Monday, March 22, 2021

Feedback: "Keep it up/Can you work on it?"

Actions to take: Do not omit the final step of the feedback formula. 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.

If you have read all of the feedback posts prior to this one, you know that we have covered nearly all of the basics. We will have many more posts about other details of feedback in the future. However, you will have enough information about giving frequent, effective feedback to roll it out with your team after finishing this post. 

The final broad topic we need to cover is the 3rd step in the formula, making an affirming statement for positive feedback or asking for change with corrective feedback. I like, "Keep it up" and "Can you work on that," but any similar statements will do.

This step is what makes your statement feedback, technically speaking. Without the last step, we are not explicitly guiding future behavior. We are just commenting on their work. That's not bad. It is far better what most employees get from their managers. However, the adage, "leave nothing unstated" is more true in management than most professions, and it is more true regarding feedback than most other parts of management. Be explicit by communicating what you want to see, and you are more likely to get it out of your employees. 

This step has also the major benefit of increasing accountability. When you say "hey, can you work on that?" and your employee replies, "sure," that's not just a ritual. They are not just empty words. You're both genuinely communicating something, and people like to follow through on what they say. The same is true of "Keep it up" or "I'd love to see more of that" or whatever affirming phrases you use for positive feedback. People are more likely to make a note of a behavior when they hear you say that you want them to continue doing it.

The last reason to say, "Keep it up/Can you work on it" is a small one, but it is not to be neglected. The interaction feels weirdly unfinished without it. Try feedback out loud for yourself using the format "When you do X, it has Y impact." Can you feel how the interaction would just hang there? That's because you have not passed the conversational turn back to the other person. Questions and instructions clearly put the conversational ball in the other person's court in a way that declarative statements do not.

It isn't a crisis if you leave this step off. Tell someone that it causes problems when they show up late, and they'll probably get the message. Tell someone that there are benefits when they show up early every day, and they'll understand that it would be good to keep doing it. But there are no downsides and multiple upsides to including it. 

When an action is all positives and no negatives, better bosses add it to their repertoire without a second thought. Always finish your feedback with an affirmation that they should continue doing the behavior or a request that they change.

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