Making the feedback cycle actionable

One area of that I’m always looking to improve in is delivering feedback. It is difficult to change the behavior of others. So, being able to do it effectively can make a difference. Recently, I’ve begun to use an approach that does just that.

In a common company-wide feedback process there are two stages:

  • Stage 1: Self-evaluation & Peer Feedback
  • Stage 2: Manager Review

There’s a small problem with a feedback process like this. The process ends when we deliver the review. The individuals receiving this behavior-changing feedback have no structure to act on it. This is a missed opportunity. As it is a perfect time reenforce messages, clarify expectations and give direction. In other words, the perfect time to set individuals up to succeed.

Taking a coaching mentality

The primary purpose of a performance coaching system is to help people improve the way they work — Garold L Markle

Our role in delivering feedback doesn’t end when the individual receives it. It is to help guide them through the changes they need to take. It is to ensure that they have the resources (time, money, etc) they need. Our job is to be their coach.

Recently, I’ve been taking an approach like the one described in Catalytic Coaching. The thing I like most about this approach is that it is easy to add to your existing company’s feedback processes.

Here’s how to get started with a coaching approach.

Stage 1: Self-evaluation

Ask the employee to answer three questions:

  • What have I done for the company lately?
  • What have I done for myself lately?
    • These could be new skills, relationships, new software, experiences that help do you job better.
    • Could be both personal and professional if it brings something to the table.
  • What do I want to be when I grow up?

Then, setup a 1-1 for them to discuss their answers. This is their meeting. Your role in this meeting is to seek understanding, ask clarifying questions and help the employee come to new realizations about their wants and needs.

Stage 2: Manager Evaluation

Next, comes your evaluation. This should cover 3 sections:

  • Strengths: Behaviors where the employee is strong.
  • Areas for Development : 3-5 areas where any improvement will have significant impact on the employee’s performance.
  • Development Recommendations: For each development area, provide some suggested ideas/actions for them to take.

The development recommendations are concrete actions to take for each development area. These should be easily transferable to the next step.

Stage 3: Personal Development Plan

This is where the coaching role comes into play. Ask the employee to decide on 2-3 development areas to focus on and the actions that lead to those areas being met. I like to frame these as OKRs.

This plan should cover 2-4 objectives (the areas for development), with a short list of key results which will help get them reach the objective. The plan should also cover an area of strength. This is to encourage sharing and collaboration within the team.

The important thing to note here is that the employee owns this plan. It is their responsibility to write the plan and get sign-off from you. It is your responsibility to ensure that the plan is reasonable. That is to make sure that they have the resources necessary to go through within it. This is a good opportunity to clarify expectations.

Stage 4: Stewardship

The final step is to ensure that the plan is acted upon. It is your job as a coach, to help remind your reports of the purpose behind the plan.

It helps to setup a review process, I’ve found aligning these with the company’s quarterly processes provides a nice cadence.

Conclusion

Setting-up your direct reports with a framework to act on feedback is empowering. It can be the difference between people taking ownership and improving themselves or your feedback falling flat.