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How to maximize opportunities for feedback using research

SW
Sophia Wichtowska
Dec 16, 2019

Giving feedback on a piece of work or observing a colleague's performance seems like a simple enough task. Skilled employees review the quality of an employee’s contributions against a set of principles they have formulated through experience or a framework that their organization uses. 

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While the process isn’t complicated, effectively delivering feedback involves an understanding of human psychology. Naturally, we find it challenging to know that we’ve fallen short in some way. We also have an inherent negativity bias, which means we ‘feel the sting of a rebuke more powerfully than we feel the joy of praise.” Indeed, sometimes what needs to be said can be difficult to hear.

With this in mind, it is important for senior employees to be mindful of their body language, tone, and words they use when giving feedback. Delivery can mean the difference between a colleague walking out feeling ready to take their learning forward or having their confidence knocked.

Science also reveals ways in which organizations can make hearing feedback a less emotionally-charged experience. Structured responses will ensure employees understand how to apply what they hear to their work. Leaders can also strive to make the feedback experience a positive and reciprocal process. Let’s look at this research in more detail. 

How to improve the feedback process

Practitioners in the medical profession are consistently in a cycle of observation, reflection, and improvement. This research from the field looks at the use of effective feedback to facilitate adult learning. The findings include useful insights that are applicable across many industries. 

Below, we outline ten suggestions the author gives for improving the way your organization delivers feedback to employees. While a formal mentor/mentee relationship might not always be in place, we will use these words to clarify the position of each person in the discussion: 

1. Use both formal and informal feedback

While leaders need to deliver feedback in a formal context at regular intervals (usually through performance reviews), there are many opportunities to give employees guidance throughout the working day.  

If you spot somebody on your team struggling with a new concept, take five minutes to guide them through the learning process. This one-to-one time will make all the difference, and make the employee feel valued at the same time. 

2. For maximum impact, the source of feedback must be considered credible and trustworthy by the recipient

It is crucial that those receiving feedback feel that their mentor is both knowledgable and experienced in the subject. If this isn't the case, you run the risk of employees feeling patronized and unmotivated to improve. Ensure that those delivering feedback are respected and of a high enough caliber to do so.  

3. Provide clear information about performance standards and the performance of the employee to elucidate any differences

For feedback to be useful, learners need to have a clear understanding of the parameters within which they are trying to improve. For example, if an employee is focusing on developing a new technical skill, how to make progress should be clear to them from the outset. This step-by-step guide can form the basis of feedback comments.  

If employees are using online learning tools to progress, the learning objectives set out in lessons can be used as a foundation for comments. A high-quality course will outline how participants can make progress. Your organization or industry might also have prescribed standards that employees are expected to meet. 

4. Share the positive information before the negative 

This idea might seem like an unnecessary detail, but it is only human to focus on the negative information we hear about ourselves. As soon as an employee hears negative feedback, they will focus on this and probably struggle to concentrate on the other information you share with them. 

A great approach is a "positive feedback sandwich," where you begin and end a feedback session with positive points. This tactic helps the attention to be focused equally on the positive and those areas which need more attention. But be aware of making this too obvious, as it can seem rehearsed and insincere if you don’t adapt it to the person you are sitting with. 

5. Feedback should be specific, objective, consistent, and timely

Ensuring that feedback is specific and objective comes back to providing employees with a clear pathway to success. If learners understand where they have come from and what they need to do to progress, the feedback you deliver will be consistent and clear. 

A clear framework will also enable those delivering feedback to remain objective. Of course, this isn't entirely possible because forming opinions is natural for human beings. However, structuring discussion will help mentors to minimize any bias in their judgments. 

6. Provide a supportive environment for feedback and encourage an open dialogue 

Creating a supportive environment for feedback is a crucial part of the process. At its best, feedback becomes a discussion between mentor and mentee, and a collaborative learning curve for both participants.  

However, this balance can be difficult to achieve when the mentor is in a position of experience and power within the organization. It requires a level of humility from the mentor and self-confidence in the mentee. 

8. Develop a plan for follow‐up and ongoing reinforcement 

Feedback will only be useful when mentors deliver it as part of a more comprehensive, ongoing process. The aim is for the mentor and mentee to set goals together at the end of a feedback session. After this, it is essential to support the mentee in reaching those goals and to hold them to account.

9. In addition to oral and written feedback, use other tools, such as computers, audio recordings, and videos

Formal discussions are not the only method for delivering feedback. It may be appropriate, and in some cases, more helpful to guide your mentee using video footage. In the case of an observation of practice, video can be particularly useful as the mentee can see exactly the action you are referring to in your comments. This clarity helps the mentee to know what the expectations are. 

10. Enhance the skills of senior employees through professional development programs and self-study modules

As part of a pathway to success, direct employees to any workplace learning material appropriate to their needs. With online learning modules, mentees can make progress independently, and at their own pace. They may also wish to conduct their own more extensive research on a topic. 

GO1 is your employee's gateway to professional development growth. With courses that cover numerous business functions, we help your staff grow into their role by unlocking their potential. Content is at all levels of difficulty and is suitable for any employee, in any department, in any region.

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