Feedback Without Coaching is Like Peanut Butter Without Jelly

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We’ve all read the research: feedback is having it’s moment. Apparently everyone wants more frequent feedback and they are willing to take the good with the bad: 57% of employees say they prefer corrective feedback not just positive feedback, and 72% say it would improve their performance.

But is weekly feedback what everyone really needs (or wants)? I say no; more doesn’t always mean better. In fact, feedback when it’s not delivered with context, or it’s shared between two people (like a manager and an employee) who don’t have a strong foundation of trust it can do more harm than good.

While giving and receiving feedback is an essential part of skill mastery, it’s not what makes people remarkable at their jobs, let alone great leaders. It’ just not enough.

What people really need is feedback & coaching combined. While there are many differences between feedback and coaching (unfortunately people use the term interchangeably) there is a subtle difference that really clarifies why you should strive to do both:

At the highest level there’s a difference between feedback and coaching because they don’t relate to the same moment in time.

Feedback is based on past performance and includes a manager reviewing a performance or behavior, judging it, and offering either praise or constructive criticism on what could have been different. It is triggered by actions performed around required tasks or existing goals. It’s less about development and more about prevention.

Coaching is based on future performance and includes a manager’s baseline understanding of an employee’s current performance (of skills or tasks) and includes offering prescriptive advice on how to specifically strengthen the performance of a skill or task. It is triggered by both short term opportunities to improve performance, but also long term opportunities to grow in an individual career path. It’s more about development than anything else.

Why is this subtle difference critical to understand? Career development has become one of the most important factors in choosing an employer. In fact, according to Gallup, A full 87% of millennials say professional development or career growth opportunities are very important to them in a job.

Another subtle difference lies in the direction of the focus.

Feedback is more informational than inspirational because it points back at the employee (i.e., “I see what you did there – and here’s how to change it next time.”) In this sense it can prevent an employee from repeating a behavior, but it doesn’t focus on preparing them for their for their next great performance.

Coaching on the other hand is not delivered as a direct response to a performance or behavior, rather it is triggered by a continual desire to strengthen a skill or behavior, and usually points towards someone who is modeling the mastery of that behavior. In this sense – it’s inspiring the employee to work towards something greater.

In my opinion, feedback is now table stakes for sustainability but coaching is the secret weapon for growth. In a coaching culture, “people are committed to the success and performance of other people — not just the success and performance of themselves.” Moving forward, that subtle change of focus will make all the difference in an organization’s ability to grow.

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