Monday, February 1, 2021

Rolling Out Feedback - Part 1

Actions to take: When you are ready to begin giving frequent performance feedback and use the feedback formula, follow the announce before you implement advice. Practice feedback on your own before the rollout. Do not roll out frequent feedback before rolling out routine one-on-ones. advocates for casual, frequent performance feedback using the following formula: 1) ask if you can provide feedback; 2) provide feedback using the format "when you do X, it has Y impact"; 3) finish with a question asking them to change or an affirmation that they should keep it up. Feedback is short, simple, and can be about any work behavior. All posts about feedback assume this formula and strategy.

Do not suddenly change how you give performance feedback without notifying your staff first.

I once attempted to begin giving routine, casual feedback to a new team without explaining what I was doing first. I was a new manager in a new organization, and I didn't want to make too much of a splash by coming off as eccentric. I figured I could just ease into it. This was a bad idea.

People are used to only getting feedback about major problems or major successes. Years of being minimally managed have led us to think feedback from the boss is a big deal. Here is what happens when you begin giving feedback on routine things with no prior warning. Your staff will emotionally react the same way as they did with big feedback--there is no stopping it. They will not consciously question that emotional response. That reaction has made sense for years and years, after all. But they will feel that something is wrong with the situation. If it is not them, it must be you. "Ben is the only boss who feels the need to comment on such small things. Where did this come from? He has become micromanager! I wish he would just leave me alone." 

They feel this way because they still see feedback as a big deal. They see it as a threat. Prior to this, every piece of feedback they received ended up on a performance appraisal. You need to introduce the concept of feedback as a normal, everyday part of working in an organization. You need to make it clear that this feedback is just a small, casual bit of advice. Announcing before you implement is more important for this change than any other. 

In the next post, I will walk through the 4-week announcement plan in detail. Before that, there are a few things you need to do.

  1. Roll out one-on-ones first. You need to have a meaningful relationship with your employees before you try to give routine feedback on their work. People naturally see feedback as a "management authority" thing. We are trying to normalize it, make it come from a place of suggestion and encouragement. We want staff to be thinking "Ben suggested trying a different way" after corrective feedback, not "The boss told me to do it differently." You must help them see you as a person, not just the boss, by building a genuine relationship with each staff member. By far, the easiest, most efficient way to do that is through weekly one-on-one meetings. I recommend at least 6 weeks of one-on-ones before rolling out feedback.
  2. Practice on your own: A good initial benchmark is to give one piece of performance feedback to each staff, each week. Feedback eventually becomes as natural as breathing. Not so at first. For at least 2 weeks prior to launch, practice writing up the feedback you would give each staff. If you cannot find the time and energy to do this, you have no hope of successfully rolling out feedback to your team. Better to know before you start.
  3. Plan to start with positive feedback: This is going to be a tough change for you and for your staff. The transition period will be as challenging as any major process rollout. Make it a little easier on yourself by starting with only positive feedback. You can begin mixing in corrective feedback as early as 3 weeks depending on how confident you are in your relationship with your staff. Waiting until 5 weeks out is a safe bet.

In an effort to keep these posts a manageable size, we will stop there. In Part 2, we will walk through each week of the announce before you implement model for rolling out feedback.

This post is not intended to suggest you should be rolling out feedback based only on the few posts this blog has covered so far. Wait until we have covered more ground, or independently research effective feedback practices before launching it with your team.

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