Defeat Defensiveness and Inspire a Better Future with a New Approach to Employee Feedback
Leadership egos can be fragile.
Asking for honest feedback can feel difficult, because we are fearful of what we might hear. Likewise, offering honest feedback is equally hard: many of us have been socialized to avoid conflict, and that impulse hampers our ability to offer direct feedback. Yet without that honest feedback, how can we know how to grow as individuals? How can we help others – our direct reports and employees -grow?
Feedback is the breakfast of champions.
Ken Blanchard and colleagues coined the phrase, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” Blanchard writes, “I firmly believe that providing clear feedback on a regular basis is the most cost-effective strategy for improving performance and instilling satisfaction. It can be done quickly, it costs nothing, and it can turn performance around fast.” (Find more on his blog here.)
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. As leaders, how can we be ready to face the next year’s challenges if we are not prepared to dine on honest feedback?
One way to prepare ourselves for honest feedback is to ask (and give) for “appreciative feedback.”
Appreciative Feedback is an insight that is offered with a positive and future-focused tone. The emphasis is on how to be more effective and productive in the future, rather than placing blame for the past.
Appreciative Feedback offers several clear benefits. First, it decreases defensiveness, which puts people (you included!) in a position to be fully receptive to the insights that are offered. “Blame and shame” is never a helpful approach to offering feedback. For many of us, that sort of feedback leads us to catalog a list of explanations that defend our actions, further entrenching the undesired behavior and potentially damaging the relationship involved. Appreciative Feedback helps you avoid this sort of defensive response.
How can we be ready to face the next year’s challenges if we are not prepared to dine on honest feedback?
Second, it focuses on what to do, instead on what not to do. Which is more helpful, to be told, “Don’t format the report this way.” Or to be told, “The next time, please add columns for year to date actuals, and your adjusted forecast. I’d also appreciate a separate column with your analysis on the causes for any shifts in the numbers.”
Finally, Appreciative Feedback offers hope for a better future. Rather than leaving a leader feeling remorseful for the past, Appreciative Feedback inspires future behavior: it helps your senior leaders and employees believe in their own ability to make the positive changes that will help your team rise to the challenges the current year has to offer.
How do you give Appreciative Feedback?
Giving Appreciative Feedback is surprisingly simple, once you learn the three-step pattern.
- Identify the problem, challenge, or opportunity for improvement.
Here’s an example: Kim is a division vice president for a global food manufacturer. Product sales are down in a key category for Peter, a regional sales manager on Kim’s team who is normally an above-average performer.
- Reframe the problem as a future opportunity.
Previously, Kim might have addressed this by saying, “Peter, your frozen food sales numbers are tanking. You’re in the red by 20 percent. What happened?”
With an Appreciative Feedback approach, Kim might instead say, “Peter, in 2017 we need to focus on growth in the frozen food category. I’d like it to be on-target by the end of Q1. We need to find a strategy that will make that happen.”
- Identify what has made success possible in the past.
Then, to encourage Peter, and to offer a suggestion on what strengths and tools could help reach the goal, Kim might say something like, “I’ve always been impressed by your ability to build relationships with your clients; I’m sure those will help you identify a strategy for growth in this category. Additionally, late last year other teams began to see success in frozen food sales on college campuses. You may want to have your sales managers explore that.”
By sharing Appreciative Feedback with Peter, instead of a blame or failure-focused approach, Kim has decreased Peter’s natural sense of defensiveness, inspired a better future, and offered a roadmap that can help him reach success.
Will this work for bigger problems?
Imagine that Kim’s whole team is struggling to reach sales goals, and opportunities for improvement aren’t immediately clear. How can an executive offer Appreciative Feedback in these circumstances?
In our work through the Center for Values-Driven Leadership, we help executives who are facing significant challenges. Using Appreciative Inquiry, a strengths-based process for leadership development and organizational change, we help companies identify what has made them successful in the past; what they would most like to have happen in the future; and what strategies can get them there. The process of addressing these bigger challenges starts much the same as the three-step pattern of Appreciative Feedback.
How can I learn more?
Join us this spring for a new, executive education workshop series in Appreciative Inquiry. You’ll learn a powerful new tool for coaching peak leadership performances from yourself and your team.
Find out more about this powerful opportunity at https://cvdl.ben.edu/ai – the first workshop begins on January 25, 2017.
Amber Johnson is the Center’s Chief Communications Officer and the co-author of an eBook on using Appreciative Inquiry to grow your leadership and drive the results you need in your company. Find the free eBook at https://cvdl.ben.edu/sixquestions.