Apr 19 / Jackie Kennedy

The Impact of Micro-Feedback

Performance review. Feedback session. Manager check-in.

How many of you are cringing in your seats with anxiety seeing these terms? You’re not alone. Most people don’t like receiving or giving feedback! It’s hard to give and can be even harder to take…but it doesn’t have to be.

We often interpret feedback as a flaw, rather than a lesson in the ways we can grow. Feedback is a gift…when done correctly.

In this article I’m going to explain the importance of why micro-feedback needs to be a behaviour woven into your organisational culture and leader led, and share a methodology we can all practise to deliver feedback appropriately. I’ll provide examples so you have a greater understanding of why everyone takes on feedback differently, and why, if done well - it can have such a positive impact on personal growth, team commitment, motivation, organisational culture and overall wellbeing.

My hope is that by the end of reading this, you start to feel excited for your next check-in. Or at the very least, not dread it as much!

Let’s dive in!

Organisations need a culture that values trust, vulnerability and care

Culture serves as the invisible scaffolding (the atmosphere) that shapes attitudes, behaviours, and norms within an organisation. When there is a culture of open communication, trust, and psychological safety, then feedback that is both empowering and challenging can be given and received better. You can’t give people difficult critiques and expect them to react well if you haven’t yet built a relationship or trust, and a relationship cannot function without trust. This is when people start to lose motivation, feel belittled, lose confidence, and of course take it personally. People are much better at taking on feedback (and don’t take it personally) if they know they’re valued and appreciated.

Complex systems need to be regulated

‘Complex systems are often referred to as “wholes that are more than the sum of their parts,” wholes whose behaviour cannot be understood without looking at the individual components and how they interact.’ -University of Waterloo

We as individuals, teams and organisations all fall under complex systems. For example, everyone has their individual role within the company that they’re working under but all those individual roles working together are what keep the business engine going. This doesn’t always mean that the system is optimised, running well or in the right direction, sometimes parts of it come to a complete standstill or spiral out of control. Which is what happens when the system goes into chaos or rigidity.

Chaos is described by disorder, confusion or complete unpredictability, while rigidity means we can’t adapt, change, or see things differently. And this happens when the complex systems we’re all part of are not regulated. Which usually occurs when there is not enough feedback in time or a lack of understanding of individual, team or business needs.

The power of micro-feedback or the constant feedback loop is that it regulates the system but it does more than that - it can create exponential growth.

Here’s an example:

Early on in my career I gave a presentation for a client workshop. Afterwards, my manager shared praise for how it went and how it was received. She reviewed the workshop and had some feedback that would help me be even more impactful in the future. The way she delivered the feedback for me to improve didn’t make me feel personally attacked, because I knew that she thought I was a good speaker. She just wanted to tighten up any small bits to make me an even better speaker.  Imagine she had never given me this feedback in my early career. I would still be making those same mistakes today. I still get feedback today around my speaking and this helps me to get better and better. This is what is so incredible about feedback and human beings is that if we accept the feedback and integrate it we grow exponentially as we are levelling up each time on the previous feedback.

Practising the methodology of micro-feedback is for everyone

There’s a well-known phrase that, ‘Culture is caught not taught’ . Leaders have to demonstrate being able to give and receive feedback in order for it to be picked up throughout the organisation and between peers. We know that traditional feedback paradigms like quarterly check-ins and end of year reviews often fall short, hindered by their static nature and hierarchical constraints.

Micro-feedback, on the other hand, is small, consistent and regular with a focus on specific, identifiable behaviour and is addressed with the emphasis on the opportunity to do even better! You want people to think for themselves and for them to come to the ways that they could improve and grow. It happens on-the-job just-in-time and should be an ongoing part of your weekly engagement strategy with your team. This ensures that things don’t grow and fester into something bigger, when all that was needed was some clarity in the moment. Micro-feedback should be role modelled by leadership at all levels.

You also need to share feedback in the appropriate setting depending on the time of feedback (i.e. showing a mistake that someone made in the all-team meeting won’t land well). And you need to understand each person’s capacity for taking on feedback and what else is happening for them (i.e. if someone just came back from sick leave they may not be in the best head space).

What I love about creating a culture of leaders as coaches is that coaches are trained to help individuals give themselves the feedback they need to hear. If you can use inquiry to ask someone how they believe X went and they can identify their opportunities for improvement and where they did well - this is ideal. You know you have done this well when your team members are the first one’s to point out how they could have done something better, what they have learnt or how they might do something differently next time!

Another option, if you are in the building phase of this coaching culture of micro-feedback would be to use the SBI method (situation, behaviour, impact) which helps remove assumptions and narratives in order to get to the real intent. How this works is by describing the situation specifically then describing the observable behaviour without any opinions and then sharing the impact that was felt and the results from the behaviour. The radical candour approach through courageous conversations is another good one for the leadership toolkit - to care personally while challenging directly.

Not providing feedback disempowers growth in both individuals and business

Going back to my personal story earlier of receiving feedback on the way I presented, I want you now to think about a piece of feedback that changed you, your career, maybe even your relationship.

  • Isn’t it better that you received that feedback and were able to evolve and grow?
  • Is there anything you want to share with a colleague or even your manager?
  • Do you think keeping it inside is doing them any good, or it is actually disempowering them to never reach their higher potential?

When feedback isn't interpreted as a contest between individuals; rather, a means of mutual empowerment then it opens up more opportunities to explore diverse viewpoints. Empowering feedback, alongside respectful debate, fosters an environment conducive to innovation and greater solutions. However, going back to my first point – the cornerstone of this dynamic is trust, vulnerability, and care from all parties involved.

The big potential of starting small

I am a firm believer that effective feedback mechanisms serve as the lifeblood of a healthy organisational culture. Continuous micro-feedback is what keeps us from becoming too chaotic or rigid. It is what helps us learn, grow and evolve. It’s what keeps us honest, happy and growing. Without it we may never reach our potential, feel resentful or frustrated and not say what we need to say to better the whole.

Imagine the potential of getting this right: individual wellbeing is uplifted, team motivation surges, and the company flourishes. Isn’t this what we all want? I know it may sound easier here than it does to action in real life but I guarantee if you make micro-feedback a habit your conversations will get easier! We’re complex individuals, working in complex systems with many moving parts and changes. So I want you to start super small. Remember, lots of small steps lead to big changes.

What is one piece of empowering micro-feedback you could give someone today? 

Onward and upward,

One of the main components of the LeadMe programme is that we help individuals regulate their systems and then train leaders to regulate the team and organisational system with feedback. If you’d like to discuss this topic further or learn how our LeadMe Academy Leadership Development Programme can help train your managers and leaders to create a culture of feedback, reach out to me on email jackie@leadme.academy
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