The other day my business partner asked me whether there is a difference between what we call “feedback” in the workplace and the information, for example, you might take out of a suggestion box. His question stumped me, and I have been working on an answer for a while now. I intuitively knew the answer was yes –– there is a difference. I just did not know why. After some research and effort, I would like to explain why Feedback (with a capital “F”) is a defined term of art that is wholly distinct from commentary, criticism, praise, tips, or the myriad of suggestions we give each other in the workplace (what we might call “general guidance”).

To facilitate my argument, let me explain the characteristics of Feedback that I see as being different from general guidance. Most individuals are great at giving general guidance. We always offer thumbs-ups, likes, and comments in our social media feeds. It is quite common to hear someone say, “Have you tried such and such?” Or simply spend three or four minutes around the breakroom and you are likely to hear someone say, “Don’t worry it will be fine.” Ever spent time in a sports bar? There is no shortage of arm-chair quarterbacks and future NBA executives in the making.

Even a simple sentence submitted through a suggestion box that says, “We need more PTO,” falls short. Why? When? For everyone? Moreover, what we call coaching or criticism is often misguided. I remember each year my daughter would prepare for the inevitable post-game rant where her soccer coach would throw up his arms and yell, “You need to do better!” How? In what scenarios? What if someone is already giving their best?

Because it’s mostly vague and ubiquitous, general guidance fails to move the needle. There may be a few insights, and they may even be relevant, but does the advice do anything? Does it help someone see something in a different light? Does it motivate someone to change?

Our goal here at DecisionWise is to help leaders use Feedback in the workplace to improve their leadership and overall effectiveness. As such, Feedback works opposite of general guidance and should have the following key characteristics:

  • First, our intent must be in the right place. The insights we choose to share must be delivered to help a recipient improve. One of my favorite quotes when it comes to Feedback is this:

“Telling people they are missing the mark is not the same thing as helping them hit the mark.”

  • Second, Feedback should be deliberate and gathered and delivered in an organized manner –– inside a framework. By organizing how we capture and convey Feedback, we send the core message that the information is important. This ensures that givers take the time to deliver the right messages, and recipients carefully review and incorporate what is shared.
  • Third, Feedback needs to have context. For this reason, we use tested and validated behavioral statements inside our 360 Degree assessments to ensure there is proper context to the underlying guidance. Measuring someone based on business competencies provides us with all sorts of cubbies in which to save and sort our thoughts.
  • Fourth, givers must be close to the situation. They need to know the recipient and work with them regularly.
  • Fifth, Feedback givers must have subject matter expertise in the Feedback they are sharing. Otherwise, why should the recipient trust what is being said?

In the end, Feedback works, and is different, because it is purposeful, contextual, knowledgeable, and organized.

As you peruse my list, did you notice anything? Hopefully, you see that 360 Degree Feedback follows these core Feedback rules. This is one reason 360s work, and why they are vital tools in helping employees grow and develop.

I invite you to look at how we handle 360s here at DecisionWise.