Want to Know The Surprising Truth About How Feedback and Recognition are Soul Sisters?

By Sarah McVanel, Chief Recognition Officer, Greatness Magnified

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions” (Ken Blanchard). But what if you don’t eat breakfast?

We have shared a number of articles lately about feedback, and we even created a program, because we’ve heard loud and clear from you that it’s never been more challenging to give feedback.

Here are some of the things I’ve heard from you lately in response to articles and even when we chat after a keynote.

  • image of 2 coworkers with one holding a tablet and pointing to it giving the other feedbackAmidst workforce challenges, mistakes are happening, but do I have a right to give feedback when they’re doing double duty?
  • People are struggling, and I don’t want to make it worse.
  • Is it just me, or are people more sensitive?
  • I’m not face-to-face with people, so how do I give feedback virtually?
  • We constantly run into delays, and we’re discharging frustrations onto each other.
  • I am too busy to give feedback!

I get it! As much as we hoped we’d “get back to normal” (oh, the naivety of our youthful 3-years ago selves), the reality is that we’re settling into a less-than-ideal circumstance.

You don’t need to steer clear of feedback. Empathy, busyness, extenuating circumstances and 100 other reasons why feedback is challenging are legitimate. I’m not minimizing them. It’s just these can border on excuses and provide the fertile soil in which the problems of today will exacerbate the struggles of tomorrow.

If you knew someone might leave if you didn’t give them helpful feedback, would you give it?

I thought so. It’s kind to be clear. (Points if you can respond below who said that!)

Let’s face it. Lots of us would rather do our taxes than give some really tough feedback (or give that same feedback for what feels like the tenth time!) What if we told you feedback was an often overlooked way to recognize folks? Do we have your attention now?

Why Feedback Matters

Feedback provides your peers, direct reports and even your boss with valuable insights into their strengths and “invisible gaps” (formerly called “blindspots” – we don’t think this is a diversity-sensitive term, so we’ve scrapped it from our Greatness Magnified vocab).

When feedback is delivered effectively (which doesn’t mean perfectly or one-and-done), feedback promotes growth, boosts morale, and enhances overall performance. Role modelling feedback as “what we do around here” and actively encouraging feedback in your team and organizations to foster a culture of continuous improvement, respect and growth.

In fact, it goes hand-in-hand with a recognition-rich environment.

Recognition: The Foundation of Effective Feedback

Recognition plays a vital role in the feedback process. When we recognize the efforts and achievements of our colleagues, we establish a positive and supportive work atmosphere. By incorporating recognition into our feedback practices, we create a foundation of trust and authenticity. People are more likely to be receptive to feedback when they know their contributions are valued. As Theodore Roosevelt said: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

1. Make the Goal Positive Intent First

a word cloud in the shape of a checkmark with words of positive feedbackIs your goal to help and make folks’ better? Both recognition and feedback have positive intent. So, why not leverage recognition to make feedback more effective?

When giving feedback, know at least one strength and achievement you value. It will show if you don’t think they have anything to bring to the table. And any generalized positive comment will come across as artificial (because it is!) Any time you bring the conversation back to positive qualities, you (re)set a constructive tone.

Your goal is to leave the person better off, even if that feedback is tough. For this to happen, they need to trust you. Trust enables folks to receive feedback with less apprehension.

2. Focus on Being Sincere

We’ve all been encouraged to embrace the sandwich method. We called BS on the notion that a “positive comment” can “soften the blow” before the doozie of professional or personal criticism. Who feels great about getting criticized, let alone after a relational bait-and-switch? The feedback sandwich method is like a cheap toy at the dollar store, manufactured for short-term use only.

How to soften the “blow” of something negative? Be real! Be curious. Be clear!

To avoid being insincerely cringe-worthy, show you value the person and know what behaviour needs to change and how you know the person is capable of being successful. We have a formula we share in our course. Table stakes, though, are seeing the person as separate from the performance you need to see addressed and capable of making the necessary shift with the support and guidance of you and others.

We’re rejecting sandwiches. Hey, we may be pro carbs here at Greatness Magnified (some might say we’re carbivors); however, we’re never pro feedback sandwiches. We’d rather go keto before we endorse that!

3. Expect growth and progress

Do you know how you can feel when someone would rather be anywhere else but with you? Icky vibes, right?

Whether you don’t like giving or receiving feedback, are pressed for time, are annoyed that the expectations have to be reiterated, or any other factors that make you want to be somewhere else, know that the loop running in your head will “leak” out in a variety of subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

If you’re “too busy to have this conversation,” consider how it’s an investment in the relationship. If you “don’t know why you have to keep reiterating the same thing,” reflect on how it takes some people and some skills and many repetitions to get it right (just ask my dad how many “parallel parking Sundays” we had before I finally nailed it).

Feedback is growth. It might be for you to get super speedy and sharp in delivering it if it’s happening a lot. It might be the person receiving feedback. It might be the team as they get used to giving and receiving feedback from each other more.

4. Accelerate Accountability

Folks tell me they dislike giving feedback, besides finding it uncomfortable, because they feel they cannot believe someone isn’t accountable enough to do something on their own effort, particularly if they have had this conversation before!

As a fellow high achiever, I get it!

Image of of the steps on the ladder of accountabilityRemember this: no one cares as much about your role, project, business, family (or other key responsibilities) as you. That means we need to spell out what you need them to do in a respectful and clear way. What does success look like explicitly?

If they cannot meet that, maybe it’s time to explain that things aren’t working firmly but fairly. Your 80% might be someone else’s 110%. Invite a dialogue whenever possible to check in if you’re both on the same page and listen to their feedback about issues. Is it an excuse, or might there be something legitimate about it? We have a tool we think might help you figure out where this line is.

The Ladder of Accountability helps you gauge where they (and you) are on an accountability “two-way ladder.” rather than fixate on being accountable or not accountable in binary terms. Consider, instead, how far up (or down) someone seems to be on the ladder and how to get some movement upwards. The reality check is about them and also about you!

One Feedback Step at a Time

If you’re thinking, “Okay, I get it, Sarah, but it’s harder than it looks!” I get it! I feel you!

As a card-carrying recovering people pleaser, it’s taken a long time to get comfortable with giving feedback even if the person may not want it, and it would be easier to hope things get better. Wait, and hope isn’t a strategy. Now that I’m a hardcore feedback convert at the tender age of 47, I cannot let an opportunity go by without giving feedback. Sometimes that’s a compliment. Sometimes, that’s to clear expectations. Sometimes, it’s a question because something’s not working. Sometimes, it’s explicitly stating what isn’t working—the whole gammit.

image of a new course being offered Building Trust Through FeedbackI’ve boiled everything I’ve learned about feedback done well into one short, powerful, tools-based virtual course. You can do it in an hour or less; guaranteed, you will buy back your time and energy within the next conversation. Check it out.

Need Some More Inspo?

I had a weekend of feedback. Two neighbourhood issues. One family expectations conversation. And one longstanding close relationship that just wasn’t okay anymore. Everyone left me a little emotionally drained – I am the HSP (a highly sensitive person). However, every one of those relationships is stronger for it. Immediately. Not just “one day,” but NOW.

You know the relationship that is the most strong for it? The relationship with myself. When I give feedback or weigh in on an important issue, it starts with a choice: “Is this worth giving feedback?” Said another way, is how I am treated/how I live my life/how I experience my business/how I love worth it?

Am I worth it?

The answer is “heck yes!”

Are YOU worth it?

Darn right, you are.

So, the next time you think feedback harms relationships, remember it can help. Feedback is a relational investment. The first relationship it helps is the one with yourself. Tell others how you want (and deserve) to be treated through your feedback. Recognize others by showing they’re important enough to take the time and effort to give feedback. And recognize the existing strengths – within yourself and others – so feedback can result in successful outcomes.

Recognition is feedback, and feedback is recognition. Who knew?

We have been talking about recognition and feedback for a long time. Check out these other resources for more inspiration:

“There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.”

– Mother Teresa

Deb Rakonjac

Organizational Development, Purolator Inc.

"Sarah nailed it!  She worked with the planning group to learn about the organization, the audience, the desired key messages and integrated it seamlessly into her keynote. Her energy was contagious! We received rave reviews of this portion of our event and Sarah was able to speak to all members of our organization in a way that motivated them to recognize others everyday. Our executives were extraordinarily pleased and integrated FROGging into their recent board meeting. Purolator is grateful to Sarah for dropping the pebble and we continue to see the ripples from this session across the organization. Working with Tami was phenomenal and the supports were easy to integrate to ensure the session went well. Thanks to you both!!"
Douglas D Swift

President & CEO, Swiftco Inc.

"I have had the Sarah experience in numerous settings: As a keynote, around a table with several other business owners, one on one over coffee, chatting with others at a conference reception, dining with a small group of colleagues. No matter the setting you always get the same Sarah: engaging, attentive, interested, inspiring, motivational, genuine. And always with an infectious smile. Do yourself, your company, your association a favour. Get the Greatness Magnified (Sarah) experience. The payback is priceless."
Judy Kucharuk

Director, Marketing and Special Events, Encana Events Centre

"Funny, full of energy and incredibly motivating – all words to use when describing Sarah and her passionate stage presence. We were fortunate to have Sarah join us as a speaker for Spark Women’s Leadership Conferences and her presentations about leveraging greatness hit the core of our objective at SPARK: “A rising tide lifts all boats”. I would not hesitate to recommend Sarah to other organizations that are searching for a well-prepared, well-organized, thoughtful and passionate storyteller."
Shelley VanVeen

Learning & Development Manager, Libro Credit Union

"Sarah brought so much energy and enthusiasm to our International Women’s Day event at Libro! Her message was uplifting, thought-provoking and truly appreciated by our team. Dealing with Sarah was wonderful – she was open, professional and willing to work with us to customize her message to incorporate our culture and connect to our topic and participants. During the session, she was a pro with a powerful message and a fantastic delivery. We had wonderful feedback from all that attended and can’t wait to have Sarah back for another session in the future!"
Sylvia D’Intino

Executive Director, Community Living Hamilton

"THANK YOU so very much for leading the engagement activities today! You’re a constant professional, with an amazing attitude and always seeing the great in everyone. I am grateful for how you have helped us this year to transform our in-person staff recognition events into virtual and on-location events. Our staff feel more inspired, appreciated and motivated after they hear you speak, and I know our amazing in-house team here looks forward to designing engaging appreciation events with your support."
Melissa Chaulk

Manager of Professional Development

Canadian Dental Hygienists Association

"We work hard at CDHA to give our members a wonderful conference experience, so we were thrilled to have received resoundingly positive feedback on Sarah's opening plenary keynote. It was the highest attended of the entire conference for both dates!"
Jamie Campbell

Director, The Center for People in Organizational Development, Sheridan College

"Smart, challenging, innovative, committed, dependable, and reliable, I highly recommend her for all your recognition needs. I have brought Sarah into my last two organizations to help build a culture of recognition and celebration. The focus on appreciation is more important now than ever."

Some of the Great Organizations We Serve