Twelve years ago, I started working at Distilled, an SEO agency based in London. It was my second agency job and the one that probably defined most of my career and had a large part to play in the person who I am today.
It wasn’t always perfect, we didn’t always get it right. But it was a special team during a special time and I have spent a lot of time thinking about what made it special. This is partly because it’s interesting to pick apart great teams and cultures to see what made them great, but also, I have “borrowed” a lot that I’ve tried to instil into what we’ve built at Aira.
One key part of the Distilled culture all of those years ago was feedback.
I knew I could sit in the room with the founders and deliver difficult to hear feedback and I wouldn’t be thrown out the room, shouted at, or sacked. Sure, they may not agree with my feedback and we may debate it, but I knew that I could say it without fear of negative consequences for my role or career.
That is truly special. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was and I think that any culture where giving and receiving feedback is done in an effective way, has a huge advantage over all others.
I’ve read a lot about feedback since then and learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t.
Today, I want to share eight principles that you can use as a manager to deliver better, more effective feedback in a way that builds trust and a strong team culture.
I should say from the outset that building this kind of trust doesn’t happen overnight. Yes, you can start using these principles straight away (and I’d encourage you to do so) but they aren’t one-off. You need to make them systemic to your management style and to the team around you. I’ll write about this another day, but for now, here are eight ways that you can start delivering better feedback to your team right now.
Eight easy to follow principles of delivering feedback
1. Be authentic
Your words need to come from an authentic place, so that the point of it is to genuinely help someone.
2. Everyone is different
Never forget that everyone is different. This means that you need to tailor your feedback appropriately to an individual to stand the best chance of the feedback being received in the right way.
3. Criticise in private
Never, ever, ever deliver negative feedback to an individual in front of others.
When you see behaviours or outputs that require you to deliver some negative feedback, go to the person directly at the earliest opportunity and chat with them one to one.
4. Don’t get personal
Your starting point for all feedback should be to split out the feedback from the person as much as possible. This means choosing your words carefully and taking time to prepare for especially difficult feedback.
5. Be clear
You need to deliver feedback in a way that makes your core points clear, as well as your suggestions for improvement. If these core messages get lost, the conversation won’t be effective and will leave your team member feeling confused and this can hurt their morale, as well as not actually solving the problem.
6. Be timely
Wherever possible, you should deliver feedback in a timely manner and not let too long pass in between the behaviour or output you’ve seen and delivering the feedback on it. If you leave things too long, not only can facts be forgotten but it can also create the perception that you’ve been sitting on the feedback rather than just getting on with delivering it.
7. Check yourself
Be aware of how you’re feeling and what kind of mood you’re in when you’re delivering feedback. If you’re feeling under pressure yourself, then you could easily forget the principles of delivering feedback and make a mistake somewhere or say something in a way that you don’t mean.
Whilst you may well lead the conversation and, in some instances, do most of the talking, you need to also give time for the person to respond. When they do, listen carefully because sometimes, they may not say much. Or when they do say a lot, you need to respond appropriately. Especially if they are getting defensive or pushing back on any of your points.
A cheat sheet to make actioning all of this far easier…
You’re probably thinking at this point “that’s a lot to remember and do…”
Yep, I get it. This takes time and it’s my job to help you get there quicker.
That’s why I’ve created a simple, one-page cheat sheet that you can steal and keep a copy of so that you can remind yourself of the above really easily:
So, this week, I want you to grab a copy of the cheatsheet and the next time you deliver feedback to a team member, take a look and use at least one of the principles. The time after that, use another one.
You’ll be surprised how quickly these principles become second nature and after a little while, you won’t need the cheat sheet at all…