The Four Cornerstones of Feedback – Part 4/4

In the first three instalments, we examined the first three letters of the FAST acronym that form the four cornerstones of effective feedback. Feedback must be ‘from the heart’, ‘actionable’ and ‘specific’. In this offering, we will explore the fourth and final cornerstone: feedback must be ‘timely’.

Cornerstone Four: Timely Feedback

The more time that elapses between the event occurring and the feedback being received, the less impact feedback will have. Immediacy is key. Even if a more prolonged and detailed evaluation is not feasible immediately after the event has taken place, even a small verbal affirmation will help provide the necessary assurances and boost confidence. There is no influence so marring to performance in the workplace as uncertainty.

There are a few key principles regarding the timeliness of feedback that reflect the old adage of ‘actions speak louder than words’. If a time is agreed for feedback to be received and the one delivering it either runs over in a previous meeting, arrives late or does not show up at all, what is really being said? It essentially says to the individual, ‘you are not my most important priority’. When someone is delivering feedback, the one receiving it should be made to feel like they are the only person on earth. They hold that individual’s career, confidence and (in some cases) the mental and emotional well-being in the palm of their hand. Timely feedback is more likely to show empathy and retain sufficient coverage to be both specific and actionable, thus meeting the other cornerstones. If it is late or rushed, it is likely to lack sufficient detail or sensitivity to have any real impact.

What happens if the individual receiving the feedback is either late or doesn’t turn up? It is a clear sign of disrespect to the person that has prepared to deliver the feedback. It says, ‘I don’t care what you have to say – I don’t need your help and don’t feel like I can learn anything from you’. This creates a negative impression, erodes trust and shuts the individual off from vital opportunities to learn from those more experienced.

I remember three experiences of feedback just a few weeks apart that had very different impacts on me.

The first was a senior colleague who came to oversee part of my work and quality assure my performance. They spent fifteen minutes inspecting my work, then left the room. Not a word was spoken. No time was agreed for an evaluation to be provided. I never received any further feedback or even a copy of the form they had filled out. How do you think that made me feel as a new colleague, keen to learn and improve? Insignificant and unimportant. I was left with a negative impression of that colleague and frustrated that I had learned nothing from their vast experience.

The second experience occurred when feedback was delivered by a very senior colleague; unfortunately, this feedback showed neither empathy, specificity or timeliness. It took place early on a Friday morning at the end of an incredibly draining week, when I was very new to the job and my wife and I had a sleepless newborn at home. The individual – after arriving ten minutes late for the appointment they had set – did not take account of any of these and simply launched into a long list of criticisms, with no specific recommendations of how to improve in these areas. It was only after all of this that they enquired as to how I was ‘finding things’. When I alluded to my ongoing desire to grow into the career and our efforts to deal with sleep deprivation from a new child, the deliverer then had an opportunity to show some empathy and perhaps (being a parent themselves) provide some reassurance or guidance. I was simply told that If I wasn’t coping then I should refer myself to HR to initiate a well-being support plan. That individual missed an opportunity to share their own valuable experience and instead disenfranchised a colleague that would have appreciated a word of support.

A few days later, a third individual, a more experienced colleague working in my department, came to quality assure my work. They immediately provided assurance and a time was swiftly agreed at the end of that same day for a more detailed evaluation to be provided. They were punctual, kind and polite. The exchange began with genuine questions into my well-being as a new colleague and father, showing they knew and cared about me as an individual. The feedback was thorough, specific and strategies were provided for immediate implementation. Encouraging words were spoken. Offers of further support and training were given. There was genuine warmth and sincerity. This was an enriching and ennobling encounter.

Whether we are giving or receiving feedback, let us be like that third colleague: timely, sincere and keen to both share and receive ideas. The way in which we communicate in our workplaces and homes – and the timely nature in which we address rapidly evolving situations – will be a key factor in overall productivity and success.

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