“It’s just not working for me. Can you try something else?”
There is nothing more frustrating to those doing creative work than hearing feedback from a client or manager that is vague, imprecise, and lacking any sense of direction. In order to effectively perform, talented people need clear boundaries within which to operate. That’s the role of the leader – to specifically challenge them within clear guide rails. As I wrote about in Herding Tigers, this is bounded autonomy – freedom within limits.
But giving feedback about creative work can be a tricky task. It’s not just about giving a thumbs up or down, but about providing constructive critique that can help the person grow and improve their work. Here are some tips on how to do it well:
Turn the microscope on yourself first
Before giving any feedback, it’s important to reflect on why they may have missed the mark. Were your expectations clear? It’s easy to say that something isn’t working, but without clear expectations, it’s hard to pinpoint what’s wrong. Take a step back and ask yourself what you were hoping to see from the work.
Were those expectations realistic? If not, you certainly can’t blame someone for not hitting them.
Distinguish between effort feedback and execution feedback
When giving feedback, it’s important to distinguish between effort feedback and execution feedback. Effort feedback is about the idea behind the work. It’s important to know the difference between a bad idea that was well-executed and a good idea that was poorly executed. One requires execution feedback (let me help you get better), while the other requires effort feedback (let’s make sure this never happens again).
The intensity of your feedback should be aligned with whether you’re coaching-up poor execution or correcting inexcusable behavior.
Before giving any feedback, it’s important to reflect on why they may have missed the mark. Were your expectations clear? It’s easy to say that something isn’t working, but without clear expectations, it’s hard to pinpoint what’s wrong.
Saying that something “just isn’t working” doesn’t help anyone. You need to be able to articulate the “why” behind the “what” of your feedback. What specifically isn’t working, and why? And, is there a deeper why behind the project that isn’t being met with the work? Talented people need to understand not only what to do, but why it matters.
Always offer feedback within the context of vision
Don’t just point out what’s wrong, but also paint a picture of what’s possible. Ask a lot of questions and let the person arrive at the answer themselves. This way, they’ll be more likely to take ownership of the feedback and make the necessary changes. And, you’re helping them, understand strategy, not just tactics. This means you are equipping them to deliver effective work in the future.
Feedback is an important part of the creative process. By turning the microscope on yourself first, distinguishing between effort and execution feedback, being precise, and offering feedback within the context of vision, you can provide constructive criticism that helps the person grow and improve their work.
Remember, feedback isn’t just about pointing out what’s wrong, but also about painting a picture of what’s possible.
Last modified: September 1, 2023