For Feedback To Be Effective, Put First Things First

First things first.

This wise little maxim is the underlying theme of “Stop Teaching People How to Give Feedback,” a thought-provoking post written by Fistful of Talent guest blogger, Ben Olds. When Olds instructs us to nix the feedback lessons, he means temporarily of course. Just until we’ve put first things first.

The “first thing” in this case, according to Olds, is for us to recognize that simply teaching managers to give feedback “doesn’t work.” The reason? “Because this approach starts in the wrong spot! There are four traits that have to exist to have a strong feedback culture, and we typically need to foster each,” writes Olds. These four traits are: 1) the will to receive feedback; 2) the skill to receive feedback; 3) the skill to give feedback; and 4) the will to give feedback.

Olds’ position is that giving feedback is part of a larger continuum and we need to instill other necessary feedback proficiencies across our organizations before and after we train managers.

Olds’ points are eminently sensible but it’s not entirely true that teaching managers to give feedback effectively doesn’t work. Our employees want feedback and the vast majority say it improves their performance. Read the Harvard Business Review post, “Your Employees Want the Negative Feedback You Hate to Give,” which makes a strong case for the value of both positive and negative feedback. And even if 100 percent of employees don’t put feedback to use, many do.

Undoubtedly, we would be better off if we took Olds’ advice and created workplace environments in which all four of his traits could take root in the proper order. These environments would be true “feedback cultures,” nurturing continuous learning and improvement, inspirational performance reviews, and universal accountability.

But even in our less-than-perfect workplaces, managers who know how to give feedback effectively do make a difference.


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Benjamin Olds (LinkedIn profile)