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Inspiring, not Demotivating: The Art of Giving Feedback

High-quality feedback may save a company a ton of money, and its employees—a dozen sessions with a therapist. Feedback shows how to achieve better results without any negative emotions, name-callings, or demotivation involved.

Why Is Feedback So Important?

In the business environment, feedback is frequently confused with criticism. In reality, these two terms have nothing in common. Criticism can cause negative emotions, while feedback—inspiration for bigger achievements, which is why it’s so important to share it regardless of your position.

Feedback is evidence-based information that unlocks multiple opportunities. It enables us to see a matter from different perspectives, stumble upon creative ideas and better solutions, and implement them faster and more effectively than you would without it. Isn’t this exactly why we work in teams? This is how we reinforce each other, and I see great value in this. Even in a successful project, there’s always something that can be improved and lead to greater results in future.

Feedback can actually be a sign for you that somebody wants to build a long-term relationship with you. If you are worried that your colleague or manager often reaches out to you with feedback, it can mean that they are truly interested in having a long and effective cooperation, and feedback can help adjust your work and improve the results. And on the contrary—the lack of feedback may be a good reason to think whether your services are really in demand.

The most effective way to evaluate an employee is the 360 technique. It consists not only of the feedback from the manager or the closest colleague, but of that from multiple other people, both inside and outside the company. This is necessary for providing an unbiased assessment. For example, your manager sees the results of your work, while not being sure how you act in the process and whether you have enough hard and soft skills, or if it’s comfortable for you to work with overlapping areas of responsibility.

How Can Feedback Affect a Product?

Feedback is extremely important for improving a product. At ZiMAD, our most valuable source of ideas regarding project improvements is our users. So, to a certain extent, the success of ZiMAD apps depends on the level of soft skills of our colleagues from such departments as Community and Support. Here is a good example: The Challenging Puzzles category was introduced to Magic Jigsaw Puzzles after we had uploaded a UGC video where a player was solving a very large and complicated real puzzle. It impressed and motivated the community so much that the players asked us to integrate such content to the game.

How to Provide Feedback?

Providing feedback is a true art: you need to constantly remind yourself that it shouldn’t be just a train of various thoughts—your goal is a win-win situation, where you provide your opinion, and the addressee will end up with a clear vision on how to implement the new ideas without feeling criticized or frustrated.

Here are some important points to consider:

Make sure your feedback is actually required, and the recipient is ready to get it. It’s always best to ask first than give unwanted advice. For instance, you can say “I have a suggestion on how to improve our results. Would you like to discuss it?”, or simply “Do you mind if I give you some feedback?”Plan the structure. It’s important to avoid any personal remarks, provide specific examples, and highlight growth areas so that it’s clear that you are not saying that everything is bad but rather pointing out some details that could be improved.

In my environment, it is customary to use the classic “sandwich” technique when providing negative feedback. This means that we interchange positive moments and growth areas in such a way so that both the beginning and the end of the conversation are positive, while helpful suggestions are put in the middle. After all, the goal of feedback is to inspire and not say that everything has to be reworked, which will completely demotivate the person you are talking to.

This is also why we have weekly/monthly reports or sprints. Not only they let us show our progress to the management, they also motivate the team to achieve more, show the work they can be proud of, and demonstrate that there is a lot to appreciate, even if some mistakes were made. They can happen, and it is completely fine.

The world is not just black or white, or good or bad. Each team or employee has both strong and weak sides as well as areas of growth and development. And it’s important to focus on positive things as it helps provide feedback in a better and easier way.

STAR Method

In addition to the “sandwich” technique, at ZiMAD we frequently use the STAR model for providing feedback, where:

“S” and “T” stand for “Situation” and “Task”. They have to be explained to provide the context.“A” stands for “Action”. Here, you tell how somebody else has already resolved such a task and what needs to be done to avoid the same mistake or fix the problem.“R” stands for “Result”. This is where you describe what has been achieved by the Action and why it has worked.

Mistakes Are a Part of the Process

This model lets us learn from our mistakes and share experience. In our company, punishing or firing for making a mistake is unacceptable. We approach every problem individually and make conclusions. Letting a person go is never the answer. Even though we can admit that it is easier, every new employee can make the same mistake again. A smarter decision is to get to the bottom of the issue together, share the new experience with your colleagues, and move on.

This way, the company can grow its best professionals. It’s impossible to find a candidate who would fit 100% of your requirements, but there are still cases of people losing their jobs because of a mistake they made. For example, research showed that from 2021 to 2022, 25% of employees were let go because of cybersecurity-related mistakes they made.

I think that mistakes are a natural part of the working process. At any stage of your career, you can come across situations where you lose the sense of direction or feel unsure about your decisions, especially if your occupation is somehow connected to innovation. Patience and exchanging feedback can really help. This is how I see effective teamwork in companies of the present and the future.

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