Three Breaths

Musings on code, management, and life

Immediate Feedback

Posted at — Oct 11, 2019

Something I have been working on for the past year is to try and get better at giving immediate feedback. This habit probably grew out of reading Kim’s Scott’s Radical Candor, but it also aligns well with my overall goal of helping people grow.

I think giving immediate feedback is a manager super power, and I’d recommend using it as one of the many tools in your toolbag.

The Why

If you’ve got a good working relationship with your teammates, you’ve probably communicated areas where they are strong as well as areas where they can improve. Hopefully those are topics that are coming up in 1:1’s and certainly reviews, though tying feedback to those cycles (weekly, monthly, yearly) isn’t nearly fast enough.

But it’s more than just the feedback cycle time that is a problem, it’s that you’ve lost the context that the behavior occured in. That’s where immediate feedback really shines.

Being able to give feedback as close to when you’ve observed a behavior means that the situation is fresh in everyone’s mind.

The How

The When

First, how immediate is immediate. It probably isn’t the best approach to interrupt an in progress discussion or meeting to give immediate feedback, and it almost certainly isn’t the right approach in a group setting. There may be some exceptions, but let’s stick to the simple case of simple positive and negative feedback. I like to provide “immediate” feedback as close to the event as possible, so what does that look like. That depends a bit on whether it is a positive or negative behavior you want to provide feedback on, but you should be following up as soon as possible, ideally the same day you observed it.

The Good

If it is positive feedback, sometimes a simple slack message, especially if you are remote/distributed is appropriate.

Hey, just wanted to say I liked the way you asked the question about whether Feature X was the most important thing to be working on in today’s planning meeting. I thought it was especially helpful how you brought others into the conversation and asked for input.

We should make a point to call out positive actions, especially in areas where folks may have struggled in the past. It is often easy to overlook small wins, but over time, those small wins lead to better habits. And folks should know when they are taking positive steps.

The Not So Good

We all make mistakes, and sometimes we fall into old, bad habits. As managers, if we see behavior that isn’t what we are hoping to see we should bring that up. And if we are doing our jobs, calling out areas for improvement can help folks understand how their behavior is effecting others on the team.

When I see behavior that isn’t positive or that I want to get a better understanding of, I’ll ask to find some time to talk either face to face (if collocated) or to hop on a video chat (if remote/distributed). If you are remote/distributed, please, please, please, don’t ask “Can we talk”. Nobody wants to be left hanging like that. Instead, let them know why you want to talk and make sure you are approaching them in an open, curious way. Don’t assume you know all the facts.

Hey, I was hoping we could hop on a zoom call later today when you are available. I wanted to chat about what happened at the team meeting today. I sensed some tension around the discussion around Feature X, and I’d like to get your thoughts on how that discussion went.

On that call, you can talk about the meeting, how they saw it, and what their perspective was. It can help to describe how you interpreted what was said in the meeting and how it could have been interpreted or misinterpreted. Perhaps you can tie it back to previous conversations about more effective communication.

The real point here is to have a conversation, especially while it is still fresh in everyone’s mind. Listen, learn, understand, coach.

Closing Thoughts

Part of a manager’s job is having difficult or uncomfortable conversations. It is a lot easier to bury your head in the sand and hope that problems will fix themselves. They generally don’t.

Having more immediate feedback is a great way to tell someone when they are doing a good job or when they are falling short. By tightening that feedback cycle, we can have more meaningful, contexually conversations that help people grow and learn. It also allows us to do minor course corrections more frequently, instead of having major clashes or misalignment down the line, like at review time or when negative behaviors escalate.

What ways have you found effective in communicating feedback?

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