How do you feel when people give you feedback on your performance and you don’t know when you’ll have the chance to incorporate their input? I’ll tell you how I feel: frustrated.
And yet people think giving feedback as soon as possible after the event is the critical factor. The OPM.GOV web site states: Supervisors should describe specific results they have observed as close to the event as possible so ideas stay fresh and any needed adjustments can be made in a timely manner.
I agree. Timeliness is critical. But they have the timing wrong. People are much more apt to incorporate feedback, if it’s given right before the next time they get to use it.
A few weeks ago, I watched an improv workshop given by two of the best coaches in Rochester, NY. After new improvisers completed an exercise, they received outstanding advice on how they could do better the next time. The problem was that the workshop wasn’t organized so that there was a next time.
When I’m rehearsing improv and my coach gives me a note, I want the chance right then to run the scene again. Or if there’s no time, I’ll ask that they remind me at the beginning of our next rehearsal or before we perform the next show. That timing makes a huge difference.
As a communications consultant, I used this approach. One client held quarterly conference calls with his sales team. During his presentation I took notes whenever I noticed something wasn’t as good as it could be. Instead of reviewing my critique with him right after the meeting, I waited until we were preparing for the next quarter. This way the feedback was fresh and he could use it right away.
For this to work you have to do the following:
- Take good notes. You need to have enough details for people to remember what they did originally. (Keep track of those notes so you have them when you need them.)
- For every criticism give a complement so that your critique is balanced and you reinforce what they did well.
- If there’s no opportunity within a few months for the person you coached to implement your suggestions, create one. If you don’t there’s no use in giving feedback at all.
Feedback given this way doesn’t feel like criticism. It makes it clear that your intention is to help people improve.
The Meta Version
A colleague of mine told me his company was very disciplined about having formal project kickoff meetings and debriefings at the conclusion of the work. Unfortunately, they never applied what they learned from debriefing on the previous project to the next one. That is, until a new employee pointed it out to them.