Do You Engage People Through Feedback?

Nov 18, 2019

Feedback is one of the critical elements in corporate communication, not that it is not important in other life conversations. People’s engagement or lack thereof is found to be one of the biggest corporate challenges. In life and work situations, poor feedback results from low emotional intelligence.

Feedback is about helping the other person, not displaying what we know. The purpose of feedback is to engage a person, align that person with institutional goals and agree on ways to enhance performance to potential.

I was reared as a corporate leader in an atmosphere where my bosses, barring exceptions, did not establish an agreement on expectations with me and then berated me for not meeting them. They thought they were dynamic. I thought they were morons.

Till the new millennium, corporate leadership ask was to tell the followers to jump expecting them to ask, “How high sir?”. In today’s corporate environment, a millennial would turn around and say, “Why should I jump? Why don’t you show me how?” I would support the millennial. Such a query has nothing to do with the entitlement of the millennial; merely a basic assumption that we show respect to one another.

Feedback is no longer about telling. It is more about asking the other as to what you can do as a leader or coach to help the other’s movement forward, in alignment with personal growth and that of the organization.

The foundation of leadership is to first communicate clearly and transparently what the leader expects of the followers as goals, objectives, vision, mission, KPI or whatever else the organization determines as its charter. The responsibility of the leader is to establish organizational systems and structures that support the fulfillment of these expectations.

The purpose of feedback conversations should be to promote people’s engagement, which in turn enhances the performance of the individual and teams and alignment of individuals and teams with the organization. No organized rituals are needed for this. Often, they disrupt. What helps is an open, authentic conversation between leaders and their team individuals regularly through the year engaging them as humans rather than cogs in the corporate wheel.

Starting with pre-discussed and pre-agreed expectations of goals, preferably individually and collectively as teams, the leader should explore at least monthly with each of team members in an informal manner how they have performed, what can help them perform better, and specifically in what way the leader and the organization can help.

There are a few levels of feedback I have witnessed over the years as a corporate leader.

Levels of Feedback

  1. Criticizing the Person: Many leaders from my baby boomer generation believed that the best way to motivate and inspire people is to criticize them as individuals destroying their self-respect. They would throw the report back at the subordinate, shouting so that others can hear them say, ‘You are useless.’ Quite often, the leader would not even have fully communicated what he wanted to his subordinate. What resulted was a culture of slavery of those who remained. Thankfully, most baby boomers are dead. Unfortunately, the trait remains with a few even today. Organizations should have zero tolerance for such feedback and behavior. If you believe this example is fanciful, a chief executive I was hired to coach was doing just this every day. When he could not show me proof that he had set expectations, which he agreed to, I asked if we could work on his behavior rather than that of the subordinates he wanted changed. He reflected for 2 weeks and said that he understood what I was saying, but was not ready emotionally. We terminated the engagement mutually.
  2. Criticizing the Issue: This is only marginally better than criticizing the person. The comment now may be, “Your report sucks”. This is equally unacceptable. For most of us, what we produce reflects who we are.
  3. Telling the person what is appreciated, what was not good and can be improved: This level is the minimum acceptable in engagement feedback, where the purpose is to encourage, empower, and energize team members to grow. The leader should go through the ‘what’ the team member has achieved, appreciate first what the individual did well and then point out in a developmental way what can be improved. This is still a telling approach.
  4. Asking the person to say what can be improved: The minimum asking approach in a generative and empathetic way is to have the individual go through performance in line with agreed expectations and reflectively accept what needed to be improved upon and how. This should become the standard for engagement feedback in corporate settings. 
  5. Engage the person in a coaching conversation to explore: The best way to engagingly give feedback is in a coach like manner. All leader managers should be trained in this approach. The outcome would have been pre-agreed and discussed regularly. In the session, it would be for the subordinate, in this case, the client executive, to address goals that have not been fully realized, and seek exploration with the leader as a coach. Such an approach is in line with both coaching and leadership competencies and enhances performance to potential, both individually and systemically.

Process that support the coach like approach in engaging feedback

The conversation format covers the situation of current reality, sharing what was observed of the behavior and the impact on the other person. In this process as well, it is useful to obtain the feedback from the person to whom feedback is being provided.

As this CCL article also says, the Zoom In Zoom Out approach is useful in shifting perspectives from the micro to the macro level and reframing.

  • SET model used in OD Labs

Sensations, Emotions, Thoughts in a SET approach has been described in another article in Coacharya site. SET is derived from Organizational Developments HI Labs of National Training Laboratory.

  • Perceptual Position process derived from NLP was covered in another article in Coacharya site. It helps to understand the other person better and also helps the other person understand oneself better.
  • Questions similar to Gallup Q12, reframed here are the questions in a coaching context:
  1. What did we agree on as our mutual expectations? Do you still agree?
  2. Do you have the resources to accomplish what we agreed on? If not what do you need?
  3. How well do you feel you have performed, citing instances?
  4. How do you think you can perform better, learn and grow?
  5. Does the team and the organization provide you the psychological safety and inspire you to perform to your best potential?
  6. Did anyone appreciate and recognize you for your work recently?
  7. Do people in your team and your bosses communicate with you as a human being rather than a co-worker?
  8. Who encourages you to your growth and provided opportunities?
  9. Do you believe that your opinions seem to count?
  10. Do your organization values inspire you and motivate you?
  11. Who is your mentor at work?
  12. What will help you perform better and grow in this organization?
Ram Ramanathan, MCC
Ram Ramanathan, MCC


Ram is the Founder and a Principal at Coacharya. As the resident Master and mentor coach, Ram oversees and conducts all aspects of coaching and training services offered under the Coacharya banner.

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