Nobody likes receiving criticism; most of us baulk at giving it, and some of us find it hard to convey, or accept, even the positive variety. But make no mistake, feedback is essential not only for growth and development but also to motivate, fulfil and give meaning to what we do. Here's our quick guide to this essential life skill.
Not all feedback is equal
According to Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen of Harvard Law School in their book, 'Thanks for the Feedback', there are many different types but only three feedback approaches that actually work: appreciation, coaching and evaluation. Crucially though, their efficacy is context dependent, in other words, you need to be clear about purpose in either conveying or responding to the feedback.
For example, at the end of a tortuous audit, with high stakes and crazy deadlines, before, during and at the end, its right to give your team appreciative feedback to recognise hard work, convey gratitude and to motivate and encourage. This is not to be confused with coaching feedback that you would offer or receive during an assignment - you know the sort that gives forth the dreaded 'review points’. This is teaching feedback - necessary to fulfil the objectives of the job and for you to learn (or teach) from in your Audit role. And then, there is the-end-of assignment appraisal form; this is evaluating feedback, which, in the words of Stone and Heen, 'helps you understand and know where you stand'.
Horses for Courses
If we don’t understand this fundamental tenet of feedback - that it is situational and contextual, then is it any surprise that we offend, get upset, over-react or simply misunderstand? When the audit manager cheers you on from the side-lines under the pressure of a taut deadline, 'good job' means well done for hanging on in there and working hard. But don’t be surprised when the appraisal form gives you lots of development areas; in this context, ‘good job’ wasn’t meant as performance evaluation.
Similarly, when your junior is stuck on a thorny technical issue and doesn’t see a way out, appreciative feedback alone isn’t going to cut it. They need focussed, solution-centred coaching feedback to move forward.
And then there is the Performance review…
Whether you dread it or relish it, Performance Reviews are probably the one-to-one most likely to give rise to surprises – for both the giver and the receiver! Why? Well quite simply – perspective. If you can get your head round purpose (as per ‘Horses for Courses’ above) then what remains is honing your understanding around multiple viewpoints – to pave the way for pain-free audit performance review.
As an appraiser or as a recipient, here are your key considerations:
- There are infinite perspectives; accept and embrace this by reflecting upfront where the other party is coming from. Appreciate their motivators, their stakeholders, their past experience and context, and so on. Evaluating how these differ from yours, can really help in building a bridge of communication and understanding;
- Specificity and precision: what exactly needs to change and where exactly is performance meeting/exceeding expectations? Is it how or what is being done? Present or ask for contextual examples, to unpick a situation and avoid the risk of gross generalisation;
- Listen for meaning and ask more than tell, whether you are the giver or receiver. Not only will this help with the first two points but it will also keep you in a more mindful, reflective mode, able to respond to the here and now and deepen understanding rather than reacting or defending preconceptions;
- Don’t make it personal; separate situation and person by focussing on the issue, behaviour or action. The passive voice is helpful here; ‘work-in-progress has not been audited effectively’ rather than ‘you made a mess of work-in-progress’. And if you are receiving the feedback, be ready to separate emotion from fact, to maintain as much objectivity as possible.
- Understand and express intent and action. What are the implications of the feedback? What needs to happen now? How will change be measured? In other words, what was the point of the feedback, why was it given?
- Timeliness and regularity. Performance feedback in Audit is an all year round responsibility. Development input needs to be timely to the context to make it meaningful and to protect and support the recipient. If you are not getting timely feedback, ask for it!
Don’t overweigh the negative. The best feedback is usually a mix of the positive and constructive. It’s a primitive mechanism, but our brains are designed to respond more strongly to threats to our survival than to compliments. That’s why the feedback sandwich isn’t particularly effective. The two slices of positive ‘bread’ are not enough to cushion the impact on our emotions of the meaty filling. All feedback is valuable; read our Audit Advantage article on Growth Mindset to learn more. And remember:
‘The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing’, Henry Ford.
Which topic would you like to read about next month? Look over the list of topics in the original Audit Advantage article here and let us know your choice for the next topic we should cover.