The Glue to Alignment

May 5, 2010 -- Sal Silvester

I have talked a lot about the importance of alignment in my past newsletters and blog posts and how alignment creates focus, clarity, and accountability. But, the glue that holds alignment together throughout the year is...feedback.

Feedback is a funny thing because it is often one of the hardest things for people to do in the workplace. I have seen countless leaders and team members struggle with feedback - both in providing it and in receiving it. Perhaps it is human nature to want to avoid difficult conversations. But when we avoid providing others with feedback, we are doing a disservice to our fellow team member, the team itself, and to the organization as a whole. And, if you are in a leadership role and fail to provide your team members with feedback, you are losing credibility (and you probably don't know it).

The thing is, people generally want feedback. They want to know what they are doing well and where they can improve. And, when feedback is done in a spirit of helping people elevate their performance in the workplace, it is much more likely to be accepted in a positive manner.

Some of the mistakes people make when they give others feedback include:

  • Smothering feedback with positives on the front and back end resulting in a lack of clarity on the intent of the message
  • Not providing feedback in a timely manner
  • Not being specific enough for people to actually know what to change
  • Approaching feedback as a disciplinary process

On the best teams, team members don't just rely on the team leader to provide feedback; peers provide each other with direct feedback, reducing the politics, posturing, and posing that is always so destructive to a team's cohesion.

So, the question is - how can I provide feedback to others in a simple and  effective way?

Here's a model for providing feedback to your peers, team members, manager and just about anyone else. It's a simple four-step process that goes like this:

Behavior - Impact - Input - Follow-up

First, start by describing the Behavior you saw, as specifically as possible. This enables others to understand exactly what to change. Make sure you do it in a timely manner so that the team member can correctly associate your feedback with a behavior. Most people follow a general rule of providing constructive feedback in privacy and positive feedback in public. Be careful. You may have team members who would prefer not to receive praise in public. Get to know your fellow team members and their preferences and priorities at an individual level.

Secondly, describe the Impact of the behavior - to you, to others on your team, to your customers, etc.

The third step is to ask the team member for Input on what he/she can do to improve. This is the step that builds commitment and makes the feedback process more of a conversation instead of a diatribe. When someone actively participates in coming up with solutions, they will be much less defensive and the outcome is more likely to be constructive.

Finally, the fourth step is to schedule time to follow-up. This is the most forgotten step in providing feedback. The follow-up provides reinforcement to behavioral change and increases the likelihood of improving the team member's performance.

When done right, the process of providing feedback should maintain or build a team member's self-esteem and also help a team member improve their performance. And, when you help others improve their performance, you help build commitment, productivity and job satisfaction.

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