In my final months of college, I did a short stint at Apple. In doing this, I got a taste of Apple’s culture via their orientation. One of my favorite learnings from this involved how to properly give feedback.
Most feedback we get is poor feedback, and I don’t mean that it wasn’t a positive reflection on our efforts. “You are doing great” is feedback delivered poorly. Apple’s revelation to me wasn’t just about how to provide feedback, it was about what makes feedback effective:
- Assume positive intent and be objective
- Be specific, target specific behaviors you want to encourage or discourage
Assuming positive intent and being objective aim to have you formulate feedback in the right mindset, without negative assumptions and with the end goal in mind. Targeting specific behaviors is what will make your feedback effective. It’s what makes the feedback stick with your target. It is especially important when giving critical feedback to be specific. “That went horribly or you didn’t perform well in that presentation” is only going to ruin someone’s day and make them feel generally bad about themselves. If we take it down to a specific action or set of actions, we create a roadmap to success by reinforcing the good and laying out specific corrections. Providing this kind of specific and objectively delivered feedback regularly, is what is capable of driving improvement. Simply saying “you did well” or worse, a negative criticism without specifics, is a huge missed opportunity.
So, if you want to make someone feel really good today, tell them what they did specifically that was so great, and give it meaning in a larger context by relating it to their objectives. My personal recommendation is to take this a step further by providing an avenue for peer recognition of positive feedback. To help you put this into practice, here is an example from some feedback I gave recently to a customer support agent who was truly great:
“Thanks Carrie. Any company can have a component failure and the difference between a lasting bad experience and a positive outcome is how good their people are. Your responses have been very prompt, and understanding. You set proper expectations and followed through on your word. That is phenomenal customer service in the face of an unfortunate situation, and I both recognize and appreciate the effort. Please pass this note along to your management if you report up to someone on these matters and thank you.”
Placing this in a larger organizational context, world class corporate culture knows that providing feedback is critical to developing talent at their organization. They have figured out that merely saying “good job” or “that didn’t go well,” isn’t helping their people. Whether the feedback is positive or negative, they are seizing the opportunity to tweak and tune people’s habits to put them on a roadmap to greater success. A culture that acknowledges the importance of feedback and values it to drive self-improvement will excel because they are creating engagement with their people and habituating them to constant improvement and attention to detail.
As an organization we want employee engagement but we are too often loath to engage our employees with frequent feedback. In doing so, we fail to create meaning in people’s work lives by relating actions to objectives. This lack of feedback is at the core of disengaged employees. Why should they care if no one else does? So, if you care, upgrade your feedback to create engagement and in doing so, upgrade your culture to one of excellence.