Giving Feedback that Works
Feedback is information. The term “feedback” was originally borrowed from electrical engineering. In the field of rocket science, for example, each rocket has a built-in apparatus that sends messages to a steering mechanism on the ground. When the rocket is off target, these messages come back to the steering mechanism that in turn makes adjustments and puts the rocket back on target again.
You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to see the parallels between launching missiles and leading employees. Your mission is to keep your team on track with your practice vision. Feedback is the best way to ensure that your team is soaring toward practice goals. It is communication regarding the effect that a person’s behavior has on another individual and/or group.
Feedback tells people whether they are on course—keep doing what you’re doing because it’s working—or it redirects them back on course. The problem is most people associate the term “feedback” with criticism rather than information. As such, it is met with reluctance or anxiety, or simply avoided. Yet, the process of giving and receiving feedback is one of the most important communication tools you have to keep your office efficient and profitable.
In my last article I emphasized that annual appraisals are insufficient for employee development. I strongly urge you to conduct monthly reviews with each member of your team. Even “star employees” need to meet with you at least once per quarter so they know that you value and appreciate them. Whether you are praising stellar performance or monitoring a problem employee, good feedback is behaviorally specific.
An excellent model for giving feedback is called SBI, an acronym for Situation-Behavior-Impact. When you use this model, you provide information so that the recipient knows whether they are on track or need to modify their behavior because it is not effective.
There are three components of the SBI model. The first is to describe the situation in which the action occurred. Be specific with date, time and location. You want to capture the details so the person recalls the situation.
The next step is to articulate the exact behavior(s). This is essential and it requires a bit more thought than it might seem. Our tendency is to abbreviate and categorize what other people do. That leads to judgmental and critical messages. Describing Carol as “lazy” does not provide clear, tangible direction over which you have influence. “Carol is lazy” should be translated into “Carol needs to be more punctual with the weekly report.” In this way, you and Carol have a starting point andsomething that can be measured. No generalities; only specific, observable behavior.
The final step in the SBI model is to convey the effect that the other person’s behavior had on you. It might be feelings you had and/or outcomes that happened as a result of the person’s action.
Practice giving positive SBI feedback first so you will become more skilled and familiar with the model. Be specific. Drive-by praise without behavioral examples is ineffective. Strengthen “Great job!” with concrete details such as, “Thank you for taking quick action and filling the schedule when we had a cancellation this morning. It really made a difference in our daily production rate.”
Here’s an example of a developmental SBI to your chronically tardy employee:
Delivering quality developmental feedback will take preparation on your part. Plan your words and your delivery. The more you build effective feedback on specific actions, the more your employees will benefit from your improved leadership in this area.
You can learn to give feedback well. You must practice to improve your skill until the complex process of putting together all of this material becomes second nature. Build a climate of feedback in your office. Help your employees achieve the overriding mission—to be successful in their careers and in your office!
Dr. Haller is available for team building and dental leadership coaching. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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