Two Useful Feedback Techniques For Engineering Managers
5 min read

Two Useful Feedback Techniques For Engineering Managers

Giving feedback is one of the most powerful transformational tools that a manager can use to foster people growth. However, as in everything we do, there's useful and useless ways of doing that. In this article we will explore two techniques that will increase the ROI of your feedbacks.
Two Useful Feedback Techniques For Engineering Managers
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I believe that giving feedback is one of the most powerful transformational tools that a manager can use to foster people growth. However, as in everything we do, there's useful and useless ways of doing that. It is extremely important to understand the different between both and improve your techniques to offer useful feedback to your reports.

In this article I'll share two techniques that you can use to increase the value of the feedback you provider to your reports.

The first one is the SIA model (Situation, Impact, Action) and the second is PEW model (Perception, Effect, Wish).

Situation, Impact, and Action

In this model, you will clearly describe which situation you are talking about, the impact of the person's behaviour on that situation, and the actions you see as options for the person to take in order to create a more positive impact in similar situations in the future.

This technique supports you to clearly communicate the context of the conversation. Both parties involved in the communication know right at the beginning that a particular point in time and a specific behaviour will be discussed. This helps the person to recall the situation before receiving the next bits of information.

Following the context clarification with your perspective on the impact of such behaviour on other people or to the outcome of the situation, will be helpful to the other party to reflect and associate the behaviour in discussion to a potential improvement opportunity. This will lead to reflection and increased awareness.

The last part of this technique is where you will be as helpful as possible and will offer suggestions on possible actions you feel that your report could do in order to improve the outcome of such situations and behaviours. Also important in this moment it to set clear expectations when it comes to the performance of that person in your team.

Here's an example of a not so helpful feedback:

Me: "Hey Ben, you did great this Sprint, well done!"
Ben: "Cool, thanks!"

Some of Ben's thoughts after this type feedback:

  • What did I do well?
  • Was he talking about my contributions during the planning meeting or something else?
  • Was he talking about the extra mile I went to achieve our goals?
  • hm, I remember I joined the daily scrums later most of the times during this Sprint. I think that okay for him, so all good.

Here's an example of a much more helpful feedback:

Me: "Hey Ben, during the incident we had in system A during this Sprint, your fast response and the coordination between teams without any supervision or help on my side are a clear sign that you care about our customers and have the independence required for your current level. In similar situation in the future, that's the exact behaviour I expect from you in such situations"
Ben: "Cool, that's great. I was not sure if that was the right approach and if that was you meant to me when we had a conversation about handling incidents with a customer centric approach. Not it's clear to me that this approach is the right one. Thanks."

Some of Ben's thoughts after this conversation:

  • I was not sure about how to react in case of incidents, now I know what's expected.
  • I was afraid to cross some borders when I reached out to other teams and pulled some people together to solve the issue without asking other managers. Now I know that's okay in such critical situations.

Remember the example of coming late every day to the team's daily scrum? Here's how I'd approach that using the SIA model.

Me: "Hey Ben, during this Sprint, you came late to all daily scrums, this is not the professional behaviour I'd expect from you as it feels you don't care about other people's times and I cannot trust you to be on-time for appointments. You should be more careful with you time management and make sure you're on-time for the meetings you agree to participate. In case you feel you wont make to the meeting on time, please let the team know. Your time is not more important than any other person's time."
Ben: "Sure, yeah, I understand what you mean and the impact this has on the team. I will review my meeting notification settings and will make sure I'm not late for the meetings. Also, I will try to inform in advance when for some reason I will not make to join on time".
Me: "Alright. Thanks for being open to understand the impact of your behaviour on this situation and be willing to change.".
Ben: "Sure, thank you for the feedback".

Some of Ben's thoughts after this conversation:

  • I understand now that punctuality has a big importance for my manager.
  • I understand that when I join the daily scrum late, the team don't know if they should wait or carry on without me.
  • I understand that it feels disrespectful when I repeatedly come late to a team meeting.
  • I understand my manager will be observing this behaviour moving forward and in case I don't improve this could have a negative impact on how my manager sees me.

As you can see, structuring a feedback using the SIA model can be very helpful to provide useful feedback, clarify expectations, and offer guidance on how to create better outcomes our of low performing situations.

Perception, Effect, Wish

This technique is slightly different as it starts with a personal perception. It uses the "I" approach, where the the conversation will always start with the manager's perspective.

The effect is similar to the impact on the SIA model. You will usually start the sentence with some keywords like "As a result..", "This means that", "This causes", "Consequently".

The whish is also equivalent to the action in the SIA model. You should in this case start the sentences with "I whish...", "My expectation is...", "It could be great if you...", "Moving forward I'd like you to...".

Lets see the same examples using this approach.

Here's an example of a useful feedback:

Me: "Hey Ben, I observed that you had a fast response and the did a great coordination between teams without any supervision or help on my side during the incident we had last Sprint. This means to me that you care about our customers and have the independence required for your current level. My expectation is that you repeat such behaviour in similar situation in the future."
Ben: "Cool, that's great. I was not sure if that was the right approach and if that was you meant to me when we had a conversation about handling incidents with a customer centric approach. Not it's clear to me that this approach is the right one. Thanks."

As you can see, this second approach is just a different way of structuring the same foundational elements of useful feedback.

Conclusion

Giving feedback without a certain structure will not be as effective to the receiver in comparison with one delivered with structure. Therefore, it is fundamental to incorporate either one of the techniques above or another one that enables the same elements of a good feedback: Context, Impact, Action. The two techniques presented in this article are easy to implement and will help you big time to achieve better results from the feedbacks you deliver to your reports.

Do you know any other technique? I'll be happy if you share it with me. Leave a comment and share your experience.