Insights into Giving Feedback that Works

Insights into Giving Feedback that Works

Giving feedback is a critical skill. Leaders and managers can use it to develop and motivate their people. It is key to improving performance. The latest neuroscience research shows how we can have greater impact and give more effective feedback. The Neuroleadership Institute runs an annual summit to look at how this research can be utilised in the workplace. You can access some live sessions on line. Here is a précis of my insights from the session I watched in 2016 on giving feedback by Dr Robert Kegan, Harvard.

Giving Feedback that Works

The human brain predominantly works on visual messages. For feedback to work, we need to ‘paint a picture’. People have to ‘see’ what they are doing. This creates insight. You need to enable the receiver to visualise the future, compare with past behaviour and make their choice about action. It is important to minimise the threat response. I believe using David Rock’s S.C.A.R.F. model can help influence uptake of your message.

Status – help people save face, don’t belittle or patronise. Give praise wherever possible. Show you believe in them.

Certainty – be clear and specific about what is expected.

Autonomy – allow the receiver of feedback choice in how to improve.

Relatedness – build a trusting relationship where people are open and honest. Be supportive.

Fairness – make sure your feedback is fair and objective.

10 Steps for Building a Culture of Feedback.

  1. The key is to get a much greater contribution from your people  –


2. Remember you recruit, not because the person is perfect, but because you think they are good and can get better.

3. Quit your second job, which is to protect your ego, look good and cover up weaknesses. When you let go of your ego, you can help others more. The person giving feedback should be as vulnerable as the person receiving it. Share your lived experiences.

4. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Fail frequently, fast and forward. Mistakes are a learning opportunity.


5. Develop a culture of continuous feedback, which is challenging and supportive. Feedback is one way ‘to turn the big ship around’. If you think of a massive ship, it only needs to make small changes early enough to change its course significantly. Don’t wait until you hit the rocks to make those changes.

6. Rank doesn’t have its usual privileges. Accept feedback from all quarters. Take the ego out. The revolution of feedback is about moving from giving to asking for feedback.

7. Don’t run around on your backhand! If you focus just on your strengths and avoid areas for improvement, you are unlikely to grow and get better.

“The better you get at hiding your weaknesses, the harder it will be to grow or for the organisation to grow”

Dr Robert Kegan

Don’t hold them back.

8. Use the job role as a tow-rope to stretch people, not bind them.  When you have mastered your job, it’s time to move on. If you keep on doing the same thing you’ve always done in the same way, there is no room for challenge or growth, which can be de-motivating.

9. See work as PRACTISING to get better; not as performance. Work is a place to get better. Work on yourself. It is about respecting each other and being open and honest.

10. Rethink the work-reward equation so it is fit for the 21st century. We look back at slavery as a terrible thing. Those at the time felt it was right. How will people look back at our era in 50 years time? How will they view our practices? What do you want them to be saying?

“What gets measured gets done. What gets measured and fed back, gets done well. What gets rewarded gets repeated” John E Jones


In summary the key points are:

  • Start at the top.
  • Foster a growth mind-set.
  • Emphasise what top performers do.
  • Show people what this looks like.
  • Build this into your technology and work streams.

Giving feedback is a vital skill and people require training in how to do this effectively. One of the best places to experience a culture of evaluative feedback and to hone your skills is at a Toastmaster International meeting.

If you would like to know more about giving feedback that works, please contact us.

Also published on Medium.

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