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Tom Rose

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Five ways to ensure your feedback has impact


Feedback is a powerful means of optimizing performance in others. When done well it helps employees fine-tune their efforts to achieve results while strengthening self-confidence and deepening engagement – two outcomes that increase initiative and “stick-to-it-iveness.” 

But feedback is often misunderstood by leaders at every level, too frequently avoided, or ends up having little to no impact, or can even makes things worse.

So, what obstacles get in the way of effective feedback and how do we overcome them? What can we do to provide feedback that helps people succeed? 

Feedback’s main purpose is to close gaps between two things, an action a person took to achieve a result and the result. 

Effective feedback increases success by helping others see the gap between action and result, while building the motivation needed to convert feedback into improved performance. 

Here are five ways to ensure your feedback has impact.

Begin with the end in mind

Start by outlining what you would like a team member to do differently.  For example, feedback goals could be, to increase a result by adding a few additional steps, refraining from action that got in the way, or showing more persistence when difficulties occur.

But, delivering high impact feedback also means taking the time to diagnose the action-result gap so, hone your observational skills.

 If you can’t observe someone’s work directly, strengthen your diagnostic skills so that you can clarify action-result gaps based on a team member’s description- without an effective assessment of this gap, your ability to provide high quality, relevant and valuable feedback will diminish.  

After establishing this gap, lay out a sequence of steps to follow in providing feedback, as part of your ‘beginning’ with the end in mind – a clear road map that will reduce any anxieties that either you or the employee may have.

A simple road map could be to outline the goal for your feedback meeting – “I would like to talk about how we increase your success in achieving result ‘A’”.

  • Step One: “I would like to begin by sharing my observations on how you might increase your success.”
  • Step Two: “I would like to get your perspective on how this gap can be closed.”
  • Step Three: “I would like to conclude with next steps.”

(You may want to switch step one and step two based on your view of how large the action-result gap is. If the gap is larger, proceed with step one first.)

Balance telling and asking

It’s important to balance two priorities when giving feedback: a) telling a team member about a gap you have observed between action and result and b) asking questions that help them to clarify the action-result gap and how best to close it.     

Telling provides direction, it creates focus and develops clarity, whilst asking builds ownership and commitment. People commit to what they help create.

Asking good questions is less familiar to most of us than is being directive. The basic feedback questions to ask are quite simple –  what obstacles do you need to overcome to achieve greater success with this result?  What is the best way to overcome these obstacles? And how will you know you succeeded?

Feedback’s main purpose is to close gaps between two things, an action a person took to achieve a result and the result. 

There are many variations on these basic questions and they can be tailored to the specifics of a feedback situation.

Successful managers combine telling and asking to optimize the feedback.  Focusing on closing the right gaps and on winning commitment to close these gaps, is important.

Look back to clarify what to do next

Combining constructive with reinforcing feedback enables you to evaluate past performance and to clarify any performance gaps. 

Constructive feedback is about identifying a gap between recent performance and a standard or criteria for successful performance.  For example, internal stakeholders claim that you haven’t got back to them within the agreed 24 hours, emphasizing what type of performance is important. When someone takes time to give you constructive feedback about an aspect of your performance, that performance is important.

This type of feedback works best when people understand the criteria that defines success before the feedback occurs.

We all know the shock and surprise of being evaluated against a standard that we didn’t understand was important so, if the criteria is not clear, firstly clarify what it is that will demonstrate success.

The ‘Catch Em Doing the Right Thing!’ phrase captures the essence of reinforcing feedback. It lets people know what they did well and builds confidence and engagement.

Research tells us that when people receive more positive feedback generally, the natural tendency to respond with defensiveness to constructive feedback is suppressed and the motivation to take action on feedback is far greater. 

But reinforcing feedback needs to reflect meaningful successes.

Good reinforcing feedback is not, “Thanks for coming in today.”  What exactly was successful about the elements of their performance? Then, tell them. Over time, reinforcing feedback establishes a climate of trust and honesty that gets the most from people.


Feedforward is making a recommendation about what to do next time. “Here is what I’d like you to do differently.” 

It lets people know what you would like them to add or subtract from the way they achieved an important result and works best when you illustrate how the advice will increase performance.

“If you do ‘x,’ then you will make ‘y’ happen.”   This feedback has a big influence on performance. 

The where and the when

Consider the scope of the action-results gap to decide on the timing and the location for feedback.

If the gap is big, give yourself more time to consider your response and contemplate when during the working day, the person will be in the best frame of mind to receive feedback.  

For reinforcing feedback, think whether this is best done publicly or in private? Not everyone likes public recognition. Deliver feedback in person if you can or by phone or Skype if geography or time zones make this difficult. 

The starting point of feedback is recognition that an expectation was not met.

When we encounter these gaps as leaders we can feel annoyed or even angry, but controlling emotion is vital.  But when we’ve diagnosed an action-result gap ahead of time and we have a good road map to hand, we can keep counterproductive emotions in check.

Feedback, when applied correctly, is one of the most important and powerful tools in a manager’s portfolio of leadership skills.  More than ever, leaders need to improve feedback to optimize performance and these five ways will ensure your feedback will have a positive impact.


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