6 steps for the best feedback you'll ever give

After some years leading IT teams and dealing with many different scenarios, I’ve been refining the techniques for giving a good feedback. A good feedback session usually has just the last 4 steps written here.

But something happened last week and made me add two obvious steps that are often forgotten before the actual feedback session. Just because giving good feedback is way easier, here I present the steps to give feedback when you need to talk about behavior, a mistake, or even to have a regular talk to help somebody with their career progress.

1 — Build trust

A trustworthy environment is the base for a good feedback moment. There’s an exchange between the one who gives and the one who receives feedback. Who gives it learns and gets experience. Pretty often understands how and why things are going the way they are going, and then has the opportunity to adapt and evolve together (this is part of the leader mission btw). The one who receives the feedback is thirsty for evolution and progress on their career. Usually seeks feedback for improvement constantly. But what if they don’t trust each other? Who gives feedback gets afraid of self-exposure. Fears not being enough to make things happen and help to develop the other side. And who receives feedback easily dives into an ego that will make the suggestion for improvement sound something unreal.

The trust between the two parts is crucial. Do you have trust within your team? Is talking to each one of your team individually part of your routine? Do you enjoy to stay together? Does your team come to ask you a point of view or advice when something goes wrong? Do you back them up when things go wrong or do you expose them? Do you feel like you accomplish stuff together? If the answer is no to a few of the questions, my guess is you don’t have a trustworthy environment.

2 — Set the goal

Since now you have trust, it’s time to together plan how far, how, and why the feedback receiver wants to go. What do they aim? This is the core of what will motivate them. The side missions can be something close to the goal, but the big missions must always be something clearly pointing to the individual goal. As a leader, it’s your duty to understand even if the individual will evolve more with another leader than would with you.

The key to this step is to always have a plan to follow. There is always stuff to be improved. What are the short, mid and long term goals for the one you are giving feedback? Does the feedback make sense when compared to the goals? Once you have the macro plan, SMART activities might help people see progress happening, depending on the team you are leading.

3 — Start with a good point

Ready for the real feedback moment? Why should you start telling something good? Starting by mentioning something the individual does well is a good way to start and to create empathy. You will be showing you recognize the good job being done besides the feedback you are about to give. It will increase the chances of the feedback to be received in a positive way, deeply understood and connected with real scenarios to help you explore the subject even more than what was planned.

4 — Show the FACT

Just show the fact. What happened? Was it a bad posture during a meeting? Was it a delayed task? Did they offend a colleague? Show the problem without judging. Do not make comments about what happened. Just say what has to be said looking in the eyes. It’s something important and has to be understood as a message. Straight.

The fact cannot be something you suspect. If you are not sure, it might be unfair. If you suspect and it’s a reality in your team, just pay more attention and you will see the thing happening. Go back to step 1 and get closer to your team if you don’t see it.

It cannot be something somebody told you. If you go for this way, there’s a huge risk of creating an environment of gossip. And then you’re back to the 70’s leadership style.

5 — Show the impact

Often people who commit mistakes don’t see or don’t want to see the impact. People don’t want to be seen as they are pulling the performance down. Why was the goal, delivery or whatever compromised by the FACT?

Was the fact a lack of commitment? The impact can be the delayed delivery and a bad relationship with your client (internal or external).

Was the fact an argument during a meeting? The impact can be damage to the team relationship.

6 — Build the action plan

You can create the action plan once the fact and impact are understood. What will prevent the same thing to happen once again? What happens if the situation occurs again?

For the action plan, you have to set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-framed) goals. When you will check again if the issue was solved? If it’s not solved, another feedback session will occur, but if it was solved, it’s important to note and recognize the progress made.

Sharing experiences on IT subjects. Working for AWS. DevOps, Kubernetes, Microservices, Terraform, Ansible, and Java