How to give feedback people can actually use

For the third time in a row, Ron delivered his tasks late during a sprint. Ashley, his PM, had been closely monitoring his performance after the team claimed his delays were the reason the delivery to the customer was held back for a few weeks.

The big demonstration of the latest feature was the next day, and Ron hadn’t completed his tasks yet. He didn’t report he had had a blocker during the whole week which impacted his delivery time. Ashey, again, needed to re-negotiate the date with the client who was notably dissatisfied.

Afterward, Ashley asked Ron for a touch-base, and this conversation happened:

  • Ron, you have no idea how much trouble you have caused! 
  • Ashley, I know I have missed my deadlines, but it hasn't been a big deal.
  • No big deal?! The client is mad, his satisfaction is the lowest ever, and the next contract hangs by a thread. What would you say now?
  • Oh, I didn’t know that, Ashley. 
  • It doesn’t matter! You are assigned tasks with a very clear due date, it’s your job to deliver on time. 
  • I was trying to fix the issue on my own, and it took more time than expected.
  • That’s wrong, if you know you are going to impact our delivery, you must ask for help.  Is that clear? I don’t want this situation to happen again.
  • Ok, understood. 
  • You can go now.

I'm pretty sure you can identify a few things Ashley could have done better during this session, so Ron could have a clear idea about how to improve his behavior. 

Let’s check these four simple but effective steps to provide an understandable, clear, specific, and above all, easily applicable piece of feedback.  

Open their brain to feedback

A simple question like “Hey Ron, I’d like to discuss something I think you could improve on, is this a good time?” That micro YES is opening not only Ron’s attitude but his brain to receive and accept feedback from you. 

Also, this gives Ron a sense of autonomy and control which creates a comfortable and safe environment for him, perfect for listening, pondering, and devising the right action items.

Use facts 

Since we are trying to influence a change of behavior or situation and not the whole person, It will be really helpful for the other party if the feedback includes context, details, and input about how and why to avoid that behavior in the future. 

“Ron, during the last 3 months you have had significant delays which have been costly to our team. During January you had XYZ tasks that were delivered 2 weeks late, and the same happened in February with this other. That’s the kind of situation we want to avoid, bear in mind that we, as a team, are pursuing the same goal and every single task makes its contribution to it. During March you had the same pattern, not rising flags timely when you noticed you weren’t able to complete your monthly assignment.”

It would be safe to assume from this conversation that Ron was given enough detail to identify the context and situations that led him to that particular behavior. 

Let’s talk about the impact

Believe it or not, sometimes facts are not enough to create awareness, but their impact is. I’m not talking about the impact on the team, client, or the organization. I’m talking about how this behavior and its results made you feel. Why is this? This POV is more humble and relatable to the other party. Let’s see an example:

“Hey, Ron. Your teammates, and I all contribute so this team becomes a reference inside the company. But, when something like this happens, I feel that purpose going down. If you commit to something then you work hard to accomplish it, or give early heads up if not possible so we, as a team, can review the situation and try to turn it around. Let me know please what can boost your motivation so you join into the shared goal and work towards it.”

Sounds moving, doesn't it? When giving feedback, we must aim to reach the innermost fiber of people so that they WANT to give their best efforts to improve. 

Finish it with THE question

You’ll want to have confirmation whether your feedback was understood, the best way to get it is by asking, but how? Let’s see an example.

“So, Ron, what are your thoughts about this? What do you think you can do to prevent this from happening again?”

After a feedback session, we want to create commitment and not compliance about what we just discussed. How is this? Well, the idea is to let the other party come out with their own action plan, and not just follow the one you’d provided. Try this and you’ll see their motivation during its execution. 

So, helpful feedback in a nutshell
  1. Bear in mind that your target is to change behavior and not a person
  2. Be specific, use real-life examples, provide enough context, and situations to provide context 
  3. Describe the impact that behavior had on you, the team, and the work
  4. Confirm with a powerful question that you and the other party are on the same page regarding the feedback, and the plan moving forward. 

And, don’t forget to build an action plan alongside the other party so they get committed to it.

When you give the right feedback, not only will your team perform better but they'll also feel more empowered. Giving people control over their own lives and success is one way we can help them grow as individuals in this world! 

At Zemoga we are a people-centric company and we want you to grow with us!. We have several positions for talented and curious people like you! Come and join our team

About the author

Alicia Lozada is a PM who has been with us for over 2 year, and though it seems little, she has led a very big and complex project which has helped to improve her skills in higher scales! Her motto is being a motivational leader who always encourages her team to give their best