Leadership in Action – Pattern or Event? When to Give Feedback

man talking in the meeting

Traditionally, when we see a team member making an error or mistake, no matter how small, we want to jump in and provide feedback and “coach” so that this mistake does not become a new habit. At the same time, when a team member does something well, we wait to see if it happens again – proof of actual change – before we give them positive feedback. This is backwards.

When we jump on every mistake, in the belief that we are helping our team member to get better, we create a fear of making mistakes. This fear eventually inhibits their risk-taking, initiative, creativity, and general performance. At the extreme, the team member disengages from their work. This is the direct result of providing negative feedback at the event level.

Granted, there are some mistakes so outside of normal performance that immediate feedback is required. However, these usually involve a violation of safety, values or ethical issues.

In most cases, a mistake is an event. You want to hold your feedback so that the team member can autocorrect. To illustrate this, think of your team member’s task as throwing a dart into the bull’s eye. They take the first throw, and it is low and to the left. What value would you add by letting them know that it is low and to the left? Most people will compensate in their next attempt to throw higher and to the right. After a series of attempts, they will continue to get closer and closer to the bull’s eye. This is the idea behind letting people autocorrect and adjust their approach to achieve the desired goal.

Using this same example, the team member may continue to throw low and to the left. Now you have a pattern of performance that is not being self-corrected. In this case, your feedback is needed, as one of two situations may be in play. One, they do not know that they are low and to the left. (In other words, they do not know they are not achieving the goal.) Or two, they do not know how to make the adjustment to be more on track. This is where feedback and coaching come together to help your team member.

The other side of this process is when to give positive feedback. When we wait until the new behavior is a pattern or habit, we provide recognition of accomplishment, but miss the opportunity to provide encouragement along the way. This can lead to a more fixed mindset in your team member, that nothing is good enough unless it is done perfectly.

Using the same dart-throwing analogy above, as they start to autocorrect and get close to the bull’s eye, provide encouraging feedback that their effort is making a difference. Their work to adjust their approach is leading to better and better results. You do not have to wait until they hit the bull’s eye. You encourage the process of getting to the bull’s eye.

In sales, this plays out as encouraging the calls that make the appointments, the appointments that make for the proposals, and the proposals that make for the sale. If we wait for the sale to provide the only feedback, then we are not building the resilience and efficacy of a solid work process that will continue to generate sales.

So, to Energize Action and encourage true resilience in performance, wait for a pattern of mistakes, allowing your team members to autocorrect; and provide positive feedback on the events that show progress toward the goal.