The Importance of Timely Feedback

The Importance of Timely Feedback

Posted by on Friday, May 29th, 2015  


My wife and I have known each other for a long time. She was recently recounting a high school story to some friends. She had left her headlights on and her car battery went dead. I don’t remember the details, but she recounted that I asked her if she’d heard the dinging sound after she turned off the car. I told her to always remember “Ding, ding, ding. Something’s wrong.” She remembers that to this day and hasn’t repeated this dead battery situation since.

Feedback is necessary for career growth. This is a great leadership lesson. As a leader, as a manager, feedback for your employees or direct reports is important. Without feedback, people have no reason to change habits or alter things they are doing that might become habits.

When I look up the definition of the word “feedback”, all the definitions state or imply an input that is meant to promote change. So even though praise for your direct reports is important too, praise is not the only type of feedback. It is a leader’s job to work with direct reports to hone their performance to increase their efficiency, personal outlook, social skills, technical skills, and thought process.

For feedback to truly be effective, it should be done quickly after the action is taken that warrants the feedback. I once had a boss who told me that he only told his employees during their annual performance review what they were doing that he wanted them to change. Once a year? This is extremely shortsighted!

Feedback should be frequent. It should happen as soon as possible. Delayed feedback can cause the action to become a habit. We’re only human and that means memory loss over time. As time marches away from an event or situation, our memory fades and our accuracy to relay the action or situation sufficiently diminishes. Delaying feedback gives the other person time to forget the action as well. If the dinging in the car when the lights are on didn’t occur for 5 minutes, I’d be out the car with the door shut before the ding started.

This kind of feedback is not simply stating “you did this, stop it.” It needs to be beneficial, helpful, clear, specific and communicated with kindness. It needs to be objective and not subjective. Subjectivity includes statements of feelings and often assumptions about motive. Objectivity describes facts and actions witnessed. Explain the consequences of those actions. Think of it in terms of dominoes standing up. Explain to the person that when they do this action, whether immediately or some time in the future, these are the dominoes that will fall or things that will occur should that action continue. This helps explain why you wish them to change.

Feedback allows corrections to actions or habits in a timely manner so that performance increases. Before you talk to the person, think about what performance is degraded by this action or behavior. Doing so may show you that the action isn’t actually negative but simply a difference between you and the other person. Perhaps no change is needed at all.

And as always, praise in public and criticize in private. Make sure the time is right. If the person is walking out the door on Friday, that’s probably not the best time to catch them in order to offer feedback. Make sure the person is in the right mindset to accept the feedback. If the person didn’t have a win that day or found out some bad personal news, it’s probably not the appropriate time for feedback. It might just seem like piling on to them.

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