A harried financial analyst called recently with this dilemma: "Our team of 200 writes financial reports for our executive management team about various deals that we’re recommending—acquisitions, mergers, joint-ventures, and the like. Last month in a staff meeting, the EVP made this blanket comment to us: ‘You’re writing technical reports rather than persuasive business cases.’" The analyst hurumphed. "So we all walked out of that meeting, thinking,’So what’s that supposed to mean? Is he talking about MY reports?’"
It was that comment and frustration that prompted his call to me. How could he and his team know they were on the right track with their documents? I gave him some guidelines, and we arranged for some training. But that’s not my topic here.
The EVP’s comment is my concern. Such feedback occurs all too often—vague, blanket statements that leave the recipient flustered about how to improve the situation, and result in the manager’s ultimate frustration that no change has taken place. Yet I understand why such generalized comments are delivered so routinely: 1) They’re less painful to deliver than personal feedback—for both the speaker and listener. 2) They’re faster to deliver than specifics—one vague statement and you’re done.
Problem: Nothing changes.
Here are some suggestions for giving feedback that’s usable:
Be specific about the action or change you want.
For example, if someone tells you to "be more productive," do they want you to send and respond to more email faster—or stop handling email altogether and "get real work done"? Do they want you to close more deals—or find more glitches in the deals that should not be closed and that eventually lose money for the company? Do they want you to work late every night—or work faster every day so that you don’t have to stay late at night?
Provide an example of what success looks like.
The old saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words," didn’t become a cliche for nothing. Examples eliminate a multitude of questions and solidify the mission.
Recommend an action plan.
In some situations, simply telling a person WHAT to do isn’t enough; they also need to know HOW to do it. What steps should they take to make the change? Granted, you shouldn’t have to draw a detailed map, but suggesting whether they should drive or fly makes good sense—especially if you’ve traveled the terrain and know what it takes to arrive at the destination on your timeline.
State any available resources for follow-up.
Is there a go-to person for more details? Is funding available? Where can they find printed or online information?
If you plan to give feedback, make it focused—not frustrating.