How to Give White Flag® Feedback

White-Flag.jpgDelivering effective feedback is enormously important and enormously challenging. I have spoken about this in my last two blogs. I identified the three reasons why the feedback is so challenging namely the confusion between feedback and criticism, the concern about making things worse, and a lack of knowledge about how to give feedback such that the other party accepts it, learns, and applies the learning..

I also explained how we needed a tool that could make it safe to deliver and safe to accept. I explained the importance of the White Flag® as a neutral symbol to pave the way for giving and receiving feedback in a non-threatening way. The White Flag® is the international sign of truce. It provides a context that allows for a free flow of information without fear of reprisal.

But how do you use the White Flag®? What are the key steps and techniques? Can anyone do it? The purpose here is to answer these questions and a few others.

There are three key factors that optimize the use of the White Flag® tool. These three factors can be summarized in three words, Think-Behave-Improve.

First, to use the White Flag® properly it is most useful to think about it in the most useful way. The purpose of the White Flag® is not to assign blame on a person. The purpose is to partner to uncover the real root causes of mistakes. The giver and the receiver can partner to search for root causes inside the process. Those root causes can nearly always be found in the process (94% of the time according to Dr. W. Edwards Deming) and not the person. Feedback therefore is not about making someone wrong. It is about making something right.

In order to trigger the feedback there needs to be clear expectations. These expectations can take the form of operationalized values behaviors. There are three categories of values behaviors namely integrity, respect, and customer focus.

These behaviors must be operationalized meaning they are observable by anyone. By making the expectations observable anyone can decide if the expectations are being met simply by observation. If they do not observe what is expected that becomes the trigger for feedback and therefore the use of the White Flag® tool.

Once we know feedback is needed we must deliver it in a manner that optimizes learning. We are calm. We wait if there is too much emotion (either with us or the other person). We ask permission to give the feedback. We share the data (what we saw or heard) and avoid opinion or judgement. We provide clarification if necessary. We ask questions to find the real root cause of the problem. We ask what process is not working. We ask questions to identify the first 15% of that process and then we identify how to improve that first 15%. We do this in partnership. We do it as a team and not in isolation.

All the while we are asking these questions. We are calm. We are inquisitive. We ask questions to learn and not to blame. We ask these questions to uncover a new action step to address the process issues. The White Flag® is a tool to decide how to fix a process as a team.

The White Flag® is a tool that makes feedback fearless and effective. It is simple. It’s not easy but it’s doable.

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