This is a confusing time to be alive. There is both too much information and too little information — all at the same time — a situation confounded by the impending projection that the COVID-19 curve will soon peak in much of the world. The impact on business is unpredictable and unprecedented, leaving even the most monolithic organizations in a state of constant ambiguity.
At the end of the day, however, businesses and companies are run by people. And as the complexity of the impact of COVID-19 continues to transform business life, we have to ensure our people are operating as efficiently and effectively as possible. We must exercise the valuable skills of giving and receiving feedback. People need feedback if they are to perform at their highest level. They also need a variety of feedback: good and bad, specific and general, public and private.
When things are confusing, and when business priorities change over days or hours rather than months or years, it is virtually impossible to keep up with all your people. Nevertheless, you can’t afford inefficiency in your workflows, you can’t lose the trust of your people, and you can’t overlook your relationships.
So, what can you do? Now is the time to brush up on valuable feedback skills.
Types of Feedback
During my time in retail at Starbucks and Apple, I consistently practiced giving and receiving feedback based on a simple matrix: Specific and General. Positive and Negative. If you put these different types of feedback into a matrix, you’ll see that each serves a different purpose. For example, a positive general feedback comment might be something like, “Awesome work, team!” which is great for rallying the group or acknowledging a general win.
Specific positive feedback, on the other hand, takes longer and requires more thought than general feedback. Clearly articulating feedback delivers a different impact. For example, “Wow, everyone rallied around our new org structure to adapt to the COVID-19 impacts on our business. I also am so grateful that everyone picked up additional hours and learned new skills to quickly pivot us to tackle the changes in business, Thank you!”. This has a very different impact and purpose.
Same goes for Negative Generic Feedback and Negative Specific Feedback.
I find that the vast majority of people struggle with giving any type of negative feedback. This is not the time to be uncomfortable! Muster your courage and invest time in understanding what it is you’re trying to accomplish during this time of duress and confusion. Move your feedback more and more into the Specific category. Specific feedback allows for better communication, better alignment and greater efficiency. It also enables people to know where they stand.
What helps me is to structure regular one-on-one meetings with my reports and manager. I also end each meeting with a 360-degree feedback loop where we each tell each other what we enjoyed about one another’s work this past week and what we didn’t. The act of exchanging feedback weekly minimizes its difficulty over time and also helps with building trust and calibrating expectations more quickly. Even if giving and receiving feedback is awkward for the first few weeks — and it will be! — stick with it, especially during this time of extreme change. Honest and productive feedback will ensure we’re better able to ride this wave together.
Young Han is an executive, advisor, speaker and entrepreneur with more than 20 years of success in creating and implementing strategic operations plans to solve growth challenges. He has been an executive with Cafe X Technologies, Limelight Health, Stanford FCU, and Philz Coffee. He is also a university guest lecturer and advisor to a myriad of business ventures. Young is the founder of the Forever Young Agency, a consulting firm specializing in operationalizing growing companies to achieve their strategic goals.