Feedback is a hot topic this year at ConvergenceCoaching. Firms are interested in more quickly progressing and growing their staff, and we believe the key to doing it successfully is providing specific, meaningful, and timely feedback to the team on a regular basis. In this blog, we’ll focus on delivering feedback and really drill into how we make sure our people understand and process our observations more effectively.
In the book Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen, the authors purport that we all “swim in an ocean of feedback” which can be overwhelming and hard to leverage for improvement. To effectively deliver feedback, we need to be clear about the type of assessment we want to get across. In Thanks for the Feedback they separate feedback into three types - expressing appreciation, coaching and evaluation - and as people developers it’s our responsibility to deliver all three. Each type has a purpose and without one, our employees won’t progress appropriately. We’ll take you through the value and benefit of each so you can see why it’s important to deliver them all, and deliver them effectively.
“People leave managers, not companies” - Marcus Buckingham
An essential part of our job as leaders and people managers is to be the glue that binds our people to the organization through building rapport and closeness. We create that tighter bond by spending time with each other, asking questions and learning about one another and remembering the things we learned. We can also build trust and a stronger bond by expressing appreciation – also known as attaboys, good jobs, kudos, high fives – something I like to think of as deposits in a team member’s positivity piggy bank. Positive interactions and gratitude build the relationship between employee and manager and in the process, create an openness to other types of feedback like constructive feedback and growth-related conversations.
It might be tempting to quickly swoop through and deliver very general positive feedback. But remember, our people need meaningful, actionable feedback for it to really hit home and have an impact. We recommend that you make your acknowledgements personal and specific. For instance, you might recognize the extra hours that a team member put in to finish a specific project, or highlight a client interaction where an individual went above and beyond, or give kudos for a situation where an employee experienced a breakthrough in behavior or thinking. Here is an example of specific and vague feedback for you to draw on in your quest to provide better appreciation feedback:
“All coaching is, is taking a player where he can’t take himself.” - Bill McCartney
Coaching is specific direction on how to be successful. Through coaching, we might encourage a team member to add or sharpen skills, expand knowledge and understanding, or improve capabilities.
Often, we don’t provide coaching because we think “he or she should know that already” or “that should be self-understood.” I’ll give you a great example – organization and time management – where those who are naturally organized and on time can’t understand how anyone can operate another way. We have the perception that he or she isn’t even trying or he or she isn’t writing anything down, and translate that into a lack of ability to be organized and timely. It’s possible, however, that if you shared your approach and strategies to organization and managing your time, that the team member could truly get better and develop their own skills and system. It’s a powerful lesson to realize that almost anything can be learned if we take the time to teach it!
We all have different experiences and personalities and backgrounds that translate into unique gifts. It’s our job as people developers to leverage our team members strengths while also noting the skill or experience gaps, and then wade into the fray with our people to help them bridge the divide.
Just like with appreciation, our people will benefit more if we provide specific feedback related to a recognizable event or situation rather than general and vague examples. Here are some examples that you can use to craft improved coaching feedback:
“The man who starts out going nowhere, generally gets there.” – Dale Carnegie
Before setting out on any journey, we must first know our starting point. Evaluation feedback is that starting point, an assessment of a team member’s current state, which allows us to look ahead and develop a plan for what’s next in their development.
Evaluation feedback, for some, can be the most difficult feedback to process, and it’s not surprising since it generally involves high stakes decisions like pay increases, bonus awards, and promotion. We can better drive the messages home if we share, in addition to the evaluation feedback, what we’re committed to for this individual. For instance, you might say “I’m committed to you progressing to manager and to do that you need to be able to review complex corporate returns.” Or “I’m committed to helping you earn your bonus this year, and a component of that is delivering your jobs on time and in budget. What changes can we make to get there?”
For many team members we meet, this type of feedback is difficult to provide because there is no roadmap and as a result, each evaluation is unique and “one-off.” We recommend that you develop competency models that can serve as a map of the skills and experiences a staff member must master before progressing to the next level. The AICPA offers a sample firm competency model that you can leverage to build your firm’s version – ideally separate models for each department or service line and level within that service line – and create a clearer map for career progression for your people going forward.
Here are samples of evaluation feedback, both vague and specific, to serve as a template for providing improved assessments to your team:
Breaking down feedback into the three types, and making it specific and actionable, will take more time, but remember, it’s proactive time that will pay dividends down the road. The end goal of developing our people faster and more effectively is attainable when we provide better feedback.
What type of feedback are you going to better deliver in the next few months? Are you interested in creating a closer relationship and buoying someone’s confidence – start expressing appreciation! Need to improve skills and build experiences – provide hands-on coaching! And if you aren’t sure where a team member is headed (and they probably aren’t either), start evaluating! Pick one of these areas to move the needle on your team’s development today!