Hungry for feedback

 
TAKE the Lead
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BY ROBERTO TOLEDO, MBA, PMP, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR

Communication allows us to exchange ideas, solve problems and reach our intended goals.

Yet one kind of interaction makes us all sweat, even though it's a necessity in project management: providing feedback to team members.

“Feedback” is information delivered in response to a person's behavior or performance. Negative feedback is usually aimed at correcting an undesired behavior or poor performance, while positive feedback is primarily used as a motivation technique.

If providing feedback makes you cringe, fear not: There's a new communication tool on the project manager's menu that could replace a somewhat “stale” method.

EXPIRED FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Popular in management training in the 1990s, a model called the “feedback sandwich” suggested that any criticism should include three components.

  • Base bread: an opening remark telling the receiver what was done correctly
  • Filling: a comment on the behavior or actions that need improvement
  • Top bread: a restatement of the team member's good work and your confidence in the person's future performance

This model is now regarded as nothing more than a pill sweetener, according to a recent University of Chicago study. For experienced professionals, receiving a clear description of failings and ways to improve is more appreciated than a double dose of cheer, the study shows.

THE NEXT COURSE

I regularly use the “F3 Burger,” a newer model named for the communication tool's three middle layers, all beginning with the letter “F.” Like the feedback sandwich, it's based on layering information in a way that's effective and easy to digest. It captures both positive and negative feedback, and can help project managers navigate difficult conversations with team members.

  • Base bun: Look for the right moment and place to address the person. Never give feedback in a hurry or in the middle of a heated discussion. Choose a private setting, such as a closed office.
  • Facts (meat): Do not start by sharing your opinions or what you overheard. Instead, provide data. For example, describe exactly how many times a person failed to meet a deliverable deadline and by how many days. Don't spare the details.
  • Feelings (cheese): Use plain and simple language to express your feelings about the mistake. Take ownership of how you feel and state your emotions, whether that's anger or frustration. Sharing emotions can make you feel vulnerable, but it leaves a clearer, longer-lasting impression on the receiver.
  • Future performance (vegetables): Express what you want the other person to do to correct the behavior or performance. Provide a step-by-step action plan. This should include weekly check-ins until you feel that the wrong course has been corrected.
  • Top bun: Highlight the collective benefits of the proposed change, which are often easy to spot: The project manager will have a better-performing team member, who proves to the organization he or she is willing to improve. PM

 

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Roberto Toledo, MBA, PMP, is managing partner of Alpha PM Consulting, and a trainer and consultant who works across the Americas. He can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter at @robertoledo.

PM NETWORK MAY 2013 WWW.PMI.ORG

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