Providing clear and direct feedback is an essential function of management. The value of feedback is that it promotes learning and maintains performance in alignment with accepted standards. Frequent feedback provides more cycles of learning and allows employees to more rapidly move up the learning curve. And yet, giving feedback is often a challenge and a source of anxiety for managers. The need is readily recognized, but somehow the action gets put off. Following a simple four step method provides a framework for giving feedback and assures a successful outcome.
Step1 describes the actions that were taken or not taken. This is the Joe Friday of Dragnet fame step. List the facts of the situation and the observable behaviors. For example, ‘I noticed that you spent most of the time in the meeting looking at your papers and did not speak’ (Actions). Do not draw conclusions when presenting the facts. ‘You spent the meeting sulking’ could be used to describe the same situation but it contains an interpretation of the events. It is important to lead with the facts and not with the interpretation. Leading with the interpretation promotes defensiveness while leading with the facts simply creates a common understanding of the events. Focus on the facts and do not make judgments about the individual.
Step 2 states the impact of the behaviors. This is where managers share how the actions effect the organization and the individuals involved. For example, ‘While Ed was giving his presentation on the new purchase order requirements; you spent your time flipping through your day timer’ (Actions). ‘Ed told me later he felt ignored’ (Impact) or ‘I think that this does not present a professional image’. (Impact)
Step 3 describes the potential consequences of the actions. This is best done in terms of stakeholders and focuses on achieving results and attaining goals. For example ‘Compliance to the Corporate Financial Guidelines is an important part of how we responsibly manage the shareholders money and if we don’t understand them, it will be difficult to comply’ (Consequence) or ‘Ed now doubts that we take our financial responsibility seriously and this will make it more difficult to work with the people in his department’ (Consequence) or ‘Failure to follow the Corporate Financial Guidelines can result in a job action’ (Consequence).
Step 4 engages the employee in a discussion of alternative actions that are consistent with reaching the desired outcome and take into consideration the interests of relevant stakeholders. The manager’s purpose in providing feedback is to improve the performance of the business. Assume that the employee shares that purpose and discover ways to reach that goal. This is a good opportunity for brainstorming alternatives, sharing lessons that the manager has learned, and to securing a commitment to take different action in the future.
By following these four steps, a manager can deliver feedback in a structured and effective manner. Managers who make consistent use of this simple method will greatly accelerate the learning in their organization and produce results that create sustainable success for the organization.