Constant, constructive and open. Make sure feedback hits the mark

Feedback is crucial for everyone’s development, but no one likes hearing what they are doing wrong. Vicky Cooper, Head of People and Culture at Total Media examines how to deliver feedback so that it’s a win-win for everyone.

With appraisal season coming around again our minds start to wonder to the dreaded subject of ‘giving feedback’. Most of us find this the hardest part of an appraisal and it’s not surprising; studies have shown people go into fight or flight mode just by hearing the sentence: ‘I’d like to give you some feedback’! There’s an additional challenge in the ad industry too that we are usually good friends with our colleagues which can make giving feedback even more cringe-worthy.

However, feedback is critical to all of our development. Absolutely everyone has areas they can improve on and it’s often very difficult to see these yourself, so fostering a culture of open two way feedback is critical for everyone. If you can get into the regular habit of doing it, it becomes much easier and the people you are feeding back to will be less shocked next time you have a development point for them, and might even thank you for it.

So here are my top tips for giving constructive feedback:

  • Don't wait until an appraisal to feedback! Although feedback forms a large part of the appraisal process it shouldn’t just happen once or twice a year – it should be ongoing and when linked to a specific event done in a timely manner.
  • Give and get feedback from a variety of different sources. Yes, what your manager thinks is important but finding out what your peers, clients and other stakeholders think will give you a fuller picture. This is often referred to as 360 degree feedback and if your agency doesn’t have a process for this, just work with your manager to decide who you want to ask and send them an email asking if they will contribute to your development. Here is a useful template:

Hi xxx
As part of his/ her personal development, xxx has asked for your feedback on how you currently perceive him/her in 3 ways:
What does xxx do well?
What could xxx do better?
What other comments do you have about xxx‘s work and behaviours?
This feedback will NOT be anonymous but I would ask that you be as open and honest as possible.  I will then share your feedback with xxx at our meeting.
If you’d like to contribute to xxx‘s professional development, please do the following:
reply to this email with your comments under each of the 3 headings (write as much or as little as you like)
be as open,  honest and as specific as you possibly can be, with a view to xxx being able to take action on your comments for his/ her improvement
Please do not share your views or this email with anyone else, as it is a personal request of you
Please reply to me as soon as you can and by xx/xx if possible.
Thank you for taking the time and for supporting xxx’s onward journey of development.

  • Don’t make feedback anonymous. This will help foster an open feedback culture and make it much more useful for the person receiving it.

  • Make the feedback objective – not personal

  • For really difficult pieces of feedback plan out what you are going to say in advance. There are lots of great models to help you do this. I like ‘AID’ which stands for Action, Impact and Development. Work through each letter; what specifically happened? What was the impact? What can be done going forward? Here is an example of the AID technique in practice:

You are an Account Director and the Account Executive in your team is pushing hard for a promotion and feeling frustrated at the time it is taking to get to Account Manager. The reason they haven’t been promoted yet is they are coasting along and not pushing themselves out of their comfort zone or raising their profile within the agency, and you decide to use the AID model to give them this feedback:
Action: you explain that last week an opportunity arose for AEs and AMs to attend a ‘pitch masters’ session where those less exposed to pitching had the opportunity to get involved in a live brief and present back to the board. You saw this as a brilliant opportunity to develop their skills and get involved in an agency wide initiative and were surprised that they didn’t take up this opportunity
Impact: you explain that because of this others may misunderstand their ambitions to progress within the agency. You explain it was also a missed opportunity to develop a key skill that AMs require
Development: you agree together that they will put themselves forward to be involved in both the next pitch master session and also a new opportunity to become a NABs ambassador which will give them a board liaison role. You explain that you need to see them taking this kind of initiative over the next 6 months, and if successful they will be well on their way to AM level.

  • Finally, if you are a manager make sure feedback is two way. Ask your team regularly what they think that you could do better too.

Giving and receiving feedback is key in keeping us all on track and giving us the opportunity to be our best selves at work. When it is done right and everyone commits to giving it, great things can happen. Giving feedback is a skill that needs to be constantly used and developed, so as we approach the latter part of the year, sieze the opportunity and integrate giving feedback into your daily practice.

Find what style works for you and go for it!

Last updated 21 January 2022