Thursday, February 28, 2013

F-ing up Feedback

imageThrough some really challenging conversations with advisors I’ve gotten the kick in the pants to re-evaluate my management style. The conclusion I came to was the biggest area for growth was in feedback (irony knows no bounds!).  Giving feedback is hard and temporarily uncomfortable, so it’s something I often postponed to big mile stones.

However, through much reading, adjustment, trial and error I’ve settled on three Fs for feedback:

Fast – Give the feedback in the moment.  Immediately after the action everything is fresh in the recipient’s mind.  This is the best time to trigger reflection and growth.

Frank – Be brutally honest.  Any beating around the bush or ‘cushioning’ to save someone’s feelings only obfuscates your messages and robs the recipient of a valuable learning opportunity.  That is not to say you need to humiliate the person with mean or public feedback.  Just deliver an objective statement in private, answer clarifying questions, and leave to let the recipient reflect.

Frequent – Do this often.  My biggest failing was to wait for big milestones. It’s important the feedback is separated from performance/compensation review.  Frequent feedback builds the trust that the information is simply there to help – nothing else.  This will take the pressure off and enable the person to respond positively.  Also frequent feedback cuts up changes into small chunks – making it easier for the recipient to internalize and adopt.

If you’d like to read some more on this topic from a truly great mind – one of the most pithy descriptions of good feedback comes from Ben Horowitz:

So go forth and F up your feedback so you don’t f**k up your team.


  1. You may have learned some of the wrong way at Microsoft. I know that I often felt that feedback was too infrequent and seldom fast enough. Frankness was never a problem though. :-) I think that when managing remote employees this feedback loop is even more important. And perhaps harder to do. You can't as easily stop by someone's office and give them an atta boy or a "I really need you do to this differently" in a casual manner.

  2. Very true Alfred - giving feedback is really really hard. I've found I just have to give it instantly. My goal is every time a piece of work is in front of me I want to actively reflect and use that moment to provide feedback instantly. Otherwise I procrastinate and let the issue grow - making it more stressful to receive the feedback. How do you do this with students?