Two of the most important concepts of feedback

Two days ago I wrote about an interview with Carol Bartz, Yahoo’s CEO, focusing on one of the quotes in the interview that got me really angry. But, as mad as I was, I must admit that most of interview made a lot of sense and there were two quotes that I found really interesting. I want to discuss one of them today. Here it is:

Q. And how do you give feedback?

A. I have the puppy theory. When the puppy pees on the carpet, you say something right then because you don’t say six months later, “Remember that day, January 12th, when you peed on the carpet?” That doesn’t make any sense. “This is what’s on my mind. This is quick feedback.” And then I’m on to the next thing.

If I had my way I wouldn’t do annual reviews, if I felt that everybody would be more honest about positive and negative feedback along the way. I think the annual review process is so antiquated. I almost would rather ask each employee to tell us if they’ve had a meaningful conversation with their manager this quarter. Yes or no. And if they say no, they ought to have one. I don’t even need to know what it is. But if you viewed it as meaningful, then that’s all that counts.

Two important concepts of giving feedback are revealed in this quote.

Promptness – the closer the feedback to the event the more effective it is for both parties (the giver and the receiver). We see so many things during a day that we want to communicate to our peers, but we hold them back. While I do agree that you should not always say everything immediately, the longer you wait the less effective the feedback will be. It looks something like this:

  New Picture

When you look at this graph you immediately understand what the problem with quarterly evaluations is. The feedback on the beginning of the quarter is just not effective and might actually be a waste of time for both sides.

Consistency – feedback should be given all the time. Not at a predetermined time once a quarter. But all along the year. This is where I disagree with Bratz. The question is not whether you had one meaningful conversation with your manager once a quarter. The question is how often during the quarter did you have meaningful conversations with your manager. Conversations that create value for you and are not done just to fill some kind of form or requirement from HR. If constructive feedback is given consistently, the answer will be all the time. And if it is done all the time, there is a high probability that we are dealing with a good boss.


4 Responses to “Two of the most important concepts of feedback”

  1. avi sabbag Says:

    Feedback another huge subject that most manager fail doing. While the 2 points Elad raised are important, I think that there are a few even more so:

    Being constructive – “this is crap! I can’t use any of it!” is probably the worst kind of feedback one could get. It’s also the worst kind to give. It has absolutely no value in getting better future results. The feedback must include pointing out the short comings of the performance and/or reinforce positive performances. It must guide the employee towards the desired direction and tell him how to get there.

    A clear and understandable massage – “it’s nice but it’s not sexy enough” when given as a feedback for a table in financial presentation it’s a little confusing to say the least. People can’t read mind and when giving vague, contradictory, idiosyncratic instruction they will get lost. Every time. Assuming the boss knows what he wants (and that is saying a lot) he must convey a clear simple and if needed detailed massage describing the desired result.

    Lowering resistance – “remind me how hired you for this job?” most people have a hard time dialing with criticize. It’s human nature. We need to soften the blow not because be care for the employee’s feeling (god forbids! It’s all business. Noting personal of course) but because it increase the chance that our massage will be received, making the feedback more effective. Was told once to start and end every feedback with a positive point. This is a good method if you truly have substantial positive feedback otherwise just try to sensitive reassuring.

    There are probably more but those are my big 3.

  2. sherfelad Says:

    Thanks Avi. These are great points. I was not trying to talk about the most important points for feedback, just talk about those that arose out of the article. I agree with you on all points. See this post about the subject as well. I think if I had to choose only one advice it would be ask questions and listen. To may times people view feedback as a disicpline lecture when it should really be a conversation where the one who recives the feedback does most of the talking!
    Thanks for you comment. Hope to hear more from you!

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