The Feedback Formula: Get Desired Future Behavior

by | Sep 22, 2019 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

Giving effective feedback is one of the core skills leaders need to master, yet it’s often a skill that leaders struggle with.

Purpose of Feedback

The primary purpose of feedback is to get desired future behaviors. So often we get hung up on making a point, being right, and making sure she agrees with our assessment. But none of those are relevant when it comes to effective feedback. Instead of getting bogged down in mind drama, we want to keep clear focus on the purpose of feedback: to get desired future behaviors.

Two Types of Feedback

To get desired future behavior, we give two types of feedback: Reinforcing and Correcting.

Reinforcing Feedback: Recognize helpful behaviors you would like to see repeated

Correcting Feedback: Share the impact of unhelpful behaviors you would like to see changed

While we give both types, it’s important to give more reinforcing feedback than correcting feedback. For those of us in the continuous improvement world, this can sometimes be a challenge because we usually focus on gaps as opportunities for improvement. It’s just naturally where our minds go. But I’m going to challenge you anyways.

Shoot for a minimum ratio of three reinforcing feedbacks to every one correcting feedback. Don’t go crazy with some complex system to track it. Just be purposeful.

Ask yourself some questions:

  • What behavior have I seen that I would like to be repeated?
  • How could I address this same behavior with reinforcing feedback instead of correcting feedback?


Effective Feedback Formula

One of the biggest mistakes leaders make when it comes to feedback is simply not giving it. When I dig into understanding why, it often comes down to this: I don’t know what to say. So let’s clear that up and make it simple for you.

There are four elements in the Effective Feedback Formula:

  • Present Tense
  • Specific Behavior
  • Impact of Behavior
  • Quick, Casual Close

Here’s what that might sound like if you’re a Lean Leader or in the continuous improvement world:

  • When you follow standard work procedures, it helps us meet our quality and delivery goals. Thank you for your commitment.
  • When you raise problems in the daily startup meeting, it signals to other team members that it’s safe for them to raise problems also. I really appreciate it.
  • When you take initiative to conduct Stand in a Circle activities and share your findings with the team, it positions you as a leader and helps the entire team learn more about the 8 wastes. Thank you.
  • When you keep problems to yourself and don’t share them with the team, it prevents us from understanding what problems need to be worked on. Can you work on being more vocal? Thank you.
  • When you focus the conversation on who’s to blame rather than the specific process, it puts people on the defensive and hinders problem solving. Can you be sure to focus on the process? I appreciate it.
  • When you jump to countermeasures before fully defining the problem, it puts us at risk of spending time trying to solve the wrong problem and inhibits the development of your problem-solving skills. I’d appreciate it if you’d focus on problem definition before discussing countermeasures.

Simple, right?


Avoid the Ditch by Making Simple Course Corrections

As you can see in these examples, feedback is meant to be a small course correction. I love this analogy from Manager Tools. Think of when you’re driving a car. You have a long, straight road ahead of you. You point the steering wheel to go straight ahead.

Then you take your hands off the wheel.

Does the car keep going straight?

No! It starts to veer in one direction. And if you don’t put your hands back on the wheel to course-correct, then the car ends up in a ditch on the side of the road.

We want to avoid the ditch.

Feedback is you putting your hands on the steering wheel and making small course corrections to the left and right to keep the car moving straight ahead to its destination.


Feedback is Wanted. And it’s Your Responsibility to Give It.

If you are doing a behavior that is helpful, would you want to know? Do you appreciate when your colleague or leader shares that feedback with you so you know to do more of it? Of course!

If you are doing a behavior that is unhelpful, would you want to know? Do you appreciate when your colleague or leader shares that feedback with you early on so you can make a minor course correction before it becomes a bigger problem? Of course!

Guess what?

Your team wants that too.

And as a leader (whether formal or informal), it’s your responsibility to give it.


P.S. – The five hats of Lean leadership are: Direct, Share, Teach, Coach, and Connect. Learn more about these five roles and how to build more connection by developing your leadership behaviors when wearing each hat. Register for this Free 30-Minute On-Demand Webinar Training Here.

Meet Jamie

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I’m a recovering Command-and-Control Manager who’s now on a mission to make the world of work more human. With a soft spot in my heart for Ops Managers, this Lean blog gives you the straight talk combining Lean, Leadership, and the real challenges of operations management.





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