Five Recommendations When Providing Learning and Development Feedback

Feedback. I once had a manager who told me that “feedback is a gift and you should receive it as such.” Interestingly, the mantra stuck with me years later. In the Learning and Development space, we constantly receive feedback. From our clients, production, end users, and even peers. Sometimes it can get a little overwhelming, especially when the feedback doesn’t feel like a gift.

The other day I received a text message from a friend who received feedback from a development manager implementing “learning excellence” practices in the organization. I had reviewed it and cringed seeing the sea of comments. I replied that I had and asked how my friend was doing. She replied, “Not good.” You see, the feedback was all negative, out of context, and challenged fundamental strategies discussed with the primary stakeholders.

It got me thinking about the feedback I’ve received over the years, those that felt like a gift and those that felt like a resignation prompt.

Here are five things that the gift feedback always included:

Positive Sandwich

Feedback shouldn’t always be a hunt for what is wrong; as the person delivering feedback, look for some positive things that the person has done.

What’s a positive sandwich? Start with something positive, provide corrective action feedback, and conclude with something positive. Starting with negative feedback or only having negative feedback in your comments puts the receiver on the immediate defensive and can cause lasting damage to the relationship.

Consider Your Tone

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ― Maya Angelou.

Your organization’s core values and personal drivers should come through when giving feedback. How can this be done if your feedback isn’t verbal? I worked on a project team where the Learning Solutions Advisor provided extensive input on his reviews (I would receive up to 30 comments on one short course). I could hear Tim’s voice as I would read his comments, “This is a really fun way of delivering this content.” “What if you included a different picture of XYZ in this part to bring it to life?” “Oh, I never would have thought of delivering it this way; great job.”

Ask Questions

No one wants to hear something they have spent time and effort on that didn’t hit the mark.

When providing feedback, especially on something you may not have the full picture or vision of, ask questions to clarify the direction, need, or purpose. These questions can help you gain insight into the person’s thought process and help you understand exactly where the situation went in the wrong direction. Be open-minded to the answers to consider the receiver’s point of view. For example, instead of stating, “Deleting this column breaks the rules.” You could ask why the columns were deleted. The person might have a logical reason or not. From there, you can provide constructive feedback to obtain the desired results. This leads me to recommendation four.

Constructive Advice

Once you have a clear picture of the situation, provide constructive feedback.

Simply stating, “Doing XYZ in this fashion is wrong.” Or “Having a 10-minute breakout group isn’t possible.” It might not be the best way to provide feedback, especially if the receiver has done a 10-minute breakout group in the past with great success. In addition, If the person didn’t feel it was possible, they likely wouldn’t have added it to the solution. Being constructive includes ideas on how you might present the content or deliver the message. Remember Tim? He guided the type of picture to have.

Right Place, Right Time

In the learning and development space, it feels like we’re two steps behind and five steps ahead, all at the same time.

Consider your feedback. Is it a deal-breaker to this specific stage of the process? Is it a personal preference or something that could “make or break” the project? In the heat of the deadline, what needs immediate action, and what can be saved for a time that might be less stressful where the receiver is open to guidance?

Feedback is an opportunity for the receiver to grow, adapt, and apply principles.

It might also be a simple recommendation to fix a typo or use a font.

Before providing feedback, think about these simple recommendations. Consider the relationship you have with the person. Do you know how they will receive your feedback based on your years of experience working with them? Being thoughtful in your approach will help you achieve your desired results, retain good people, and improve overall satisfaction. Heck, everyone might have fun as well!