A colleague of mine shares a funny but helpful story on ineffective feedback. She was a co-owner of a small business and the co-owners decided they needed to terminate one of their employees after a long and unsuccessful progressive discipline attempt. Her business partner was a nice guy but had trouble delivering tough messages. Since he had hired the employee he wanted to deliver the news. He met with the terminated employee for an hour and later reported to my colleague that it was a tough meeting but it went well and he had asked the fired employee to pack up his office at the end of the day and wished him luck.
Much to her surprise the next day the “fired” employee was at his desk working away. Her co-owner had been so unclear, so indirect and so muddled that the employee had no clue that he had been terminated! Not effective feedback at all.
As this article in the New York Times reminds us, the purpose of feedback is to help people do better, not feel better. Both positive and negative feedback need to be straightforward. Being direct and clear is key to effective feedback and will improve leadership communication. The What and Why model I learned a number of years ago can help leaders overcome the tendency to over-complicate feedback and keep it focused. Effective feedback only needs to include – and must include:
- What specifically the person did, said, or didn’t do. The behavior or action that you want to reinforce or needs to be changed. Stated directly, specifically and clearly. No extra explanations or editorializing – “just the facts!”
- Why it matters. A short but direct statement that describes the impact or consequences of the action or behavior. Either positive or negative. Again, no editorializing or explanations at this time.
Nothing more and nothing less.