Using feedback to achieve positive results

Using feedback correctly can be a powerful tool in a construction manager’s toolbox, says Leo Aspden.

Feedback can lead to improved performance of the manager, their team, subcontractors and the projects. Get it right, and the rewards can be transformational, get it wrong, and it can be a disaster leading to demotivation, frustration, lack of commitment and damaging results.

Construction management will be familiar with the typical performance criteria surrounding projects, often relating to the delivery of a project on time, against budget and to achieve agreed quality targets, for example, BREEAM or Passivhaus standard. In providing feedback, managers must also consider the timing, quality of how it is delivered and the cost benefits associated with improved performance when it is used effectively.

Timing feedback

According to Officevibe’s Pulse Survey software data, 23% of employees are unsatisfied with the frequency of feedback from their direct manager, while 28% of employees report that feedback is not frequent enough to understand how to improve.

It is no longer appropriate to undertake employee appraisals just once a year. Likewise, to provide feedback on the completion of a project as a type of debriefing is missing the point. Surprisingly, project leads may not provide feedback regularly, or feedback may be ad-hoc, not scheduled, or provided too late to be effective.

The pandemic has highlighted the value of regular check-ins with team members. Whilst the emphasis here was on hybrid working, well-being and engagement, the same principle can apply to feedback. In addition to regular team meetings, and at key project milestones, consider the use of frequent one-to-one check-ins, both of a formal and informal nature throughout the project, as well as upon completion. Of course, this can prove a challenge given the complexity of projects with multiple teams. However, using planned formal and informal communication points can create opportunities for feedback. Sometimes, a scheduled 15-minute check-in can be just as effective.

Giving feedback

The quality of how we give feedback is crucial to how we lead and develop our teams and the results we will achieve. Often, where feedback is given it is predominantly focused on the negative, where managers feel that it is part of their role to correct and provide guidance on what should be changed and how things can be improved. A survey published in the Harvard Business Review on 7,808 managers suggested that 73% see themselves as effective when they give negative feedback, while only 41% see themselves as effective when they give positive feedback.

I love the approach of best-selling author and research professor Brené Brown. For her books “Daring Greatly”, and “Dare to Lead,”  she developed “the engaged feedback checklist.” Based on her extensive research with leaders, the checklist is intended as a guideline for feedback readiness. I want to highlight a few key pointers that resonate deeply with my experiences.

“I’m ready to listen, ask questions and accept that I may not fully understand the issue.”

The emphasis here is less on telling, lecturing, advising and guiding and more on facilitating, fact-finding, and approaching it from a place of curiosity. Even where feedback is provided with the intention of being corrective, managers would be well advised to use a form of questions where the person receiving the feedback is required to engage their thinking, evaluate their approach, and explore alternative ways which could have been taken and what the outcome may have been.

“I’m ready to acknowledge what you do well instead of picking apart your mistakes.”

This is not simply about dressing things up in a positive spin. When deadlines are tight, or targets or performance have not been met, it can be tempting to cut to the chase and focus on only what needs improving with a clear “the project is over budget, this isn’t good enough, you need to find ways to reduce project costs.” A more effective approach would be: “I know that the project is over budget, the way you achieved the quality targets whilst meeting the ambitious deadlines has been exceptional. The costs are higher than agreed though. What can we do to bring this back in line with the budget and what support do you need to do this?”

“I recognise your strengths and how you can use them to address your challenges.”

In this case, you might highlight their strengths whilst raising awareness of areas where they may not have used them. “One of your strengths is clearly in project management, you are excellent at ensuring the level of detail required. In this latest project, that level of detail was missing. What do you think the reasons for that were and how could it have been approached better?

Welcoming feedback

For feedback to be effective, it should not be all one way. When leaders and managers truly embrace the power of feedback, then they will nurture a culture where feedback is encouraged from their colleagues and direct reports.

Getting good at receiving feedback is equally as important as giving it. Creating a feedback loop is essential to a leader’s skill set. This can be an area where managers may be filled with anxiety that this may undermine their authority and leadership when the truth is that inviting and being open to feedback can improve overall performance and effectiveness.

The challenge in all cases is how the feedback process is handled and may require some coaching. Using an experienced coach can help develop a more effective approach to feedback as a powerful tool in creating awareness, responsibility and achieving positive results.

Leo Aspden is a high-growth business consultant and leadership coach with more than 30 years’ experience of working with businesses in the construction sector in coaching, leadership development, business strategy and marketing.

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