How to Structure Simple and Effective Feedback

effective feedback

A Year in the Life of a Manager Development Programme | Part Seven

Effective leaders are those who are confident taking decisions. They are comfortable taking accountability for actions and prevent problems from bubbling up to senior management.

To be effective at this level, a manager needs some skill and confidence in his or her own abilities. The third workshop in this series of the manager development programme was a natural progression from the first two workshops and it built on skills already learned.

To recap, in the first workshop we looked at how to build trust in new working relationships and then in the second, we explored how to hold career conversations, to learn what individual employees want from their careers.

Continued support to improve and develop

Continuing the theme of supporting these new managers as they develop their skills and confidence, both with their employees and with each other, in this third workshop we explored how to give effective feedback.

[Tweet “Giving effective feedback is an essential skill that supports the growth of any manager who needs to develop his or her employees.”] It allows for increased self-awareness and an exploration of the impact that a person has on the other people they work with. During the workshop, we looked at the concept of perception and explored how employees are seen, both in and by the organisations they work for.

A Practical Tool to Help Structure Feedback

To give the managers a clear framework to work within, I introduced a few tools and models to the workshop. One of which was the SBI Model, as developed by the Center for Creative Leadership in the US. The letters ‘S’,’B’ and ‘I’ here stand for Situation, Behaviour and Impact. To explain and introduce the model, I developed an example scenario.

The SBI Model in Action | A Scenario

Helen is part of a team of six people who work on a help desk. Deborah manages the team.

Deborah notices that for five consecutive days in a working week, Helen is late coming into the office, arriving at 9:15 am, 9:10 am, 9:25 am, 9:05 am and 9:40 am. Helen’s working day is supposed to start at 9:00 am.

This is The Situation and the behaviour in that situation. It’s based on actual data that has been observed and noted. Defining The Situation puts the feedback in context, and works to give Helen a specific setting as a reference.

For all Deborah knows there could be any number of reasons Helen is consistently late. She may be caring for a sick child, looking after an elderly relative, helping a colleague with an issue at work or simply be a victim of unreliable public transport.

However, the risk when managers give feedback is that they take shortcuts. They infer reasons why a situation is as it is, and then make a judgement or jump to a conclusion as to why it might be happening.

This might look like Deborah calling Helen to her office and saying, “Helen – you’re late again. I’d like to have a word with you about your laziness.”

Helen could, quite rightly, be shocked and horrified at this judgement. Especially if the truth is that she’s late because she’s doing some extra work for another member of the team or has to be up early to handle a family crisis.

The SBI model is extremely valuable for managers in this sort of situation because it enables them to give feedback in a way that focuses on behaviour and not on personality – and in a way that is truly effective.

Let’s go back to Helen.

Effective feedback, structured without prejudice

So The Situation would be the time Helen arrives at work. And Deborah could raise this with Helen.

“Helen – I’d like to talk to you about the time you arrive at work”

Then she could move on to describing The Behaviour. This is the most challenging part of the process for Deborah. As Helen’s manager, she must be careful to only communicate the behaviours that she has observed directly or that have been specifically cited as examples in colleague feedback that Helen has seen.

Deborah must be careful not allow for assumptions or subjective judgments to be made at this point or to rely on hearsay (like the laziness comment mentioned above) because such issues could undermine the integrity of her feedback. So, The Behaviour would be:

“Helen, our expectation is that you will be here to start your working day and be at your desk ready to start answering the phone at 9:00 am. “This week you have come to the office at 9:15 am, 9:10 am, 9:25 am, 9:05 am and 9:40 am.”

And then Deborah can move on to The Impact. To do this she can use “I” statements to describe how Helen’s actions have affected her and other people.

“When you’re not at your desk at 9:00 am, I can see that your colleagues have to cover your work for you. This means that they’re not able to do their own work. Because of this, we’re now in danger of missing our service targets.”

Feedback and perceptions

 Delivering feedback in this way allows for the manager, Deborah, to have a problem-solving conversation with the employee, Helen, and explore several options. What could Helen do to prevent the situation from recurring? What has worked for Helen, or for other people in the past to stop the situation recurring? What other ideas could Deborah suggest that Helen might try to stop the situation recurring? How can Deborah help Helen to be on time in the future?

After giving her some time to absorb what they have discussed, Helen is encouraged to think about The Situation and to consider the impact of The Behaviour. Deborah can then help Helen to explore perceptions of The Situation from other vantage points and look at what other people might think of what has been happening and how they might feel about The Behaviour. This will give Helen valuable insight into how she is perceived both in and by the organisation she works for.

In summary, the SBI model gives managers three steps to make the process of giving feedback simple and effective:

Situation – Capture the facts of The Situation

Behaviour – Describe The Behaviour in detail and without judgement

Impact – Deliver the impact that has been experienced as a result of The Situation and The Behaviour.

Conclusions and Feedback

After the workshop, I received some great feedback myself. One of the participants described a conversation with a member of their team who had recently made some mistakes. Before our session, they had been nervous about talking to them about it because they didn’t want to demotivate them. But, armed with the SBI model, they felt more confident they could have a productive conversation. And sure enough, they were happy to report the team member was now 10-days ahead of schedule on the project. They felt the key thing was that they had an honest conversation that opened up a discussion about how things could be improved.

It’s good to talk.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to find out what happens in future workshops, read the full series, “A Year in the Life of a Manager Development Programme.”

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