The 3-step, failsafe approach to effective feedback

Feedback is crucial to performance improvement because it enables us to look at situations and ourselves from a third-party perspective. They key is not to personalize feedback when receiving it and to put yourself in the other person’s shoes when delivering it. This takes a mindful focus. “You are doing a great job” or “You have to do better,” does not give an employee the needed tools to improve or the intrinsic fulfillment to make him want to stay with the company and grow.

Leaders often do not get a lot of feedback and often do not solicit it. The higher you are placed in an organization the less supports and feedback loops there are so often leaders become immune to the value of good feedback or push back when it is given. This is a mistake. Feedback delivers you the opportunity to address the blind spot in your plan, project or vision that you might not have considered.

Effective feedback has three mindful components. It is 1) Strategic, 2) Developmental and 3) Aligned with the values of the organization. These require us to be aware of our restrictive biases.

Strategic Feedback

The employee can most benefit from feedback that answers this question: “What should this employee do more or less of to be maximally effective?” If you aren’t sure of the answer, ask the employee. Once you have the answer, you can work with her to clear distractions from her workload and position her to do the most meaningful and satisfying work. We all like work on what we do well.

Developmental Feedback

Vague labels such as “inspiring” and “great” that focus on personality traits are interpretive, narrow and binary (one or the other): He is confident (or not). He has a temper (or not). These are opinions. “She is very positive,” is essentially saying, “Her positivity matches mine and I enjoy her.” Research shows that leaders tend to overestimate disposition and capabilities and underestimate the impact of certain underlying cultural conditions. Make specific and inarguable observations in areas that she can develop. Get curious. “Melanie, I don’t know if you are aware of this – or even if it’s true – but it appears that Jason might be afraid to execute without your approval because it might upset you. What do you think? What do you think he might accomplish if he didn’t have to check with you as often?” This is more helpful than, “You need to be less controlling.”

Organizationally Aligned Feedback

How does the employee specifically exemplify the leadership competencies or values of the organization? Thank him for how he demonstrated dignity and respect in a certain instance and for the impact it had? “Thank you for concisely communicating to your employees why this work is important to you, giving them the impetus to re-examine their own ‘Why?’”

During a review, feedback should be given regarding the employee’s 1) current performance, 2) next performance period and 3) future career aspirations. This is especially important for high performers who likely already have a plan. “What do you want to be known for?” “Where do you see yourself in three years and how can I help you get there?”

Frequent feedback is key. The higher the performer the more frequently you should provide feedback. This simple three-step process is an easy way to give good feedback.

The 3 Steps of FBI Feedback

How I ‘FEEL’ about the what the employee did: “It comforted me to notice that you took those reports home to finish them without being asked because I know I can trust you to have the organization’s back.”

The specific BEHAVIOR I witnessed. “You anticipated that we would not complete the project on time, even though you already had an inordinate amount of work, and took it upon yourself to plan ahead and get it done so that we’d be prepared.”

The IMPACT: “As a result, we had the data we needed for the presentation and were able to secure this new account that positions us for growth. It likely would not have happened without what you did.”

Mary Lee Gannon, ACC, CAE is an executive coach and corporate CEO who helps busy leaders get off the treadmill to nowhere to be more effective, earn more, be more calm and enjoy connected relationships with the people who matter while it still matters. Watch her FREE Master Class training on Three Things to Transform Your Life and Career Right Now at