Chapter
3

How to give real-time feedback

9
min read

First, set expectations

Compared to other performance management activities, your ability to set realistic performance expectations has the greatest impact on performance. These goals will help you frame the real-time feedback you give to your employees.  To effectively set realistic performance expectations, you can have goal-setting discussions at the start of a role, shortly after performance reviews, or  when your employees rotate from one project to the next.

Here are some questions that can help you think through the process of setting employee performance expectations:

  • Are the goals relevant to the business?
  • Is the scope of the goals appropriate?
  • Are there too few or too many goals?
  • Are the goals coordinated with others’ goals?
  • Are the goals results-based and measurable?
  • At work, do they have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?
  • Does the  work encourages their development?
  • Are their associates (fellow employees) also doing quality work? If so, what?
  • Have they had opportunities to learn and grow?

Then, apply the FAST model

A culture of coaching and development requires giving consistent feedback, albeit in small enough doses that employees can absorb it, learn from it, and adjust. A great way to think about how to give feedback is the FAST model popularized by Bruce Tulgan. Tulgan advocated that feedback should be ‘FAST’:

Frequent

Managers should provide feedback on an ongoing basis so that employees have an accurate and up-to-date understanding of their performance strengths and development areas. At Humi, we encourage each manager to reflect on their employees’ behaviours and progress at the end of each week. Ideally, we have managers give this informal feedback in-person.

Questions to reflect on include:

  • Did any of my employees demonstrate development?
  • Did my employees go out of their way to support others?
  • Did my employees demonstrate the organization’s values?
  • Did any of my employees go above and beyond what I asked of them?
  • Have I heard positive feedback from others about my employees?
  • Did I see opportunities for improvement in my employees’ work?
  • Did I see behaviours from my employees that reflect poorly on the team?
  • Did any of my employees fail to meet my expectations for their performance?
  • Are any of my employees struggling with a particular task or skill?
  • Have I received constructive feedback from others about my direct reports?
  • Did any of your employees do anything exceptional?
  • Did you see your employees doing anything inefficiently?
  • Are there development areas where you have seen an improvement or drop off in performance?
  • Did an employee’s performance have a positive or negative impact on a client or colleague?
  • Have any of your employees missed deadlines?

According to Mehrabian, words account for only 7% of communication, tone of voice accounts for 38%, and body language accounts for 55%. As discussed, when you are giving feedback at the end of the week it should be face-to-face.  It also helps to log it in to a shared system of record with the employee so they can reflect on their growth (yes, you can do this in Humi!).

Psst! Similar to frequency, we also encourage consistency. It establishes a predictable pattern of behaviour and creates safety. When people operate in predictable ways, we know what to expect and we become comfortable with them.

Actionable

Feedback should help the employee do their job better. It’s important to ensure that recommended actions or behaviours are actionable and within the capability of the employee in their current position.  The two different styles of actionable feedback you give to the employee can be referred to as soft feedback and hard feedback.

Soft feedback are ideas worth considering. For example: “Hey, may want to give this a shot, or it’s worth considering anyway!”

Hard feedback are ideas requiring implementation (or at least trial implementation). For example: “I want you to try this next week. I did this once and here is what happened. Let’s set a goal to try it this week.”

In short, soft feedback signals “Hey, consider this … it might help.” Hard feedback signals: “Here’s what I want you to try, and here is why.'' We find a good blend of soft and hard feedback is necessary to build a culture of coaching.  In order for hard feedback to be effective, it’s crucial to outline the “why”.

Specific

On top of soft and hard feedback, there needs to be a certain level of specificity. To deliver feedback, we use the SBI Model: “Situation -> Behaviour -> Impact”.

Situation –  remind the person of the situation. Examples:

  • When you were helping Mrs. Smith at the Circulation Desk
  • When you emptied the Book Return bin before we opened
  • When you answered that child’s question about the civil war

Behaviour – describe the behaviour. Examples:

  • You completed the reference interview by asking if the patron needed any more help
  • You roved the floor two times in an hour
  • I did not receive a reply by the deadline we agreed to

Impact – describe the impact on yourself and/or the organization. Examples:

  • You ensured that the patron received what he wanted and inspired confidence thatwe are a great place to get answers
  • When you don’t meet deadlines the project gets stuck and we can’t move forward towards our goals
  • When you are late for work we can’t serve patrons in the way that our mission statement calls for.

Timely

Managers should give feedback as timely as possible. Timely feedback maximizes the impact of feedback on the employee’s performance. Delayed feedback can resentment in the recipient if the opportunity for improvement has passed. If your feedback is primarily negative, take time to prepare what you will say or write.

To start, managers need to take inventory of the micro-moments available to them to give their feedback. Every manager and department has unique feedback cycles. This might include deployments for developers, month/quarter-end for sales, etc. We split these moments as direct and indirect moments.

Indirect Moments refer to times when you can observe behaviour casually. This might include noticing the employee offer help or refusing to offer help. It might include seeing them stay late or coming in early to complete a task. In all cases, in these moments you are a casual observer. Having the manager actually write them out and be referenceable in your performance tool puts these moments on the radar as opportunities for general feedback.

Other examples of “indirect moments” include:

  • General, random observations
  • Punctuality
  • Willingness to help others
  • Observing how the employee interacts with a colleague
  • Seeing whether the employee offers to take someone new for help
  • Freely offering help
  • Offering words of encouragement
  • Helping another employee out
  • Coming in early
  • Asking a colleague to go for lunch
  • Showing up late
  • Exhibiting bad behaviour
  • Speaking up in a meeting

Direct Moments refer to the times you have to carve out in order to directly observe the employee in the execution of their role. Examples of this might include:

Developer:

  • Sprint Planning Meetings
  • Code Reviews
  • Daily Standup
  • Sprint Retrospective
  • Pair programming sessions
  • Solutions meetings
  • Code deployment

Customer Success:

  • Listening to call with clients
  • Reviewing client correspondence
  • Reviewing escalation metrics
  • Individual performance metrics for escalations
  • Call shadowing for escalations
  • Call shadowing for onboarding

Sales:

  • Listening to demos
  • Listening to proposal presentation calls
  • Reviewing Proposals
  • Reviewing emails (outbound and ongoing)
  • Listening in on other calls
“Giving people feedback is an act of trust and confidence. It shows that you believe in their ability to change. That you believe they will use the information to become better. And that you have faith in their potential. It’s also a sign of commitment to the team and to the larger purpose and goals of the organization. Because, ultimately, we’re all responsible for our collective success.” – Peter Bregman from Harvard Business Review

Quick tips on how not to give feedback

  • Avoid condemning publicly. Praise should be given publicly, constructive feedback only happens in a private setting
  • Avoid judging personal characteristics. Only give feedback against actions in role.
  • Avoid giving vague feedback. Feedback should be specific and actionable.
  • Avoid piling up too much feedback at one time. Exercise “executive restraint” when it comes to feedback so it can be absorbed. Focus on the positive but only pick 1-2 pieces of soft feedback and 1-2 pieces of hard feedback per sitting.
  • Avoid exaggerating. Whether sharing experiences or talking about the impact of the feedback, be true with its effect. Exaggerations will dull your feedback credibility.
  • Avoid giving feedback on motives. Only focus on actions. Never assume to know what’s going on inside someone’s head. It’s the behaviour you want to curb, not the underlying causes.
  • Don’t let your feedback go on too long. Be relentless in cutting down your feedback into the smallest, clearest, most absorbable pieces. Long, drawn-out feedback loses credibility and is harder to make actionable.
  • Don’t threaten: actual or implied. Real-time feedback should never be confused with verbal warnings. Feedback is coaching and teaching. Unless you want to be the teacher that says to a student “keep this up and you’ll be going home with an “F.” Real-time feedback gives people control over their own performance.

The underlying implication of the real-time feedback model is: I give you permission to make mistakes and am here to help you; you have an obligation to learn from those mistakes and not repeat them.