How to give constructive feedback, build on positive feedback, and create a better feedback culture in your team
Your team will grow fastest when they receive regular, constructive feedback on their work.
This sprint is about how to ensure that happens. We’ll go through:
The good news is everything you have learned already in this course has set you up to give better feedback.
Whether it’s critical feedback or praise, all feedback conversations occur in the context of the relationship between the giver and the receiver. The success of that conversation is overwhelmingly defined by the trust in that relationship rather than what’s actually said.
If you’ve found yourself approaching a feedback conversation and feeling uncomfortable about it, it’s probably because you know that your relationship won’t support the seriousness of the discussion.
People will be more receptive to your feedback if:
Conversely, think about feedback you’ve received in your career that didn’t sit well with you. It probably came from someone who you didn’t believe cared about you or whose opinion you didn’t value (or both).
Even if it’s early in your relationship, the work you’ve done already in your 1:1s and career development conversations should contribute to a growing belief from your team members that you care about their interests and you have valuable perspective to offer.
In your various conversations with your team, we’ve already spoken about the power of sharing your own experiences in the workplace. Modelling this behaviour opens up the space for others to be candid about their challenges, and creates great opportunities for learning and development.
This is particularly true about feedback. Research has shown that leaders sharing their own feedback had a positive effect on psychological safety and feedback culture and that doing so ‘does not jeopardize their reputations as effective and competent.’
‘Sharing feedback normalized and crystallized vulnerability as leaders made a public commitment to keep sharing and employees reciprocated, which opened the door for more actionable feedback, greater accountability, and ongoing practices that allowed psychological safety to endure.’ Organizational Science
You may have already shared some feedback you received as part of your conversations with your team, but if you haven’t, try to incorporate it into your discussions.
Most of the uneasiness for new managers around feedback involves constructive feedback, or what have become known as ‘tough conversations’. The ones where you have to make a team member aware of a shortcoming with the aim of them improving it.
Beyond the level of trust in your relationship, how you conduct the conversation is critical to how your feedback lands.
All these conversations are slightly different, and not all these tips will be applicable for every situation, but this advice should cover the majority of situations.
Ok, onto the nicer part of the job!
The danger here is not so much getting it wrong, but not taking full advantage of the opportunity when someone has done something excellent.
The good news is, all the rules for giving great praise are the same as for giving constructive feedback, managers just forget to use them. It’s often easy to congratulate someone with a ‘great work!’ when spending a bit more time digging into the detail will pay dividends.
When crediting someone for good work, take the time to speak to them in person about it. Be specific about what was great. They’ll appreciate your words even more, it will help them understand why their work was so valuable, and make it more likely they’ll build on it in future (which again, you can discuss).
Although people vary in their preference to have their work praised in public (this is something you can establish in 1:1s) you can help build your team members’ reputations by telling relevant senior stakeholders about good performance (CC in the individual if you feel it’s appropriate).
‘Feedback’ can become a weighty word in the teams where it’s the exception rather than the norm.
If lots of things are left unsaid, when a critical point is raised it becomes an event rather than part of your team culture. This is when people can feel surprised and singled out, feedback starts to dry up, and everyone loses those opportunities to learn and grow.
Everyone benefits from more feedback, but it’s hard to build a culture of exchanging it.
It takes time for individuals to trust that everyone has each other’s best interests when offering feedback. It takes time for individuals to feel safe accepting that feedback, knowing it’s part of their growth and won’t adversely affect their reputation or opportunities.
It’s your role as a manager to try and grow that culture. Every time you ensure someone gets a bit of feedback, you help. Every time you offer an example to others of where you’ve received advice after messing up, it helps.
Eventually the word ‘feedback’ will lose that weight, it’ll just be ‘how we help one another’.
‘Your goal in life is to make feedback in all directions no big deal. You and your team never start in this state, they earn it. They start with small spoken observations that slowly turn into more useful feedback. They watch to see if each other are listening to the feedback and eventually acting on it. Once everyone has seen that feedback is both shared and acted on, they begin to feel more comfortable sharing large, more complex, and harder feedback. Why? Trust.’ Michael Lopp