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22-05-2023 - - 0 comments
Give effective and equitable feedback

How comfortable do you feel giving and receiving feedback?

I can tell you it’s tricky for most of the managers and leaders I coach 121 and is often a discussion point in team sessions.

If you work with other humans, then feedback is a part of your role and if you are a manager or leader then you have a responsibility to give effective and equitable feedback. However, these valuable exchanges often don’t happen as frequently as they could.

Feedback is important for career development, building relationships with colleagues, and enhancing performance.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when you are giving and receiving feedback and why I love the idea of flipping it and giving feedforward instead…


Receiving insight into how you can be better and develop is a privilege

Researchers at Stanford University’s Clayman Institute studied performance reviews from three large tech companies and a professional services company. They found some telling differences in the kind of feedback women and men receive. Women were less likely to receive specific feedback tied to outcomes. This was true for both praise and constructive feedback. By contrast, men were offered a clearer picture of what they were doing well, how their performance was impacting the business, and what they needed to do to get promoted. Is it any wonder we don’t have more women in leadership roles? Women are not the only group to receive mixed or misleading professional feedback. When unconscious bias plays into performance appraisals and feedback, it can lead to inaccuracy and unfair treatment based on age, gender, race, ability, religion, appearance, sexual orientation, and other traits. Making it harder for some people to improve their performance and advance in their careers. We all have a responsibility to give quality feedback and to become more conscious and intentional when giving feedback to members of marginalised groups.


Tips to give effective and equitable feedback (from Better Allies by Karen Catlin):

  • When giving feedback, focus on the business impact of a person’s work. What should they keep doing because it’s moving the organisation forward? How could they improve to have an even bigger impact?
  • Don’t ease up just to avoid hurt feelings. Remember, vague feedback holds people back from growing in their careers.
  • Tell them about the expertise you see in them and how to develop more job-related skills.
  • Use objective criteria to evaluate people in similar roles.
  • Write reviews of roughly the same length for everyone on your team.

Flip it and give feedforward instead 

Feedback can be uncomfortable, when you’re giving feedback, you might be concerned about sounding critical, and on the receiving end, it can be easy to get defensive. These conversations don’t always go well, and that often leads to avoidance. Which is a problem. So how can we make feedback easier to give and in a way that the receiver can embrace?

Flip it and give feedforward instead! Feedforward (the concept was originally developed by a management expert named Marshall Goldsmith) focuses on the future instead of the past and encourages the behaviours you want to see more of as opposed to focusing on what you want to see less of.

It starts with what’s great and adds to it, expanding what’s possible, rather than simply pointing out problems.

E.g. Here’s what I love about what you just did … and here’s how I can see you having more influence/success/impact…

I haven’t come across many managers/leaders who are familiar with feedforward, and I really think if more people learn how to do it and use this regularly, it could make a huge difference to how we communicate, grow as professionals, and work effectively together in teams.

Feedback that focuses on past mistakes can shut people down because our brains get flooded with stress-inducing chemicals. It’s often food for the inner critic, and no one can change what’s already happened. If you fall into the trap of spending lots of time talking about everything that went wrong, it can create a sense of learned helplessness and feelings of “I’m not good enough”. Which makes me wonder, how helpful is it?

When we give feedforward, instead of rating and judging a person’s performance in the past, we focus on their development in the future. Who they are becoming.


8 Benefits of feedforward 

  1. Helps people see opportunities for growth.
  2. Feels positive, there’s a sense of forward momentum and motivation to improve.
  3. Instead of an “information dump” feedforward is focused and specific.
  4.  People can process and act on it right away.
  5.  It puts people at ease, it takes them off the defensive.
  6.  It is clear and concise, locating the problem, and looking for solutions together.
  7.  It’s delivered in a way that people can operationalise, which means they are far more likely to act on it, and what you share has more impact.
  8. People don’t want a praise sandwich. People want the truth!


Feedback is a team thing & shouldn’t be top-down

Feedback is subjective, whoever you are and whenever you’re giving it, it is only ever going to be your opinion. Sure, you will draw on experience and what you know to be true today, but that is constantly evolving for all of us …what’s true today might not be true for you tomorrow. This doesn’t mean you should hold back, but if you are about to give feedback/feedforward check yourself first:

  •  Do I have this person’s best interests at heart here?
  • Is what I have to say likely to shut them down or inspire them?
  • Is my feedback effective and equitable?
  • Am I using language consistently across genders and marginalised groups?
  • Am I in the right state to have this conversation (e.g. calm, grounded, prepared)
  • Instead of reserving feedback for those who are more advanced in their careers, in a top-down, hierarchical model. Why not open more pathways for people to get feedforward from their peers, even those whose jobs might on the surface have little in common for a fresh perspective?


Take a pause and reflect for a few minutes:

  • How does accepting feedback help you develop your skills?
  • Why is it important to be tactful and constructive when delivering feedback?
  • How does body language impact the tone of feedback?
  • What is the value of receiving feedback?


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