Tools for Giving Feedback
Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from making
bad judgments.
—Mark Twain
Mistakes are learning opportunities. Quality improvement gurus such as
the late W. Edwards Deming have suggested that over 90% of all perfor-
mance problems are systems problems. e individual or the team may not
be at fault, but something in the overall process makes it dicult to succeed.
Perhaps management is giving conicting messages about priorities, or the
computer system breaks down at crucial times, or the system itself is con-
structed in a way that almost guarantees certain levels of performance.
Consider discussing major breakdowns not as failures, but as learning
opportunities. If you already have a good process for examining what went
wrong, use it. If not, consider the following steps.
Before the meeting with the individual or the team, make sure you have a
clear picture of what the problem is. ese steps are described for a one-
on-one meeting but can be adapted for brainstorming with a team. If you
can’t meet face-to-face, then conduct it over the phone. A web-based call
16  •  Feedback Toolkit, Second Edition
might work well for this so everyone can look at documents together.
Although simple, e-mail doesn’t lend itself to the spirited back-and-forth
interaction you need to make this process work well.
Tell him or her that you want to discuss an important business issue—not
to nd blame, but to see what both of you can learn from this experience.
Ask if he or she believes that the issue is worthy of discussion.
Ask for his or her opinion of what broke down.
Listen carefully.
Ask questions that help you understand his or her point of view.
Dont agree or disagree; just be curious and gather information.
Engage in Dialogue
Give your opinion as to what broke down.
Talk about the issue. (See “e Importance of Dialogue” in Chapter 1.)
Plan for Action
Identify what both of you can do in the future to minimize the chance that
this learning opportunity will turn into a failure.
ank him or her for taking part in this discussion.
When Scott Markey was district claims manager with a large insurance
company, he would advertise his own mistakes to his sta. By discussing
mistakes as learning opportunities, he not only learns ways to improve, but
also lets others see that it is better to discuss failures than to ignore them.
Tools for Giving Feedback  •  17
If you want to apply Scotts idea, use your own learning opportunity as
the issue and follow the steps listed above.
What to Watch For
For group brainstorming, it is important to give people time to think
about the issues involved before holding a meeting.
We are not used to discussing mistakes with others. Expect people to be
reluctant. ey may wonder what you are going to do with the informa-
tion. Will it appear on a performance review? Your rst discussion may
yield little, but be grateful for what you get, and keep at it.
Once people realize that you are serious and that their honesty will not come
back to haunt them, they will participate more openly in these discussions.
Just because you call it a learning opportunity doesn’t guarantee that
people will see it that way. Being vulnerable at work can be scary. It is
the land of level 2 fears and level 3 mistrust: “What will happen to me if I
really explain what happened?” (level 2). “Can I trust my boss to not con-
sciously or unconsciously hold this against me sometime in the future?
(level 3).
Philip Crosby wrote about dehassling the work environment. Here is a very
simple technique that might give you a surprising amount of information
about the petty hassles that get in the way of high-quality work.
No preparation is needed other than making sure you have a room and
ip chart or white board to write down responses.
Ask the group to think about the hassles of their daily activities. en ask
the group, “What are we doing now that we might be able to stop doing?”

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