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What does effective feedback look like?

From the time when we are students at school, we become acutely aware of the power that feedback can play in relation to our sense of capacity, our desire to achieve and our connectedness with the people around us. This doesn’t change when we enter the workforce. Feedback is one of the most powerful influences on achievement. But research has also shown that this impact can be either positive or negative. Although feedback is among the major influences, the type of feedback and the way it is given can be differentially effective” (Visible

What are the key messages for leaders in relation to feedback?

It is vital that leaders are aware of the role feedback can play in terms of individual and team motivation, belief and purpose. In order to commit to a cycle of continual improvement of both our teams and of ourselves, it is equally vital that we prioritise the building of awareness of the value of grit, resilience and persistence in the face of feedback. If we consider all members of a team to be on a trajectory of growth and improvement, leaders should seek to reduce discrepancies between current understandings, and desired levels of understandings. Providing appropriate, challenging and specific goals, coupled with regular feedback on the achievement of these goals assists team members to use their own self-regulatory proficiencies to identify opportunities for improvement and skill development.

Is there a way that leaders can frame feedback for the greatest impact?

In order to be most effective, leaders need to consider the framing of their feedback according to three key categories, each serving to provide a sense of implied future growth. When receiving feedback, team members have the best chance of maximising their growth when they can contextualise what they have heard in relation to the three categories below:

  • Where am I going? – Feed up
  • How am I going?- Feed back
  • Where should I be going next? -Feed Forward

(Hattie and Timperley, 2007)

Where am I going ? – Feed Up

This is the goal setting phase of the feedback process. Goals can be wide ranging and promote goal orientated action. At this stage, they typically involve two key elements; challenge and commitment. When goals are clearly articulated for workers and learners, individuals are informed as to the level of performance to be attained. The feedback that follows is therefore a form of tracking these goals so that adjustments in effort, direction and strategy can be made as needed. Once these goals have been attained, the feedback process then allows for more challenging goals to be set, thereby setting up a cycle of continual goal setting and improvement. Leaders must note that where a goal is poorly defined or articulated, the gap between current and intended knowledge is unlikely to be sufficiently clear for team members to understand the need to address it. Crucially, leaders must model and create a collaborative sense of commitment to any goals established for the members of their teams. (Locke and Latham,1990)

How am I going? – Feedback

Feedback is effective when it consists of information about progress in a way that leads to greater possibilities for learning and growth. It may be helpful to frame this through a consideration of the four levels of feedback explained below, their benefits and their potential drawbacks.

  • Task or product based feedback is specific in nature, and alerts an individual to specific content in a piece of work which needs rethinking or improvement. This kind of feedback is most helpful when it is identifying faulty interpretations, such as inaccurate data analysis. If a team member is lacking knowledge, further explanation is more powerful than feedback on the task or product.
  • Process based feedback investigates and questions the extent to which a product may have seen improved outcomes through enhanced processes. Process based feedback appears to be more effective for enhancing deeper learning. There is considerable evidence that feedback that attributes performance to effort increases engagement and performance.
  • Self-regulation enhancing feedback seeks to build independence and accountability in an individual through an articulation of how existing skills and knowledge could have been applied more effectively

Feedback directed to the self provides acknowledgement related to the qualities of the individual, separate from any task. Although this is perhaps the most common form of feedback, this kind of feedback is rarely converted into more engagement, commitment to goals or self- efficacy. Feedback that purely complements or praises a person for being a ‘great worker’ or a ‘good team member’ is not specific enough to link to effort, self- regulation, engagement or application of processes relation to a task or performance.

Hattie and Timperley (2007)

Are there other key areas for leaders to reflect upon in terms of their giving feedback to others?

While leaders may find this to be a useful summary and framework for understanding the impact of feedback on members of a team, it is important that they are cognisant of cultural nuances with regard to feedback preferences. Leaders also need to consider whether they are applying unconscious bias in their style of feedback for males and females in their teams. Interestingly, from a very young age, feedback given to boys tends to be more related to effort and behaviours, while feedback provided to girls tends to be more about ability attributions. Equally, importantly, leaders must recognise that the performance of their team members is an opportunity for their own feedback and for reflection on the efficacy of their leadership and mentoring. (Kluger and De Nisi, 1996)

For assistance and training to develop growth-orientated feedback in your business, please get in touch.


Thanks for reading,

Lisa Kelliher
Head of People and Culture
Head of Business Support
Educational Consultant

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