Sheet Metal & Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association

Developing Leaders Through Feedback

Ron Magnus on LeadershipCollectively, companies spend billions of dollars for leader development, utilizing everything from public seminars to executive MBA programs at prestigious universities. While all of these have value, people sometimes overlook one of the simplest tools, available free to everyone—real-time developmental feedback.

Some people believe, “if you screw up, I’ll let you know” is all the feedback people need. When we speak of feedback, we aren’t talking about giving compliments or criticism. To paraphrase a superintendent I met recently, we aren’t talking about “delivering a size 12 steel-toed message to a strategic anatomical location.” We aren’t even talking about an annual review process, which is a topic for another time.

Performance feedback is usually delivered with the intent of getting someone’s behavior or performance up to a basic minimum standard. “If you’re late one more time you won’t be working here anymore” is an example of direct performance feedback.

We think of feedback as a simple but powerful means of creating better leadership behaviors and actions through specific affirmations and precise course corrections.  To that end we teach two kinds of developmental feedback—Plus and Delta. Plus, feedback means, “that’s really effective. Keep it up.” Delta (symbol for change) means, “You could be even more effective if….” Developmental feedback is always delivered with the intent of helping someone improve their performance.

The feedback loop is comprised of 3 steps. 1) Observation 2) Effect 3) Plan. Here’s an example.

  1. A president of a specialty contractor observed his director of business development (BD) make a presentation to a prospective client that resulted in a lot of great questions and sustained dialogue.

  2. The effect was they got a call the next day that they’d been selected for the work.

  3. The plan for the BD guy going forward? Just keep creating well developed presentations and creating dialogues, not monologues.

Communicating this valuable information (along with a genuine “thank you”) took less than two minutes and was a powerful affirmation of great behaviors that will lead to continued success for the individual and the company.

I once asked a former big-league baseball catcher what’s going on when a catcher walks to the mound to talk with the pitcher. “It’s usually an issue of mechanics,” he said. Maybe his elbow is flaring a bit, or his windup is off, so his pitches are not quite where they need to be. He can’t see that kind of thing so I let him know what I’m seeing so he can make adjustments.” That’s about as good a definition as I’ve ever heard of feedback.

We’ve seen companies transform their culture by consistently giving (and receiving) Plus/Delta feedback, because people have clarity into which behaviors to continue, and which to alter. If you’re looking for an high return for a minimal investment with your leader development, you won’t do better than creating a culture of developmental feedback.

Ron Magnus, managing director of FMI’s Center for Strategic Leadership with Ed Rowell, CSL consultant