How Do You Know When to Give Feedback? Be a Supportive Reporter

Ever since Adobe, GE, Microsoft, Accenture, Deloitte, and SAP decided to radically change their performance management processes HR exerts have been touting the need for managers to give more frequent, less formal, and more useful feedback. But how does an effective manager know when to give feedback? Furthermore, do managers even know what to give the feedback about? Putting aside how to give the feedback, let’s focus here solely on when the timing is right and the role of the feedback giver. I suggest managers and leaders need to be a “supportive reporter.”

Imagine you are a weather prognosticator (meteorologist). You call for rain and it doesn’t rain. Should your boss give you feedback? Wouldn’t you already know that was a mistake? Would your boss’s feedback help you to learn something new? If not, what’s the purpose?

Did you lie? Do meteorologists lie? I know I often think they exaggerate just to get ratings. This is especially true when a snow storm is forecast. The reporting often seems a bit sensational and people scurry to the grocery store to empty shelves of water and milk.

If meteorologists don’t lie, then what was the root cause of the mistake? Was it the computer models used to forecast? Was it the data used to enter the models? Maybe we don’t even know.

In my opinion, there are two clear situations that can trigger useful feedback. The first is when integrity is broken. The second when a process has too much variation.

When people break their promises (agreements) they damage performance for themselves and for others. Any broken agreements require immediate feedback. An agreement is like a promise. It is a specific and time sensitive task where a predictable process is used to achieve it. Delivering information completely and on-time can be considered an agreement. Arriving on-time is an agreement.

In an organization (a system) people are interdependent. If one person expects something from another, and they don’t get it, their performance will suffer. If the meteorologist expected new data from an affiliate and did not receive it on-time, the quality of their prediction will suffer. The affiliate broke an agreement. The affiliate needs feedback to prevent that from happening again.

Anytime an agreement is broken, there is an immediate opportunity for feedback. The feedback discussion will focus on preventing that agreement (promise) from being broken in the future. An apology from the offender might also be appropriate. The discussion will center around improving the predictable process need to keep the agreement next time.

This past Sunday I was supposed to be the lector at the Church. It was not in my schedule on my phone and so I showed up at the Church not expecting to be the lector. Somehow I made a mistake and mis-read the schedule.  I still don’t understand how that happened.  I just missed it. A friend of mine had to stand in for me at the last minute. I had no idea I made a mistake (broke my agreement from the perspective of the Priest and the lector coordinator) until she called me later that morning and told me I had broken my agreement.

She and I laughed about it. She was loving and caring and funny in her feedback. We laughed even though I was embarrassed.  I immediately checked the schedule (and my phone) again to be sure that wouldn’t happen again.

We need to be sure employees are aware that you are aware they broke an agreement. Therefore, it is so important that the employees understand and appreciate the need to keep their agreements. 

Be a supportive reporter and a coach for their integrity and help them if they need help.  My friend in Church was a supportive reporter.

The second reason to give feedback is when a process needs improvement. This is a bit more complicated and usually requires the use of quality improvement tools.

When integrity is broken and when processes need fixing are the two triggers when feedback is needed. Anything else be interpreted as either micro-management, and or bullying. Be a “supportive reporter” instead.

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