Feedback That Delivers

I promise only two more posts on the topic of feedback, at least for now.

But I won’t apologize. This is important.

Feedback can give you more of what you want: teamwork, collaboration and high performance. It can also give you less of what you don’t want: slacking, toxic relationships and unmet expectations.

And feedback is at the core of most companies’ formal performance management systems. There’s a lot of time and energy going into feedback interventions, with the expectation that it will produce a positive difference.

But it only has positive effects if it lands well. According to a seminal study on the effectiveness of feedback, these interventions improve performance only 41% of the time and make matters worse 38% of the time.

While you can’t completely control how it’s received, you can increase the likelihood that your feedback falls into that 41% by focusing on preparation, delivery and follow up.


Right time, right place. Okay, maybe you’ve ignored this basic reality as I have: It’s almost never a good thing to give someone feedback in the heat of the moment. You’re not likely to be at your most skillful and even if you are, there’s a good chance the other person won’t be. Instead, take some time to think through what you want to say, what stance you want to take and what time and place will be most conducive.

Have a clear outcome in mind. Think through what change you’d like to have happen as a result of your feedback, possibly even create a formal purpose statement.

Mitigate the threat.  Accept the reality that the act of giving feedback is likely to present a threat and prepare to offset that. As I’ve written, giving the person a sense of control can offset the threat.

While there are many considerations in preparing to give feedback, it really comes down to two things: Recognize the impact you’re likely to have on the person and put yourself in their place. How would you want to receive feedback?


Your stance makes all the difference. You’ve done your preparation and are ready to give the feedback. Be aware of how important the first 30 seconds can be. Your stance going in communicates nonverbally and can make or break the conversation. When you prepare, ask, “What stance will be most helpful?”

Trust and safety never go without saying. Pay attention to creating trust and safety at the beginning of the conversation. Given that feedback is likely to be threatening, plan accordingly.  As I’ve suggested before, you might ask the person’s permission to give feedback. That puts them in the driver’s seat.  Acknowledge the importance of your relationship. Emphasize common goals. Whatever you do, make sure it’s authentic and personal. Be ready to come back to trust and safety whenever the person seems defensive.

What change are you asking for? Describe the gap between what behavior you would like to see and how you see the person currently behaving.

Just the facts, ma’am. Be factual about what you observe. For example, “During the staff meeting, you interrupted me and stated I had not asked for input on the new policy, which I had.” Avoid offering your conclusions, beliefs or feelings, which tend to have more of an emotional charge. For example, “I was hurt when you disrespected me in the staff meeting in front of the whole team” is likely to produce a defensive reaction.

Check in with the other person. Ask the person for their take on things, either at the beginning or some time during the conversation.

Create conditions for success. State the desired behavior in an “If/then” format. This increases the likelihood that the person will succeed in changing their behavior, assuming they actually want to. For example, “If you have a problem with something I’ve done, then come to me first before talking about it with the rest of the team.” If/then anchors the request in specific contexts and is easier to implement.

Follow up

Okay, you’ve gotten it off your chest. You’re exhausted and grateful that you made it through the conversation in one piece.  He even took in what you said and agreed that it was something he needed to address. Do you now take the rest of the day off? Be thankful it’s all over and you never have to address this again?

Not if you want to see the pay off from your efforts.

Unfortunately, that’s how feedback is often treated. No wonder the statistics on the effectiveness of feedback are so dismal!

Both formal and informal feedback conversations tend to be treated as one-time events. You’ve had your say, now it’s up to the other person to implement. But if you bothered to prepare and deliver the feedback, you also have a stake in the outcome.

While the structures you put in place for accountability will vary according to the context, paying attention to follow-up enhances the likelihood that the change will actually happen. Schedule regular accountability conversations. Ask the person how they’d like to be reminded when they revert to old habits. There are lots of great follow up strategies but it starts by remembering how hard it is for human beings to change. Don’t you want raise the chances of your investment paying off?

Next week, my final post on feedback will focus on guidelines for receiving feedback and using it constructively.