Giving Feedback

I have been thinking about how to give feedback in a positive way. Ever since my sad tantrum over the “this is terrible” comment from Friday, I have been trying to think of ways that I would offer critique, being honest without being overly harsh.

Here it goes:


As a manager, the most important thing I can do to ensure a positive outcomes on a project is to set clear goals. If the project is a document, or a gala for 1,000 people, both the manager and the team need to know what success looks and feels like, and how it will be measured.

Part of this is to set a clear timeline for the project. Not everything can be finished ASAP. Helping the team to understand what work is urgent and what work is less time sensitive will ensure that the crucial work gets done quickly, while longer term projects can be just that.

Some Elements of a Feedback Process:

1) Instead of offering value judgement (like “this is terrible”), ask your team member if this document is accomplishing its intended objective. I like asking “Is this working?” or “Is this doing what we need it to?” I had an old boss who would look at a grant report and say, “So, what story are we telling?” It helps to depersonalize the critique by making the outcome about the audience, not the creator.

2) Set clear benchmarks, and then judge the given set of tasks on that benchmark. For example,  if I had known that the document I was making needed to be in its final format, I would have tried harder to make it look nice. My understanding was that it was a mock-up for content only, because I am not versed in the various graphical formats that this company uses, and i had been working on content only up to that point.

3) Ask your employee what they need from you to move forward on the project, and then try to give it to them. Even if you don’t know what the final outcome will exactly be, you need to give some guidance. It’s not “let me do this for you,” but rather “what information or decisions do you need from me in order to take your next set of actions?” I think this is the difference between micromanagement and regular management.

My views on this process are heavily influenced by what I am going to start calling my “negative learnings” from these ten years of work in the nonprofit world. But also, mostly, by the The Management Center’s amazing and effective management tips and tools that are all available on their website. As I continue this process of self-guidance, I use their techniques a lot, including the best “To-Do List” ever.

But I also wonder if my approach to work like this is too much driven by content, and not enough by form. I was reminded recently of how much of a problem this was when I wrote my masters thesis–all ideas and no structure, until the very last set of drafts.

1 comment
  1. Very interesting post. I think that a lot of the time people don’t evaluate the impact their feedback has on the receiver.

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