances of success. Of course if you have a goal, you are more likely to be successful at it. Of course if you get accurate, timely feedback, you’re going to get better.

But if you do both together, both set a goal and get accurate, timely feedback, you more than double your chance of reaching that goal.

And remember, when you’re the manager, the job of providing that accurate, timely feedback falls to you.

If You Don’t One-on-Ones Already, You Should Start Now

Half-hour one-on-ones with your direct reports once a week will save you time, interruptions, email, and rework. Start doing them if you don’t already. Don’tskip them if you do.

Why You Should Never Cancel Your One-on-One Meetings

Feedback: Why You Suck at Giving and Getting It

…and what to do about it: First thing to learn, whether or not you agree with the feedback / criticism / attack, is to say “thank-you”. As a leader please set the example you want your team to follow.

The Ar t and Science of Giving and Receiving Criticism at Work

Remember, you don’t have to take it all at face value, but you should listen. Really listen.

Future-Oriented Feedback

Look forward, not backwards
Look forward, not backwards

The point of giving feedback is to encourage the behaviour you want to see repeated, or something you’d like change in the future. Try not to dwell on the past.

Especially when giving corrective feedback. Unless you’re just trying to make somebody feel bad.  Otherwise ask them what can be learned, and what they’d do differently next time. Staying future focused gives them a much better chance of doing things differently next time, rather than thinking about and then repeating their past mistakes. 

And if you have to give corrective feedback, let them come up with the solution / correction / change. It’s much more powerful if they own it, even if it isn’t exactly what you’d do in the same situation. Even if you think their solution is less effective than yours. Their poor solution enthusiastically implemented is better than your better solution dictated

Focused Feedback

https://secure.flickr.com/photos/mikeriela/7611385110/
Focused Feedback: Timely and Specific

Some of us have met, or even worked for, the boss that thinks they’re great at giving feedback. The particular self-delusion I’m thinking of is the “Hey, great job” variety, perhaps even accompanied by a pointing / clicking gesture.

This kind of generic, blanket praise is nice, but also totally ineffective. Effective feedback needs to be focused.

By focused I mean actionable and timely. Tell them exactly what behaviour is good (or bad) so they now exactly what to repeat (or change), as soon as possible. Feedback is useless if the target of your feedback doesn’t know what to do with it. A general “good job – keep it up” is meaningless unless it’s tied to a recent, repeatable action.

For example: “Scott, you did a great job getting all those videos recorded before the start of the conference. Having that is going to make the conference so much better.”

How to Stop Chasing Cats

A Shiba Inu not chasing a catI have a great life. One of the best parts of it is the brilliant people I get to talk to, interact with, and discuss the great ideas of life with. For example, Sunday I was chatting with a Feminism Studies major formerly a professional dog trainer about my new Shiba Inu and its propensity to chase the cat.

So her very self-regulated response was “Shiba getting along with any other animal is not something I would have suggested. They have a high protective and hunting drive.” We then went on to talk about training approaches, positive versus negative reinforcement, and which was more effective in the long run.

Her recommendation, although it takes a bit more patience and effort, was positive reinforcement. At first we might have to wait for Bjorn (that’s the dog) to just even look away from the dog before using a clicker, offering praise, and then giving him a treat. Or maybe just blink.

The key was for Bjorn to quickly identify the behaviour (avoiding the cat) we wanted. Pretty soon he’d start associating the praise with a treat, and begin offering other behaviors hoping to get a treat. Then we would just have to watch to select the behaviours we wanted to reinforce and keep reinforcing them.

The problem with using a spray bottle (or shock collar, which we inherited from the previous owner) is that it often accidentally reinforces “superstitious” behaviour. That is Bjorn might associate the spray bottle with a person, or a coincidental noise like a cough. Not the desired behaviour. In other words, we have to praise him towards a desired behaviour. Not punish him to not do something.

Just writing that last sentence makes my head hurt. Imagine the dog trying to figure out what we wanted him not to do.

I’m not saying that people are like dogs, or skateboarding monkeys, that are endlessly manipulable. People still need mastery, autonomy, and purpose to thrive and engage. But (big but) if we want to adopt a feedback strategy, all my reading and research strongly suggests positive reinforcement is the way to go. And that the less time between the feedback and what we’re giving feedback for the better.

Question for the Comments:

How many times a day do you give feedback?

Other Reading

Manager Tools Feedback Model
Your Brain At Work
The Four F`s of Feedback

Bernie works as a leadership and strategic business coach, consultant, and facilitator. He believes there are simple things outstanding leaders do well. He believes that not doing anything about bad leadership, once you know about it, is abuse. And poor business practice. He believes organizations are founded on their values. He believes that the workplace is a place for both people and businesses to thrive. Not just survive. Check out his other articles at practicalmanagers.com

Techniques for Generous Listening

“Communication is what the listener does” – Mark Horstman

Last week I encouraged you to be more than an active listener. I encouraged you to be a generous, respectful, and calm listener instead. While the “active” listening techniques of eye contact and body language are useful, they don’t go deep enough.

What does generous listening look like in practice? Here are three actionable, specific techniques for being a generous listener:

Listen With Your Mind

Personally I have a hard time even hearing what’s being said, or staying focused. My mind will drift off, especially if somebody’s rabbiting on about a topic that doesn’t interest me. Or I’ve already decided in irrelevant to where I want the conversation to go. Or I’m thinking furiously about what my response is going to be to an earlier statement, and I miss their real point.

Repeat the words they are saying to yourself in your head.

This will get you back on track. It will bring your mind back to what they’re saying. Don’t worry about having an immediate response ready the moment they take a breath. Having an immediate response ready the moment they stop talking is just another form of interrupting. Take a breath before you reply.

Stop Interrupting

If you’re interrupting you’re not listening. If you’re not listening, they’ll know it and are less likely to be listening to you. Then how are you going to influence them? Just don’t.

This includes waiting for them to pause so you can elbow your way into the conversation with your witty retort. Bite your tongue. Take notes. Clench your teeth and grunt “Uh-Huh” or “Mmm-hmm” until your throat hurts if you have to.

Then count to five in your head after you think they’re done.

The “Uh-Huh” sound is a great way to move the conversation along, signal that you’re listening, and still not agreeing or making a commitment you don’t want to make.

Accept Feedback

I admit that most feedback is poorly delivered, feels like a personal attack, and isn’t actionable. Doesn’t matter.

Say “thank-you” and take it. Questions for clarification only.

No retorts, no rationalizations, no justification. At the very least you’ll be helping them practice, and they might even give better feedback the next time. Or send them to my website, which has many articles on giving feedback.