“Good intent in giving input is not enough. We must back up intention with behavior that is skillful.”
— Dr. Kathryn Smerek
If one of the most critical set of skills in a leader’s tool kit is that of giving performance- based feedback, then it helps if it is both focused and skillful. In the last article we looked at the critical components of giving feedback that is guided by three powerful forces: strategic in focus, depth-based in terms of behaviors and informed by heart.
There are nine skills that give flesh to the structural components of strategy, depth and heart. The nine skills are: strategic identification of leverage, mind setting, shifting context, power questions, active listening, constructing confrontational and appreciation messages, designing action plans, follow-through and designing feedback loops.
Strategic identification of leverage is identifying preferred learning modes and motivational drivers in others. It includes the capacity to pick the best approach to engaging a specific individual. It is based on the platinum rule, “Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.”
It is recognition of diversity and dealing with differences in style, approach, learning and motivational drivers. You develop this skill by focusing on observing what someone values and how she or he wants to be approached.
Mind setting helps create a mental “frame of reference” for someone in order to understand the “intent” behind the feedback being given. It establishes a context within which specific information can be understood.
A mind set is what you say at the beginning of the feedback process that tells the other person, in three sentences or less, what you hope to accomplish, what you want the other person to take away from the process and how you expect the information to be used.
It frames the specific behavioral information along with the impact of that behavior. When done well, it diminishes defensiveness and creates greater receptivity.
Shifting contexts is the skill of flexible-responsiveness that removes obstructions to listening or absorbing information. It shifts the discussion to another frame or reference in order to break a logjam in understanding or receptivity. An example, “We seem to be stuck here. What if we were to step back and talk about what our hopes are if we could create a better work experience?”
When the other person seems to be focusing on the negative and seems to be resistant to what is being said, it is often frame of reference needing to be shifted.
Power Question formats are skill sets that engage the interest, curiosity and cooperation of others. Often, by asking a powerful question, we can help someone open up to hear what is being said.
Examples: “If you were in my shoes and I had engaged in this behavior, what would you have to say about it and how would you hope that I would respond?” “What is the best way for me to help you hear some feedback that points out how you could be performing better?”
This goes hand-in-hand with the skill of Active Listening — taking the time to show someone we have heard them through eye contact, summarizing their key points and asking follow-up questions to get more depth and understanding. It models how to receive input.
Constructing confrontational/appreciation messages has been written about in a prior column. In summary, it is clarifying intent (mindset) for the feedback and communicating that at the beginning of the process. Then specifying specific behavior and following up with its impact on the work, team, process or relationship.
Next, you seek to understand by asking their intent and actively listening to them. You then summarize what you heard and review the behavior and the impact once again. Finally, you ask for their help in designing a path forward.
Designing action plans is the skill of outlining clear action items for process improvement. The secret to doing this well is to ensure that all actions are behaviorally specific, measurable and have some timeline attached to them. Follow-through is the skill of making sure that you reinforce the action plans by talking about progress or lack of progress in an on-going process.
Finally, setting up feedback loops is a skill set that helps identify formats, times and processes for ensuring that on-going feedback is occurring and that results of behaviors are communicated back to others in an on-going way.