You’ve heard how badly employees want frequent, helpful, honest feedback; how damaging the lack of feedback can be on work results; and how turnover increases when coaching or feedback are scarce. As a result, you recognize that feedback is crucial to your team and your business, and you’ve done something about it. You’ve emphasized feedback at meetings and offered leadership classes in how to give great feedback. You may even be in the top 10 percent of second-level leaders who hold first-level leaders accountable for giving feedback. So, why haven’t you seen the positive results of frequent feedback in your organization?

No matter how much training you’ve offered and how often you’ve pounded the feedback message home, you may have noticed one or more of these situations still occurring:

  • Leaders and colleagues chatting about someone’s poor performance behind his or her back
  • Continued mistakes or poor results from individuals and groups who should have shown improvement by now
  • Frustrated employees who want to advance but who are not receiving feedback about how they can work toward that goal
  • People who are disengaged and complaining about the lack of communication in the company

Conventional Feedback Training Methods

Consultants, mobile apps and 360-degree feedback tools will only take you so far. Even carefully developed or selected state-of-the-art feedback instruction based on well-researched methods and techniques is not foolproof. For instance, skills training, whether it’s for new supervisors, mid-managers or executives, probably includes a feedback model that involves steps such as these:

  • Describe observed behavior
  • Explain the impact of the behavior on customers, results, etc.
  • Suggest follow-up steps to correct a problem or encourage greatness

Those three steps make up a tried-and-true model that describes the necessary components of useful feedback. If you’ve noticed that the training and tools you invested in thus far are not stimulating leaders to offer the feedback you are looking for, don’t panic. Invested leaders are not afraid of giving or receiving feedback.

The COIN Model

A similar feedback method, the COIN model, includes a preliminary step: connecting with the other person over one or more common goals. The model contains these four topics for leaders or co-workers to discuss:

  • Connection to a shared goal
  • Observations that are specific
  • Impact on the business
  • Next steps (suggest, discuss and agree upon)

In training classes, participants should practice the model using real-life scenarios they are planning to address with their employees. Variations include practice activities using role-plays or case studies.

There are many other helpful training topics that are covered in conventional training: research on the importance of feedback, how to fill out simple planning sheets, forms and phone apps, and more. These topics can be helpful, but they will not help people become comfortable giving feedback. Unleashing useful feedback in your organization requires leadership more than training.

What Does Work?

Based on observational research in over 80 organizations over several decades, the factor that most often results in managers’ giving frequent, useful feedback is first-hand experience receiving frequent, helpful feedback from a boss or other leader. This experience makes a life-changing difference to employees and leaders at all levels. Those who receive it, and especially those who are encouraged to return the feedback, are likely to carry on the practice with teams they lead at the time and when they are promoted to higher level management positions.

In addition, feedback focused on clear work goals and applied with great frequency (from several times a week to every few weeks) makes it easier to give and receive than when feedback is scarce. In some of the best organizations, feedback is made part of the culture through everyday meetings, casual one-on-one conversations and in groups looking for improvement.

Some of these companies do not have formal training on how to give feedback. Rather, leaders teach it through example. Once people develop the courage to give feedback and see how well it worked, they are more willing to do it. Using the right words and phrases is secondary. When companies have a simple model and explain it in training or written materials, the powerful experience of seeing feedback work first-hand is what brings the model to life.

Feedback Development

Organizations should place a much greater emphasis on coaching, facilitating and encouraging the most influential leaders so that they welcome giving and receiving feedback and develop the courage to do it frequently and helpfully. Only then will they realize the great promise of feedback.