Behavior-Based Feedback: 3 Steps for Maximum Impact

By Paula Butte on March 15, 2017

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:

  1. Prepare
    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.
  2. Deliver
    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.”
  3. 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?

Posted in Blog, Leadership Development

About Paula Butte

Paula Butte is a Principal Consultant at Linkage. She is an exceptional executive coach and consultant with an impressive record of enabling leaders to focus behavior, solve seemingly intractable challenges and achieve outstanding business results.
8 comments on “Behavior-Based Feedback: 3 Steps for Maximum Impact
  1. Paula, you have touched on an issue that is so essential for leaders to pay attention, and intact, to to take notes from your article to enable them to provide effective and timely feedback to those under their leadership. It is so important not just because it fosters improvement, but more importantly, it helps the cultivation of trusting relationship between the leader and the lead, and ultimately lead to the creation of innovative work force.

    • Paula Butte says:

      Thank you for reading the article and thanks for making the great point about feedback’s positive impact. I agree that creating a feedback rich, feedback safe culture generates a trusting culture that, in turn, fuels innovation.

  2. Dear Paula,
    Thank you for this very important and administrative piece of advice in the management today.
    Feedback information is good to keep everyone in touch and flow of teamwork development. It also helps to identify and improve necessary areas before certain situations could get out of hand especially in areas of constructive feedback while positive feedback can be motivating to cause timely innovation and creativity by team members.

    • Paula Butte says:

      Thanks for your note. You make several valuable points about the impact of both positive and constructive feedback. Thanks for sharing your insights.

  3. Sorina Bradea says:

    Thank you Paula for this article! There are so many managers that even if they give feedback, they hardly identify behaviours and consider them! I think this a real challenge for all of us to be specific giving feedback on behaviour and keeping the track of improvements!

    • Paula Butte says:

      Sorina, thanks for your note. You’ve named the number one differentiator for effective feedback–making it behavior based! Yes, it’s a challenge-but very worthwhile. A tip: a behavior is something something we say or do. It’s observable and even measurable. Think of what a camera sees and records. Hope that’s helpful.

  4. Shelly Spence says:

    Hi Paula,

    Thank you for this article, I have experienced this leadership before and was grateful for it. If I can be simplistic about it, it provided me a greater sense of balance in my work/life in that I would picture my behaviour at work (either in the past, in the moment, and for the future) and the extent to which it fitted against the behaviour-based feedback. It brought about more effectiveness and productivity at work, which inevitably led to that treasured balance.

    • Paula Butte says:

      Shelly, thanks for sharing. I love your description of how you personally process feedback and how it leads to balance. Very inspiring!

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