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For the Love of Feedback

Those who know me well know I am a huge fan of feedback. I love feedback of all kinds and constantly ask for it to improve and change how I approach things, train others, speak, teach, etc. My colleagues at a previous employer even called me the "Feedback King."

My love of feedback started when I was developing to be an Army Officer in ROTC. We had to complete the Cadet Self-Assessment Reports or yellow cards in ROTC. These yellow cards were required after every mission and assignment when we were in a leadership role.

Yellow cards were a summary of our performance while in the leadership role and were detailed using the well-known STAR model, where we would describe the Situation, assigned Task, the Actions taken, and the Results.

Yellow Card

At the same time, the student cadre or leader would complete a blue card called the Leadership Assessment Report. This report was where they rated behavior observed, recorded their counseling, and measured specific attributes, skills, and actions.

Blue Card

We would then meet for a quick counseling session to compare notes and discuss my performance. The discussions focused on things I did well, where I needed to improve and actions I planned to take to sustain or change the behavior.

As a cadet and student cadre, I experienced both sides of giving and receiving feedback. This practice, however, did not end with my commissioning. This feedback practice continued throughout my time in all my professional military schools.

Whether it was at the Infantry School or the Combined Logistics Captains Career School doing peer evaluations through leading soldiers, teams, and units on active duty with counseling, evaluation reports, and pulse and climate surveys. Feedback was a constant and always encouraged. I encouraged it despite rank and protocol, as long as it was done respectfully and with the proper intent.

Another powerful means of giving and receiving feedback that I still find extremely valuable today is the "After Action Review," or AAR.

The Army training circular (TC 25-20) shares that:

The AAR is a professional discussion of an event, focused on performance standards, that enables soldiers to discover for themselves what happened,why it happened, and how to sustain strengths and improve on weaknesses. It is a tool leaders and units can use to get maximum benefit from every mission or task.

The AAR in a corporate or professional setting can be executed similarly to a structured debrief process for analyzing what happened, why it happened, and how it can be done better by the individuals involved and those responsible for the project, event, or situation.

Take a look at the link provided for more info on how to conduct an AAR.

You've probably already seen these, but here are some tips I've learned over the years about feedback:

  • Never give someone harsh, critical, developmental feedback in the presence of others. This can be highly embarrassing to the person receiving the feedback. Find the right time and place to pull them aside in private.

  • Only give feedback on what you heard someone say or behaviors you saw someone do. Providing feedback from a 3rd party on something you did not hear or see can be a slippery slope and deteriorate trust.

  • Make feedback a dialogue. Avoid making assumptions. Make sure to check your information and biases, giving the benefit of the doubt to the other person.

  • Allow yourself to be emotional. Deal with your emotions, allow some time to be mad, angry, sad, upset, etc., and then return and deliver the feedback. Use that time to prepare to write down what you want to say, focusing on the things said or done, how they made you feel and the outcome.

  • Be specific. Vague feedback might seem insincere or calculating. Saying, "I don't remember exactly what you said, but it ..." diminishes its impact severely.

  • Be Timely. Give positive and developmental feedback immediately but no more than five days after it happens. Don't put it off as not urgent if it's good. Don't avoid it or put it off if it's not so good.

  • Avoid the feedback sandwich, "You did great, but here's what you did wrong, but I thought you did great." You can give positive and developmental feedback in the same conversation. However, you must finish one type of feedback before giving the other. In other words, get through the STAR for positive or developmental before giving the other.

  • Always ask for feedback for everything you do. Asking for feedback as a leader builds a culture in that asking for feedback is encouraged, and more than likely, when you give, it will also be received well.

  • When you ask for it, do something with it. Change your behavior and change your self-perception. Asking for it without doing something with it is disrespectful and can lead to a lack of trust.

  • Listen. Ask questions. Demonstrate humility and admit your mistakes. Listen to learn how they perceived your behavior, ask questions for clarification and examples, and admit your mistakes.

Delivering feedback is a skill that must be fostered and developed. Giving positive feedback is easy, yet too many leaders don't do a good job. Developmental feedback is not always easy to deliver. Accept it. Your best bet will be to find someone to rehearse it with if it will be emotional.

Early in my career, I learned the valuable lessons and gifts of feedback. Feedback can be one of the most powerful tools for anyone to learn how to use. It might be clunky at first, but It's never too late.

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