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  • Writer's pictureNeil

3 Keys to Effective Feedback Conversations

Updated: Feb 3

TL;DR: Feedback drives engagement. We keep failing at it. Here's how to get better.

  1. Equip every manager for continuous feedback (John Doerr, Measure What Matters Resources)

  2. Cultivate psychological safety by training all levels and role types to give effective feedback and receive effective feedback (Edwin Dando,

  3. Normalize and hold space for healthy conflict and difficult conversations (Liane Davey, Knowledge at Wharton)


In popular discourse, effective feedback is

a 'nice to have'. A great 'soft skill' that amazing leaders do naturally! Something to try our best on - when we find the time.

Gallup found that only 26% of employees strongly agree that the feedback they receive helps them do better work.

Why this matters

Gallup observed a linear correlation between frequency of meaningful feedback and employee engagement.

Leaders have a vested interest here. Engagement links to “many organizational outcomes, including profitability, productivity, customer service, retention, safety and overall wellbeing” (Gallup, 2022).

Disengagement leads to a 20% drop in productivity (Brené Brown, Dr Donald Sull).

The effect increased for hybrid/remote roles:

Driving this in the right direction should be a slam dunk. So where do managers fall flat?

3 Common Failures

Failure #1: Pushing 1x1s

As managers pursue their own development, 1x1s may be viewed as a 'time suck' that jam the calendar. They obstruct the manager's facetime with senior stakeholders, and delay focus work into evenings and weekends.

If 1x1s aren't creating value for both parties, they will be pushed or canceled.

Action: Make 1x1 cadence an active choice - otherwise they become a chore. Establish ownership for agenda, tracking & follow ups. Openly discuss how to make 1x1s more impactful in both directions.

Observe where managers may be overcommitted. If 1x1s are getting pushed, there may be other high-value activities in the 'important, not urgent' quadrant getting dropped.

Failure #2: Avoiding the conversation

Delivering feedback can be uncomfortable. Managers may convince themselves that for productivity and tactical reasons (looming deadline, team morale) now isn't a great time to deliver feedback.

Delaying (or avoiding) feedback harms productivity in two ways:

1) It decreases our appetite to innovate and take risks. Anyone who has experienced unexpected or sudden critical feedback learns to avoid risk.

2) It creates missed learning opportunities for skills development and leadership growth.

When regular, two-way feedback loops don't take place, it becomes logical to disengage from work to defend our mental health.

60% of employees self-report as 'emotionally detached at work'. (State of the Global Workplace, 2022)

Action: Lower the barrier to great conversations. Upskill managers on effective performance and growth conversations. Examine and bar-raise your existing training.

Create a growth-oriented culture for managers that transcends the review process. Model authenticity, truth-telling and vulnerability by leadership.

Failure #3: Waiting for fixed review periods

Only 10% of non-millennial employees and 5% of Millennials think annual feedback is effective.

Many organizations have already transitioned to continuous cycles like OKR - CFR.

There is no magic bullet for development culture. Driving and monitoring adoption and efficacy is key - whether running OKR-CFR or any other format.

Action: Evaluate how cadence for performance and compensation reviews aligns with desired outcomes (or not!).

Anecdotal Evidence: My Story

Unfortunately, I've experienced how a lack of timely, meaningful feedback hindered my development.

Structurally, my manager wasn't set up for success either. We were both performing our roles within a rigid 12-month performance review process. This system made it easier to avoid transparency and timely, difficult performance conversations.

Here's how that impacted my work. I was actively building the 5 Pillars for a new role in a fast-growing department. Those interviews failed. After some head-scratching and back channel feedback, I learned that our new manager had changed the performance evaluation for the role I was performing. Under these new guidelines, my previous year metrics had been optimized in the wrong direction.

Naturally, that put me at risk during the organizational leveling review (OLR). That was some meaningful feedback I needed to have before setting my course and priorities in Year 2.

In Year 3 I transferred to a new industry & role better aligned with where I wanted to go - and the skills I wanted to use. It proved an immediate fit. I grew into a credible, capable and visible contributor on the team.

Three years of my career were shaped by one change in management and goals. All of this was framed by the 12-month review cycle and the avoidance of healthy conflict and difficult conversations.


There's a wonderful saying:

Learning feedback isn't scary.

-Kris Duggan, Forbes Technology Council

Liz Fosslien captures this beautifully.

Healthy, high performance and innovation all depend on effective feedback.

By ensuring frequent, meaningful two-way feedback, organizations can boost engagement, productivity and retention.

If leadership doesn't value development, management will optimize it away. Managers need support - through better skills training, prioritization, and recognition.

My 5 Pillars program lowers the ask for managers and direct reports. It reduces barriers to effective feedback and enables self-directed career growth at scale.

Engagement and team productivity got you down? Get in touch to learn more about solutions for your team.

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