I recently finished The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle.  I was interested in the content of the book because I’ve been doing a lot of culture work recently, and his book The Talent Code has had some significant impact on the way I look at training and development in today’s world.

One of the nuggets I took from the book was indirectly related to culture, but directly related to one of my favorite subjects, feedback.  Coyle tells the story of some researchers who were studying performance and how they discovered what they described as “magical feedback”.  It seems that students who received this type of feedback were more apt to edit their papers and try to improve than those who received other forms of feedback, or no feedback at all.  The feedback in and of itself was not magical.  In fact it was one sentence.  “I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know you can reach them”.

For as long as I can remember, in the business world, I’ve promoted and taught a simple to remember, four step feedback model.  This model looks like this:

  1. Ask permission – If the person you are trying to give feedback to, is not in a position, physically or mentally, to hear what you have to say, you are wasting your time.  Also, there is no doubt in the receivers mind what type of conversation this is going to be.
  2. State the behavior – Feedback is always about behaviors.  When presented as such, it’s hard for the person receiving the feedback to take it personally when it’s framed this way.
  3. Impact – What is the impact of the behavior you just described.  Together, steps two and three might sound like this, “When you are late, it causes the rest of the team to cover your responsibilities until you arrive”.
  4. Input or Thank you – If the feedback is positive, you simply thank them for the behavior.  If it is developmental or constructive, you ask them what they can do differently to address the situation.

I still say this is the best model I’ve found.  However, when you’ve tried this approach, and behavior doesn’t change, adding the magical feedback statement to the equation may just be the extra nudge needed to see a change.  In addition, you are telling the employee two things you haven’t said in the previous feedback exchange.  That you have high expectations, meaning the behavior change is not optional, and that you know he or she can do it, which demonstrates confidence on a one to one basis.

Give this process a try the next time you find your feedback not reaching its desired result.

Tim Sieck

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