July 12, 2022

How to provide feedback

Providing both critical feedback and praise are two acts we can all agree are important. For most of us, however, it takes time and practice to get comfortable with either. This blog post summarises what worked well for me in the past; hopefully, you can adopt some of it for your own purposes.

  • When you start working with new team members, ask them how they prefer to get praise and critical feedback. I use these two questions in my very first 1:1s with direct reports:
    • "How do you like to receive recognition? Are you okay with the occasional public praise?"
    • "How do you prefer to receive critical feedback?"
  • My preference is to provide real-time feedback whenever possible, and to have longer conversations as follow-ups during 1:1s. As I pointed out above, however, I let team members pick the method they are most comfortable with. Either way, make sure your feedback is timely: either real-time, or discussed in the very next 1:1.
  • To provide critical feedback, I usually choose a framework like SBI (Situation, Behaviour, Impact) or STAR (Situation/Task, Action, Result)
    • Example: "(Situation) During the outage yesterday, (Action) John jumped in to help with org-wide comms by sending regular updates to eng@, (Result) that helped with the number of tasks the incident commander had to take care of, leading to faster resolution of the incident. Thank you John!"
    • These frameworks allow me to provide context on what I've observed and how that impacted the team or the broader community.
    • For the recipient of the feedback, this gives an external point of view, so we can start a conversation and come to an understanding about what happened and how we can improve in the future.
    • Using frameworks like these also helps to eliminate bias, forcing you to provide feedback on the action you observed and not on the person.
  • Critical feedback should occur in a private setting with very few exceptions.
    • Exceptions might include instances when you notice something in a team setting that you don't want to become the norm, like inappropriate behavior.
  • Avoid sugar coating feedback, or using techniques like the "feedback sandwich". If you have critical feedback that needs to be heard and actioned, make sure that's your primary and only message. Don't confuse folks by also highlighting things they are doing well!
  • It might also be a good idea to document feedback items, both critical and positive, in a 1:1 document shared among both parties. This document will ensure you have a shared understanding of the feedback's purpose, and which actions should be taken to improve.
  • While the annual performance review might serve as a good opportunity to summarize the feedback discussed over the year, it doesn't serve anyone to save up feedback for it: it won't be timely, and because of that, it does not allow the recipient to address it and improve on it. In short, never save feedback for the performance review!
  • Follow up. Have a plan to improve on the feedback you provided, and check back later. Once you've seen improvement, be sure to provide positive feedback.
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