feedback, performance

Feedback Fundamentals: Effective Strategies from Experienced Executive Coaches

Three Common Feedback Challenges

There probably aren’t many people in the world who are more involved, more often in giving and receiving feedback than executive coaches. As a two decade plus coach myself, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve prepared, delivered and supported my clients in receiving colleague feedback. It’s easily over 2,000 times.

So, when I was asked by to lead a group coaching conversation on giving and receiving feedback for last week’s largest coaching session ever (1,000 coachees and 100 coaches) that was an easy yes. Even though I have a lot of experience with giving and receiving feedback, I didn’t want to just rest on my own point of view. So, I put the word out on LinkedIn for input and ideas from fellow coaches on three common feedback challenges that I covered in the session I led:

  • What are the most effective ways of delivering actionable and potentially transformative feedback?
  • What mindsets and approaches are important in making the most of the feedback you receive?
  • How can you help create a culture of regular feedback where it’s part of a welcome coaching approach instead of a dreaded annual event?

As I expected, I got some great ideas back from my colleagues (thank you to Mary Jo Hazard, Mark House, Scott Montgomery, Susan Britton, Darcie Slanker Milano, HsuanHua Chang, and Jonathan King). I only had an hour with my group during the session so there was way more to talk about and share than we had time for but, all that said, here’s the roll-up of all our coaching advice on how to give and receive feedback.

Effective Feedback Delivery: Techniques That Transform

  • First, recognize that positive reinforcement feedback can be as or more valuable than constructive feedback. Don’t overlook the opportunities to, in the words of Ken Blanchard, “catch them doing something right,” and tie what they’re doing right to the specific and tangible impact it has on creating positive results.
  • Take advantage of the simplicity of the keep, start and stop doing framework. This will keep you focused on delivering feedback on behaviors and their impact rather than the person.
  • Focus on the situation at hand, the behaviors exhibited (positive or negative), and the impact of those behaviors on both the goals of the organization and the goals of the person you’re coaching.
  • Keep it timely and keep it private. Deliver your feedback while the data points are still fresh and memorable. To foster a psychologically safe environment, deliver your feedback one on one and in private. The exception to this rule could be when you have positive feedback to deliver and you think there’s a recognition and learning opportunity to deliver it in front of the team. Even then, take care to not make the recipient uncomfortable or set them above the rest of the group.
  • Keep it conversational and observational. Delivering and receiving feedback should be just a normal part of doing business together. It shouldn’t be a sporadic or traumatic event. Keeping it conversational and observational about behaviors and their impact will help with that.
  • Observe and circle back later to reinforce the feedback messages in real time with real life examples. Feedback becomes exponentially more effective when you pull the thread through by looking for and acting on opportunities to highlight positive behavior change and its impact. That’s the ideal situation; of course, there will also be times when your ongoing observation leads you to point out fresh opportunities for progress.

Receiving Feedback: Mindsets and Approaches That Transform

  • Would you rather know or not know? That’s a question that I often ask my clients when I’m delivering colleague feedback – especially when it may be tough to hear. Most successful executives would rather know because that’s what they need to begin to make things better. What’s embedded in that question is a sense of agency that the recipient of the feedback has the power to act to improve the situation and reach their goals.
  • Ask for examples that illustrate the point. When receiving feedback – especially if it starts out a bit vague and generic (e.g. “You need to be more strategic.”) –  it can be helpful to ask for real world examples of when you have and haven’t been effective related to the feedback you’re getting. The goal is to get enough data points that allow you to do some pattern analysis on what you should keep, start, or stop doing.
  • Ask for action step ideas. Once you receive some feedback that you’re committed to working on, go talk with 5 or 6 colleagues who have regular line of sight to how you’re showing up. Tell them what you’re working on and why and then ask them for their best couple of ideas for action steps that anyone who is working on what you’re working on could do to improve. Keep a master list of the action steps your colleagues suggest.
  • Start with action steps that are relatively easy to do and likely to make a difference. Pick a couple of steps from your list that meet that description and tell your small group of colleagues that that’s what you’re starting with. For instance, if you’ve gotten feedback that you could be a better listener, someone may have given you an action step along the lines of “Ask other people what they think before you offer your opinion.”
  • Recruit accountability partners. Once you’ve selected an action step to get started with, recruit your key colleagues as accountability partners. For instance, in the ask for others’ opinions first example that I just cited, you could ask your colleagues to watch for you doing that in meetings and to remind you to come back to that approach if you forget to do it. That won’t just help you change your behavior; it will help them change their perception of your behavior.
  • Perception change almost always lags behavioral change. That’s why the accountability partner approach to acting on feedback is both effective and important. When you’ve been exhibiting a non-productive behavior over time, people develop a story about you and that behavior. You can legitimately change that behavior relatively quickly with focus and follow through, but, in the absence of engaging people around the impact of your behavior on them, their long-term story about you will likely linger. Accelerating their perception change through active engagement changes the entire people system for the better and for everyone’s benefit.

Building a Feedback Culture: More Than Just the Annual Review

Ideally, delivering and receiving feedback should be a regular and welcome aspect of how your organization does business. A culture of feedback promotes the growth mindset your organization needs to compete in a rapidly changing world.

How do you build this kind of culture in your organization? If you’re a leader at any level – from front-line to C-Suite, the answer is simple: role model it. Seek out feedback on what you should keep, start, and stop doing to help the team succeed. Be transparent about what you learn from the feedback. Engage your colleagues in helping you further leverage your strengths and following through on your opportunities.

What’s Next and What Else?

What’s one idea that my fellow coaches and I have shared here that you plan to pick up and run with? What else have you learned about giving and receiving feedback that needs to be added to what we’ve shared? Send me a note or leave a comment on LinkedIn.

If you liked what you read here, subscribe here to get my latest ideas on how to lead and live at your best.

Scroll to Top