Real Time Feedback—Trick Or Treat?

Feedback has and will continue to be a hot topic for organizations. The trend of the moment is to replace the annual performance review with real-time feedback. This intuitively makes sense. Why “save up” critical data and unload it at the end of the year when it no longer serves the employee or the company? This approach is based on an important assumption: leaders are good at and comfortable with delivering timely, effective feedback.

And that’s the trick.

For many, the whole idea of giving or receiving feedback spooks them. Yet feedback loops are critical for individual and organizational learning. Without them, we cannot improve.

Absent a better approach, many of us default to the trusty “feedback sandwich.” However, Adam Grant’s research confirms why this trick is a dud: while it often makes the giver feel better, it usually doesn’t help the receiver.

Surely we can do better! What if we cultivated cultures where feedback is actually a treat? Here are a few strategies for making it happen:

Don’t Confuse Perception With Reality

It’s a charming human bias that we are convinced our view of the world and of others is an objective “truth” while other people’s views are horribly skewed. Our brains are incredibly effective at excluding data which might contradict a preconceived notion. Thus, once you have labeled someone in your organization as a “star” or a “slacker,” your brain will produce convincing evidence that you are right.

One of the most common errors in delivering feedback is to deliver it as an absolute truth—creating no space for the other person to provide their own perspective. The best feedback conversations are two way. Consider starting with, “What do you think went well with that project?” followed by “Here are some things I thought you did particularly well.” You can close with,“Here’s one suggestion I have for the future…”

Err On The Positive

In Nine Lies About Work, Marcus Buckingham asserts that “positive attention…is thirty times more powerful than negative attention in creating high performance on a team.” While we tend to err towards corrective feedback, research shows that highlighting successful behaviors more frequently than negative ones drives higher engagement and is likely to produce better results.

Catch Them In The Act

Feedback is most meaningful in the moment. When you see someone on your team doing things well, call it out right then and there. Reinforcing feedback leads to a repetition of the same good behaviors. It also signals to others that you are paying attention and that you acknowledge successes—two great leadership behaviors.

Sincere public praise is always a great move. It makes the receiver feel good and signals “what good looks like” to the rest of the team. Take care, however, not to play favorites. If you’re inclined to give public kudos, spread the love around. Constructive feedback should be given in a 1:1 setting and never in a rush. Make sure there’s time for a real conversation rather than a one-way declaration.

This week, start to cultivate a culture in which people experience feedback as less terrifying and more of a “treat” by framing it thoughtfully and delivering it in the right moment.