It’s Time To Stop Wasting Your Breath Giving Your People Feedback: The Research Says Feedback Does Not Result in Employee Improvement

How come? Feedback, the way it’s done today, doesn’t work. Research tells us that a third of feedback leads to momentary performance improvement, a third results in nothing and a third leads to worsening performance.

If it’s clear feedback is failing us, why do we still dress up feedback in a fresh disguise and hope it will stop habits from re-invading communication?

We lack the insight and role models to deliver feedback with the intention of gaining agreement to improve, rather than punish. If you as a leader want improvement that lasts, drop the idea that there is only one step to Feedback. Deliver it with a fresh approach and add two more steps.

Why Feedback On Its Own Fails

Team leaders and team members must be willing and able to have two-way conversations with the intent of working together to improve individual and team performance.

While we may believe it is our clear intention to use feedback for improvement, feedback is often delivered with a multitude of confusing hidden agendas and as a result taken negatively, causing a shock that closes down communication, rather than liberating it both ways.

The first problem with feedback is that the giver believes this is a one-way conversation.

The giver wants to deliver it, gain agreement and see change… and perhaps to punish, scold, nag or one-up the other. This one-way approach with hidden agendas is doomed to failure and will not result in the receiver magically changing their habits overnight.

Instead, the giver has to value, not fake, two-way communication.

At Vivo Team, we can clearly test for and diagnose where feedback derails communication. We can even tell you what one-way communication costs the company. It’s steep and not declining without intervention.

The 3 Fs

Our first two rules for two-way communication are Feedback and Feedforward. If these are not both enacted by team members, the third rule- Follow-up, will not occur and neither will the changes you’re searching for.

The Feedforward rule is about setting the stage for change. You can make a suggestion about how the person can improve or, you work with the person or the team to discuss and arrive at a better way that you all agree to put into practice.

Then put the last rule in place. Follow up on how the Feedforward change is working for people.

Misunderstanding, lack of self-responsibility and assumptions invade meetings without Follow up.

Introducing The Team Performance Vital Statistics Report

Let’s examine a team suffering from a lack of any of the 3Fs. Below Vivo Team’s Vital Statistics Report of a team that is very poor at giving and receiving feedback. We use our proprietary tested algorithm on six indicators to produce the evidence as to why this team is struggling.

The leader and the team took our diagnostic. The Vital Statistics Report reveals why this team is not performing. The news was not unexpected, given their inability to get results.

The report’s graphic shows this senior team has a score of “50% effective” overall. This indicates they are not giving each other Feedback or Feedforward. They have very low scores meaning they lack the skills and willpower to work with each other.

Chronic tension between team members is the price the team pays. But the company is paying even more as this team is not achieving the results they’ve been mandated for. Vivo calculates this cost. This team’s ineffectiveness is costing the company $73,000.

Lack of two-way 3 F communication leads to mistakes, misunderstanding, assumptions, gossip, and missed expectations. All of these build bricks of resentment. Information, the lifeblood of a business, is not flowing because this team is not fluent in the 3 Fs.

Weekly meetings never accomplish much. But no one says that. Feedback, left unsaid, provides no pivot opportunity. No one is “owning” the meeting in a way that would shake up the status quo. Everyone has succumbed to believing “it’s just how things are done around here”. Imagine what this mindset does for motivation. This team is miserable.

As progress stalls, the solution from above is to fire someone. Firing people leads to company brain drain and vital knowledge loss, which is far more expensive than dealing with those presenting issues the Vital Statistics Report identifies.   

Vivo Team not only diagnoses and analyzes the cost of team breakdowns like poor feedback and feedforward, we also work with the team to break free of these stressful habits. Case in point: within a few short months, this particular team is already engaging with each other more effectively: the tension is dissolving. Vivo Team measures progress to prove value is being returned to the bottom line.

Summarizing The Dos and Don’ts of Using the 3Fs

Step 1 – Permission

To be effective, ASK FOR PERMISSION to deliver Feedback as your first step using a neutral tone of voice.
But what if they say: “No, not now.”
Your response is, “Please let me know when.” Your job is to not let them off the hook.
Then agree a time and date for that conversation.

Step 2 – Deliver the Feedback

One of the reasons feedback has such a bad rap is that it is so glaringly incomplete, usually filled with judgment. It is often unsatisfying and uncaring for the receiver. Sadly Feedback is most often only given when someone has screwed up… and delivered by email. Always say it in person. Don’t bother saying it if your intention is to punish rather than find a way to improve together. Always consider the receiver before you speak.

I have something I’d like to say, are you willing to consider it?
Then describe the behaviors to the person or team without judgment in words or tone of voice. Just the facts. For instance:
In the last meeting, I noticed you were on your phone texting about 4-5 times.”
Also, notice that advice [ii] is often immediately attached to feedback with a “You should,… .You need to . . . , You have to. . . , You’d better . . . “You” statements often guarantee your advice will be met with a defensive response, verbally, or silently.” You are now in a standoff.

Or Feedback is delivered without specificity.
“Keegan, great job, keep it up.”

Being vague does nothing to help someone know what was good and why it was helpful so they can do more of this and less of that.
Feedback is about articulating the details of an issue or event that has already happened. Be explicit: The receiver has to learn what works and what doesn’t in order to make changes so they have a chance at becoming the team member you want them to be.

Step 3 – Feedforward

Once Feedback is delivered and heard, move to Feedforward, which describes a desired future outcome.

Feedback brings forward the item from the past – into the present:

Texting during the meeting is distracting. What do you think would work better next time so we all have a chance to be heard and stay on topic?

Feedforward often allows the giver and the receiver to start a collaborative two-way conversation about how each can contribute to initiating a positive behavioral change.

Use some or all of nine variables as part of the conversation to come to terms with the desired new behavior. The answers allow the team to buy into the solutions which are often what makes behavior change permanent.

  • Set performance expectations.
  • Set a relationship expectations.
  • Are there any skills that I/we need?
  • Are we motivated to move past this?
  • What might be getting in the way of the task being accomplished?
  • What am I willing to do to make it better?
  •  What are you willing to do to have a better outcome?
  • Gain an agreement on consequences
  • A clear idea of what “better” looks like

Step 4 – Follow-Up

The job of successful two-way communication is not done yet. The original presenting issue is not resolved without follow-up until the change desired has taken root.

Follow-up is about checking in, not checking up.

When leaders don’t follow up it signals that change is not really that important. Following up is a huge tension producing, a career-limiting problem for leaders. Leaders often don’t do it. They will say “here it is, just go do it” or “we’ve got agreement on what to do, what’s next?” They then forget about it until either (a) it’s done or (b) it’s not done. The team becomes chronically unable to make real commitments for adjusting their methods as the leader’s lack of follow up shows he or she doesn’t care either way.

As a leader of teams, whether agile or traditional, your responsibility is to follow-up consistently with the following questions that fit the situation:

  •      What’s working well?
  •      What needs improvement?
  •      What’s missing?
  •      What do you want more of?
  •      What do you want less of?
  •      What’s just right?
  •      Am I doing anything that’s getting in the way of you doing your job well?

Successful leaders lead people, not tasks. Leaders master the ability to get work done with and through others.

Working through others is often termed “people or soft skills”, yet these are often the hardest skills to consistently get right: communication, accountability, structures (how to run effective meetings), emotional intelligence, cohesion, feedback, feedforward & follow-up.

If you find you can’t get your team in gear and momentum is inconsistent, remember the three Fs: feedback, feedforward, and follow-up are the breakfast, lunch and dinner of champions. Your desert arrives is your team’s positive behavioral changes that make leading them far less electrifying.

For more information on running a diagnostic on your team and how to easily master the 3Fs, or call Vivo at 778-734-0444.

[ii] No one “gives” advice. The true meaning of giving is that it is no longer mine. It belongs to the receiver. They can do whatever they want with it. When people “give” advice they have expectations the person or group should follow the “given” advice and are upset when it doesn’t happen. So, that advice was not actually “given”, it was demanded.

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