Steve Fenton

Individual feedback is better than general feedback

We’ve all been there – that awkward conversation that you have to have with someone you work with. It isn’t enjoyable and it is hard work. Nevertheless, don’t shy away from having that one-to-one conversation with the individual, because it is the best way to get the right outcome.

A common escape-route that gets used is the general note. Very often an afterthought at the end of a team meeting or a group email. It avoids the conflict and discomfort – but gets you bad outcomes.

Here is a explanation. We’ll start with an imaginary team of four. It doesn’t matter what the behaviour is – for the purposes of this example we want people to be achieving a constant 50 of something. Over 50 isn’t desired, and under 50 is a problem. So here’s the chart – we have mixed performance across the team, but the real problem is Adam, who isn’t in the right ball-park at all.

Management - Before

It is decision time. Do we brave the awkward conversation or take the easy way out? Let’s look at the easy way out first and see what might go wrong. So you make a general announcement and reinforce it with an email. Maybe a couple of people get annoyed because they think they are already doing what you ask and don’t like the fact their good work has gone unrecognised. Maybe they think it does apply and they up their game. We could end up with the following chart – Adam still isn’t really doing much better, but now other team members are out of the sweet spot too.

Management - After General Feedback

To get the best outcome, we need to talk to Adam individually. We don’t need to annoy the other team members as they are essentially doing what we want. It is only Adam who needs help. So we have a conversation. What can we do to help Adam do better? It turns out he thought this was low-priority and wasn’t paying it much attention – he isn’t annoyed to get better clarity and is happy to give it more attention. So maybe we end up with the following chart – the other team members carry on as before, which is great – and Adam does better too. A quick conversation with Sharon confirms that she also thought it was lower priority. The context is now clear for everyone and the team can be effective.

Management - After Individual Feedback

So have the courage to talk to people. Find out whether you have failed to supply them with the right context or if there is some barrier to them performing well. Help them to do their job better and get more satisfaction from what they do… and don’t forget to notice when they make the effort to do the right thing.

Written by Steve Fenton on