What is Feedback?
To understand feedback, let’s think of shapes.
A straight line - a beginning point connected to the end point with steps in between, all of these connect to form a process and pathway.
Think of Communication as a loop. It has a start and end point, yes, but unlike a line where the end point is the end of the phenomena, a loop indicates that there will be multiple instances and each instance is connected to the previous one.
If we denoted a spiral as the metaphor, it would indicate higher intensities of feedback and messaging but with no clear end point and likely destabilizing of the thread.
This is why the loop or circular approach makes sense as a starting point.
It is still however not complete in its ability to visualize what you’re dealing with, so let’s take the loop or circle and make it a sphere, perfect or imperfect, allowing us to imagine a center, parameters and competing regions of interaction throughout the “air” or “space” within AND without.
Thus we get it - feedback is not just a process, it is an environment which is delicate and needs balancing for it to successfully play out till completion of the process.
So what is involved in feedback?
Iterative improvement is key to any organization. You won't’ (and no one else will) get it right the first time, and yet it’s incumbent on you to keep trying to improve productivity, process and policies.
1. Prevention is better than cure: People-centric feedback first involves the early and regular approach to feedback - let people know how they’re doing well before they’re too far into a process to actually correct it. Real time monitoring and regular check-ins through workflows and the buddy system gets most of the issues handled quickly. Quick emails or one-on-one’s - once a week or so is enough, less for larger organizations (once a month for most people in your division except contractors). Give quick kudos on a good team presentation or contribution.
2. Next, improvement should be a matter of improving capacity rather than just error reduction. Put it simply, don't just tell me what to avoid doing, tell me how to be a better professional overall, so I can handle more work and improve my throughput.
3. Measure: Show degrees of performance expectation and give clear understanding to employees on evaluation methods. I can take all manner of negative news if I know that ultimately I am being judged on fair metrics, applied uniformly.
4. Make Feedback a conversation: Let employees have some feedback mechanism not only on the content of their feedback but also on the methods if they feel it isn’t an accurate measure of ability or performance. Emails are great for solidifying any important discussions in writing and this encourages employees to read them again when the problem recurs.
5. Always stress the difference between ability and performance. A great employee can have a bad day (great ability, not so great performance).
6. Formal performance reviews:
Establish relationship between you (manager) and employee. Show that you know them and Recognize previous achievements if any to ensure employee is cognizant of their track record, especially if it is better than current achievements. Use the potential vs. achievement framing. Ask the employee prior to meeting to set goals and show practical pathways to achieve them.
Assign formal mentor-ship and training, especially if professional development is required.
Suggest skill augmentation courses to ready them for more responsibility
7. Become a Mentor: The best advice I can give you is that all feedback should be couched in an ongoing coaching and mentoring relationship.
How do you know you’re doing it right? The employee or subordinate seeks YOU out for feedback, rather than the other way around.
Give them a prize to shoot for - a promotion, more pay, recognition - at the end of the tunnel they’re going for and tell them it’s not easy but it’s worth it.
Finally, reward the intangibles. Loyalty and determination don’t always show up in spreadsheets but they’re visible in attending meetings you don’t have to and doing research you weren’t required to in a way that helps the company as a whole, not just them directly.
In other words - your best employees treat this company with the same love that you would. And they should be rewarded more than the top performers that would jump ship at the first sign of a better paycheck.
Here's a few helpful hints to end with:
Don’t say “but”
Don’t say corporate speak
Be truthful without being hurtful
Offer help and a path forward
Establish and maintain trust