In the previous blog, I described three essential elements to create a sound feedback culture: giving criticism, receiving criticism and expressing appreciation. But how do we use these three skills, and what is their common thread? Limit yourself to these two straightforward but essential rules. At a time when hundreds of pages are being written about connective communication, and we find ourselves inundated with conversation schemes, I would like to limit this blog to 2 very simple – at first sight paradoxical – yet essential rules.
Rule 1: Grounding your feedback makes things clear! Be precise, factual, concrete: examples, figures, consequences…
A rule that most people are familiar with when it comes to giving criticism: start with facts, not interpretations. That way, the other person will know what you are talking about and discussions are avoided. So don’t say: ‘Your approach is not customer-oriented enough’, but rather ‘In December, we’ve received four written complaints from customers regarding your dossiers, in contrast to the average 0,5 per employee.’
‘Well done, Charles! Great report, Betty!’
This also applies to expressing appreciation and receiving criticism. Stop giving general appreciation such as ‘Good job, Charles! Great report, Betty!’ It is too general. It sounds like a daily tune that you, as a manager, must sing. Just say what you like about the work, the report, and the feedback from the customer: ‘What I thought was so good about your report were the very concrete agreements, including names and deadlines. The results were immediately noticeable at the next meeting: almost everyone had done the agreed actions.’ In this way, you clarify that you have thought about it and think it is important enough to state it specifically. And by explicitly naming the behaviour, you reinforce the proper behaviour.
When an employee criticises you
Apply the same rule when an employee criticises you: ask them to state clearly what goes wrong and what they want from you. By being clear, you avoid being too soft and woolly. Being specific and well-founded is precisely what the feedback triangle requires.
Rule 2: link your criticism or appreciation to the values, norms and mission of your organisation
If something goes right or wrong, link it to the values, norms and mission.
- When giving criticism: ‘In light of our USP as an organisation with unique customer service, this is unacceptable. I consider this a serious problem.’
- When expressing appreciation: ‘Almost all of you have done the agreed actions. Given our importance to teamwork and result-orientedness in our organisation, I think this is great.’
- When receiving criticism as a manager: ‘Given the importance that I attach to the development of my employees, your criticism affects me very much, and I will certainly take it on board.’
By making this connection, you operate at an entirely different level: the level of the organisation as such and the joint goals and mission: passion, inspiration, enthusiasm, the ‘higher’ goal. While the first rule has to do with grounding, having one’s feet on the ground, the latter has to do with ‘inspiration’ and ‘passion’, coupled with the ‘higher’ goal.
Value the three elements of giving feedback.
If we divide the three elements of feedback (giving criticism, expressing appreciation and receiving criticism) evenly according to our feedback triangle and successfully eliminate and integrate the opposition between ‘grounding’ and ‘passion’, the ‘concrete’ and the ‘general’, we as managers can lay the foundation for a sustainable, open and efficient feedback culture.