Accountability Essentials: Providing Effective Feedback

In last week’s post, I introduced the three levels of accountability. This week, I will continue this discussion by turning to the next step in fostering a culture of accountability: effective feedback. True accountability cannot exist without feedback and rewards—areas in which most organizations have weaknesses.

Unfortunately, most managers dread providing feedback, which seems to have such a negative connotation in our society. No matter how many negative comments are offset with positive ones, recipients always seem to obsess over perceived slights. This tendency is actually physiological: Our brains are wired to be biased toward negativity—a phenomenon that can undermine trust and rapport.

Needless to say, if your feedback is strictly positive, there’s no way for you to provide constructive input. On the other end of the feedback continuum, overly critical feedback will discourage employees’ efforts. Leaders need to strike the right balance.

Here’s a more helpful way to view the feedback continuum:

Feedback-MatrixWhen you deliver feedback, you can offer high or low levels of support and challenge, with relatively predictable results.

If you, for example, provide supportive, yet unchallenging, feedback, your employee has no reason to change. Without any challenges, the employee may become complacent, bored or disengaged.

Conversely, if you give employees a challenge, but provide low support, they will probably perceive a stressful command-and-control environment. Why should they give their best without supervisory support or positive reinforcement?

Most feedback falls into two quadrants of the matrix:

  1. There’s too much support, without enough challenge (enforcing the status quo).
  2. Overly critical feedback creates too much stress (low support/high challenge).

The most effective managers, leaders and coaches provide high-support/high-challenge feedback, which increases employee awareness while pushing for enhanced performance. You can say, for example: “Your recent report was stellar. You covered all the basics and backed them up with research. Here’s an idea to consider: How can this report be better? I’d like to see you come up with one or two ways to make it airtight. How would you do that?” Reward good performance but don’t encourage complacency, and make sure expectations are always clear. Setting clear goals and checking in regularly is also a good way to offer support without fostering dependency.


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