How to Be a Feedback Hero/Heroine: 5 Key Elements

How to Be a Feedback Hero/Heroine: 5 Key Elements 150 150 Wally Hauck, PhD, CSP

What is a hero? It is a person admired for their courage and their outstanding achievements.  It’s someone who fights through their fear and accepts a challenge to achieve a worthy goal(s).

We are a bit obsessed with heroes in the USA.  According to (Internet Movie Database) there have been 86 superhero movies in the past 40 years (1978 to present day).  That is more than 2 superheroes saving the earth and standing against evil per year for 40 years.  Why are we so enamored by them?  I am not a psychologist, but I can guess.  It’s the drama.  It’s the battle between “good” and “evil”. Most of us want “good” to win and it most often does.  Even though we know “good” will win, we still watch.

In the workplace the manager is often seen as a hero. He/she is an all knowing being who solves problems faster than a speeding bullet.  Seeing our managers as heroes is unfortunate.  They are not superhuman.  They are not omnipotent even though we often expect them to be so.  However, it is useful to see a courageous leader serve others by providing effective feedback because that skill provides individuals with development opportunities and leads to employee engagement.  Employee engagement leads to improved customer experience and that leads to measurable financial results.

If a hero is an admired courageous person who achieves amazing results, we want them.  To become a feedback hero requires insight into 5 key elements.  Knowing and practicing these elements can make anyone of us a hero.

What is feedback?

Feedback can be a formal annual event, but it is more likely an informal and useful conversation.  If we are to attract the best talent, optimize their employee engagement, create a culture of trust, optimize innovation, and adapt to the speed of change, we must give and receive frequent fearless feedback.  It must become as natural as breathing.

A key insight for managers to become feedback heroes must include the clear distinction between feedback and criticism.  Feedback is data from a process for the purpose of learning.  Criticism is opinion or judgement.  Most managers don’t make this distinction and they often make things worse because they deliver criticism, but they think it is feedback. The person receiving the so called “feedback” rejects it because it feels judgmental and hurtful because it is.

Unsolicited criticism damages employee engagement.  The feedback discussion offers a better chance for positive change. Criticism is about the quality or character of the person.  Feedback is about the methods the person uses and methods can be changed.

Why is feedback needed?

There are six major reasons why effective feedback is needed.  Feedback helps: (1) improve performance; (2) accelerate learning and innovation; (3) people make decisions to more easily and naturally adapt to change while minimizing loss of productivity; (4) create accountability to certain desired behaviors; (5) to improve employee engagement; (6) improves customer experience. In other words, it is a key for us and our organizations to develop toward high performance.

According to a Harvard Business Review Journal article, 72% said they thought their performance would improve if their managers would provide corrective feedback.

Furthermore, 92% of the respondents agreed with the assertion, “Negative (redirecting) feedback, if delivered appropriately, is effective at improving performance.”  12% were Baby Boomers, 50% were members of Generation X, and 38% were in Generation Y

And finally, 70 % of employees indicated that “My performance and possibilities for success in my career would have increased substantially if I had been given more feedback.” (Flokman, 2014)

Some additional insights from the Harvard Business Review article are:  The willingness of a manager to provide feedback to employees is a powerful way to increase employee engagement and commitment. In addition, those employees who receive the least are the least engaged. Receiving corrective feedback from a boss produces a much higher level of engagement than receiving none at all.

Zenger goes on to claim that receiving the right kind of positive feedback has a huge impact on improving employee productivity and increasing engagement and feedback is the cornerstone skill underlying a number of leadership responsibilities.

Who needs to give feedback?

Everyone can and must provide feedback.  In the famous words of Michael Corleone, “It’s not personal.  It’s only business.”  A business is a social system.  In a social system everyone can be both an internal customer and an internal supplier.  Customers who give useful feedback to suppliers are creating improvement. Learning is occurring.  When learning occurs, improvement is not far behind.

Everyone can be a customer and/or supplier of information in a system. Therefore, everyone can and must be able to provide feedback to their internal suppliers and even their internal customers.  Feedback does not have to be “manager dependent”.

When is feedback needed?

The best leaders ask for more feedback, Recent research of over 50,000 executives, found that “Leaders who ranked at the top 10% in asking for feedback were rated, on average, at the 86th percentile in overall leadership effectiveness.”  The bottom 10% in asking for feedback rated in the 15th percentile in overall leadership effectiveness.  Conversely, if a leader was rated in the top 10% at giving honest feedback, their reports ranked their engagement in the top 23%.  (Jack Zenger, 2013)

Delivering feedback more frequently, and less formally, in a dysfunctional environment will not make things better.  The typical manager will make specific demands and then attempt to catch the employee either doing something right or doing it wrong.  This strategy creates a context of mistrust and sends this message to the employee, “You are incapable of managing your own performance without me watching you.”

A different approach involves facilitating a set of agreements with the employee.  An agreement is a specific, measurable, and time sensitive task that is delivered with a predictable process. Instead of making demands the manager created, shift the responsibility for creating a process to the employee. Ask the employee to make agreements.

If the employee fails to keep their agreement(s), it’s time for immediate feedback and coaching.  This shift allows for more effective feedback without the demand for forced frequency.  If the employee is willing and able to manage agreements, there is no need for feedback from the manager.  If they refuse or can’t manage agreements, then immediate feedback is appropriate and necessary.  The feedback discussion will center around the need for a process to improve.  It’s never about the person. It’s always about the process.

In this context, the purpose (the point) of feedback is 3-fold: First, to discuss when and if agreements are broken; Second, discuss when a process must be improved:  Third, when appreciation can be expressed for a job well done.

In this context feedback is not dependent upon a calendar.  Instead, it is delivered when everyone can learn something. We learn how to keep our agreements, we learn how to improve a process, and/or we learn when we did something extraordinarily positive and want it repeated.

How to give feedback

We have been taught ineffective (dysfunctional) and fearful way of delivering feedback and most organizations perpetuate this environment of fear.  I call it leadership malpractice.  We need fearless feedback instead. We have been taught to judge the person.  Instead, let’s use learning and love and avoid criticism.

Let’s assume the person wants to learn and their best intentions are always positive.  Therefore, how we deliver feedback will be factual, emotion free, supportive and with a serving attitude.

Check out the interview on C-Suite Best Seller TV to learn more about how to stop leadership malpractice and replace the typical performance review:


Wally Hauck, PhD has a cure for the “deadly disease” known as the typical performance appraisal.  Wally holds a doctorate in organizational leadership from Warren National University, a Master of Business Administration in finance from Iona College, and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania.   Wally is a Certified Speaking Professional or CSP.  Wally has a passion for helping leaders let go of the old and embrace new thinking to improve leadership skills, employee engagement, and performance.

Flokman, J. Z. (2014). Employees Want the Negative Feedback You Hate to Give. Harvard Business Review.

Jack Zenger, J. F. (2013). Overcoming Feedback Phobia: Take the First Step. Harvard Business Review.