I’ll never forget the day I learned that I was getting promoted. My manager called me into his office and told me that he would be moving up into a new role, and that I was now assuming his role. I would still report to him, but he also made it clear that he’d be busy. He said, “Reach out to me if you’re in trouble, but otherwise, I have great faith in you. I know you’ll run the business well.” I was totally jazzed by this opportunity to move up and his confidence in my ability to perform well. As it turned out, he was true to his word—I rarely heard from him.
Now, I look back on the experience with some regret. Although I was successful, I wish he’d have given me frequent, specific behavioral feedback. I would have immediately been able to a) demonstrate behaviors that would have increased the likelihood of being successful as a new business leader, and b) be more motivated and confident from positive feedback, and more agile and resilient from constructive feedback. Here’s what I believe: my manager didn’t provide pinpointed behavioral feedback because he wasn’t a caring manager—he was—but because he simply didn’t appreciate the amazing power of feedback.
Many of us would agree that specific behavioral feedback is vital to being able to perform and deliver optimally—and to getting maximum enjoyment from our work. When leaders do this well, they energize recipients. When they don’t provide feedback, or don’t do it well, they leave people to fend for themselves and their own professional development. Furthermore, they throw open the process of producing business results through people to chance.
Formal research published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management in applied behavioral science supports the power of feedback. Western Michigan’s Douglas Johnson has calculated the value of leader-delivered feedback. His data shows that a small investment of a supervisor’s time (less than one minute) could produce a gain of between 17 and 30 percent improvement in performance. Nice ROI!
In one study from the Journal of Applied Psychology, behavioral psychologist Judith Komaki systematically observed leaders and managers in numerous industries and compared their leadership behaviors to the results they delivered. Her results demonstrated that the most effective leaders use direct observation to gather performance information—concrete data—and provide timely feedback that is positive more often than corrective.
Consistent with that, researchers Barbara Frederickson and Marcial Losada (published in American Psychologist) predicted that a ratio of positive to negative effect, at or above 2.9, characterizes individuals in flourishing mental health.
Power Up Your Feedback
Here are three steps for deriving maximum impact from your feedback:
Get ready to provide feedback by making sure you have a precise behavior and/or behavior change in mind. That gives the person receiving your feedback an accurate and complete “picture” in his/her mind of what you’re looking for.
Follow this simple formula: Name the behavior, describe its impact, and clarify what you expect going forward. For instance: “James, thank you for soliciting everybody’s opinion at the meeting. People felt included and valued, and several of them told me so. Keep it up.”
- Follow Up
Verify that the behavior you expect is occurring. Then, provide timely, positive and/or constructive feedback. Note: this step is essential to achieving sustained “want to” performance.
Feedback is important, can be done intentionally, both positively and constructively, and should be focused on behaviors. It doesn’t need to take a lot of time—and it can be both formally and informally delivered. With practice, it can become a part of regular conversations with your employees and colleagues. In many cases, you’ll find that you can open the lines of communication and ultimately improve productivity and engagement. Feedback is essential to creating an effective vision for the future—and to lead intentionally.
Tell us: Have you worked for a leader who delivered behavior-focused feedback effectively? How did they approach this topic? What impact did it have on your growth as a leader?