Mastering Feedback — Part 1: Feedback and how it fits into a performance-driven...

 1 year ago
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Mastering Feedback — Part 1: Feedback and how it fits into a performance-driven culture

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I’m sure that you’ve heard it many times: giving and receiving feedback is really important in a culture of continuous improvement.

I’ve been trying to create teams where feedback is ingrained in the culture so that we can go beyond together. If we don’t embrace feedback, we start to go a bit blind working towards uncovering our weaknesses. We stop uncovering our blind spots and we don’t grow together.

Mastering Feedback is not an easy thing nevertheless. Feedback is a dialogue between humans and as such it needs to be given with care and preparation.

I believe that to be an effective manager and coach I need to master the art of feedback. In this series, I plan to bring you along on this journey so that we can learn and grow together.

Feedback should be a gift

What did you do there?!
That code is not great, I don’t understand why you took so much time doing it.
What you achieved was ok, but you missed the most important part of the requirement.

Is that effective feedback? I don’t think so.

Feedback can and should be a gift and we will explain why in the post.
Many times feedback feels the other way. We are scared of feedback, we sit down in a room with our manager and we feel we are about to feel punished.

Furthermore, as managers we associate Feedback with a duty that we need to execute, we know it is not going to be nice but it needs to be done. This perhaps is the reason why many junior managers fall in the trap of not having 1–1s, they feel like they don’t want to punish their people.
Also, it is very common to see only “nice” 1–1s, where the person is constantly cheer-leaded. Without effective feedback, the person will never achieve their true potential.

But why does it feel this way?
Many times it is because of the way we communicate that feedback:

  • Managers who only tell what went wrong and never when the person did well.
  • People who only reflect on the things that the other person cannot change and they relate failure to those constraints. Here is an example, “you never help the rest of the team because you are always late”.

Those are not nice things to say and therefore we avoid giving feedback. We will see that those are not actually forms of effective feedback.

Fear to give and receive feedback hurts the learner, it hurts the organization where you work in and it hurts you. As managers we need to love and master feedback, it is the single most important tool to create high-performing teams.

Where does feedback live in a culture of performance?

To appreciate Feedback we need to understand where it sits within the cycle of our manager’s job or in the cadence of a team. Let’s outline how and where feedback sits within a performance culture.

A way to represent the activities of a team or contributions of a given individual can be the following:

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These are cycles of doing, repeating loops set up to achieve your goals. This can be a sprint in Agile Scrum, it can represent a Quarter within a company’s Financial Year, it can also be a week’s work of a person that you manage striving for growth.
Feedback sits right in this cycle. It is critical that feedback does not sit in isolation but within the context of those cycles.

Feedback needs to be embedded in everything that we do.

Let’s start to break down the steps that compose one of these cycles:

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  1. Setting up the mission:
    In this phase, the team gets together to decide the goals. In a business setup, perhaps this will start with a product manager giving some guidelines towards what we should be aiming for in the next year. The starting point of the conversation is normally something like: We want to grow the business by X percent in market Y because of reason Z.
    It is really important that in this step we invest as much time as we need to get buy-in from the members of the team. Alignment is crucial in this step as it glues everything together.
    A great way to do this is by arranging an offsite where people in the team get together and talk about what we are trying to achieve and explore our mission further.
    If you are managing or coaching someone, it is really nice to start with a cup of coffee in a coffee shop outside the office setup, and spend as much time as needed knowing the person, talking about their ambition and areas of development.
    Some common mistakes that I’ve seen done in the past around this step are:
    - Give the team the mission as a polished statement without involving them at all: If anything, by doing this you can be sure that getting buy-in is going to be hard.
    - Don’t spend enough time defining the mission: some people have the idea that we should not “waste” working hours defining the goal. But as an example, a quarter lasts 3 months, that is more or less 60 working days, representing 450 working hours. If we spend 6 hours with the team defining together the mission, that is 1.3% of the quarter’s time, and it will be worth it.
  2. Setting up the path:
    In this next step, together as a team, we establish the initial plan. Our job as coaches or managers is to provide intentional focus.
    Why do we need to provide focus? A working environment is complex and there are many alternatives and ways to achieve a mission. Our job is to identify the things that could lead to max performance and guide our team to those.
    Some examples of things that we need to do in this step:
    - Identifying and removing the roadblocks that stop the progression.
    - Set the path for progression.
    - Provide areas of technical skills development that we know the person we are coaching will need.
    In this step, we shouldn’t go into the details but the big building blocks that will lead to our mission. Break down a quarter into deliverables, take a view of the whole year for your employee and see what areas of growth they need to develop.
  3. From potential to performance:
    This phase is the “doing” part, we have a goal and a path, let’s get it done! Our team or colleague starts the journey.
    This is where, as managers, we create an environment to develop performance and Feedback is one of the primary tools to achieve this. Thanks to the use of feedback we can:
    - Course correct: What if something unexpected happened, what if the plan that we laid had some hypothesis that hasn’t proven to be correct. Our role is to give a view from the outside of what they need to adapt and provide guidance on how they could change the plan to achieve success.
    - Hold team and individuals accountable: Humans are driven to a goal. We achieve the best out of us when we have a means, a drive to achieve our mission. But the journey is tough. When the tougher gets tough a sends of accountability and commitment leads to persevere to achieve the goal. We as managers or coaches are the ultimate holders of someone’s sense of accountability.
  4. Bring perspective to grow even further:
    When we get there, we need to revisit the whole picture again. What have we achieved? What can be improved further? What new areas of development do we want to tackle next?
    Manager and employee, team, we sit together and we run a postmortem of the whole cycle. That way we get ready for the next chapter. We get ready to re-engage in a new cycle, we begin to define the next step of the mission.
    This phase is really important. As an example, a team may not accomplish the mission that they set out to do, but in this phase, we do a postmortem of all the lessons learned so we can improve.

Defining effective feedback

Feedback is an open dialogue that happens every day or when appropriate.
It is driven through guidance and encouragement, and as any dialogue:

  • Feedback is not unidirectional, we give and receive.
  • Feedback should have positive intent.

Positivity is crucial in feedback.
As an example, you may seem some behavior or actions that you don’t think were ok. Nevertheless, it is really important that we assume that the person executing was trying to do the best they could.

Effective feedback is not law enforcement or disciplinary action, nor it is an opportunity to bent your emotions or to tell people what they did wrong.

Feedback is a gift, an opportunity to bring the performer back on track on their path to success. Feedback is based on trust, it must fit on a culture of openness where team members can truly be themselves without fear of failure. Therefore feedback can never be a tool of shaming.

That’s it for this post, in this one we talked about “the why” and “the when” of feedback. In the coming blogs, we will speak more about “the how”.
Thanks for reading!

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