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Feedback: A Cornerstone of Accountability

Julie's picture

Feedback is a cornerstone of accountability and may be the single most important element of accountable leadership.   However, most people find feedback personally challenging, and so they avoid giving it, even when it’s truly needed.

Many leaders don’t fully understand the power of giving timely feedback, nor do they appreciate the consequences of not giving it. When you avoid giving feedback you contribute to ongoing, unresolved problems that result in stress and lost productivity.

Feedback creates the ‘culture of openness’ that I referred to in my last blog post on accountable leadership.  Through positive and constructive feedback, your colleagues, direct reports, and others will know that you are engaged and paying attention, that you care about their performance, and that accountability isn’t optional.

I want to share a simple, evidence-based process for giving feedback.

Step one: Describe the behavior.  Choose specific, recent, and clear examples of behavior that represents behavior you want to address. Notice the focus is on observed behavior, not feelings or emotions.  The more concrete you are the better. 

For example:  “Lynn, at last week’s meeting, you agreed to do 15 chart reviews to help us track whether patients were screened for sepsis while in the ED. But, you came to this week’s meeting without having done the chart reviews. I’d like to understand what the barriers were to conducting the chart reviews.”

Notice how the description of the behavior is very specific and objective.  This approach is much more effective than vague feedback like, “Lynn, you aren’t following through on your responsibilities.”

Remember that feedback can be both constructive and positive.  It works best if you give as much positive feedback as you do constructive feedback.  People are more willing to listen and internalize feedback if they feel equally recognized for positive behavior.

Step two: Describe the impact of the behavior.  Think through the broader impact in a concrete way so that you can share it clearly and decisively.

As an example:

“Because the chart reviews were not completed, the project team still doesn’t know how many screenings are getting done, which delays the team’s ability to move forward with the next improvement cycle. We have an aggressive deadline for achieving our project aim and we may not make it with this delay."

Step three: Share how you would like the person to behave moving forward.  Gain agreement.

Following our example, you might say, “Moving forward, please let me or the team know ahead of time if you are running into barriers that will cause you to be unable to complete the chart reviews. If I don’t hear from you prior to the meeting, I’ll assume you’ve been able to complete the assigned task.  Does that work for you?.”

What if they get defensive?  Be prepared for some defensiveness, potentially at every step of the process. Use active listening to navigate defensiveness. 

For example, Lynn may make an excuse like, “I couldn’t do the chart reviews because I got slammed on the day that I was planning on doing them.” Resist the temptation to immediately disagree.  Listen to the person’s point of view and prove that you’re listening by paraphrasing back. You might say: “It sounds like you were really busy that day and ran out of time.”

People tend to relax when they think they are being heard and their viewpoint respected.  After you have listened, you can revisit your original point,  “The chart reviews didn’t get done because you ran out of time.  How could you have avoided running out of time next time?”

Listening, asking good questions, and avoiding blame can help the person arrive at new strategies to overcome challenges that limit their performance.

Giving feedback is an incredibly powerful tool in helping people grow and perform at the top of their abilities.  As a leader and manager, it’s essential in achieving accountability.  Like anything new, you will have to practice for it to feel natural and authentic.  Who needs your feedback right now?