As a manager, one of our key responsibilities is guiding the growth and development of your team members. Providing timely and impactful feedback is crucial in helping your reports enhance their skills and continuously improve their work. The SBI model is my go-to framework for giving both positive and critical feedback. I’ll go into the key aspects of this model and share a few personal takeaways to help you effectively implement it in your role as a manager.
If you’re familiar with the SBI model for feedback, feel free to skip to the takeaways section.
The SBI Model Explained
The SBI model, which stands for Situation, Behaviour, and Impact, is a structured approach to giving feedback. This model provides a clear structure and ensures that your feedback is specific, actionable, and focused on the effect it has on the recipient and the team as a whole.
Start by describing the specific situation or context in which the behaviour occurred. This helps the recipient understand the context and identify the exact incident or scenario being referred to. For example, “During yesterday’s team meeting when discussing the project timeline…”
Next, describe the behaviour or action that you observed. Be objective and focus on observable actions rather than subjective interpretations. Phrases like “I noticed that…” or “You did/said…” can be helpful in this step. For example, “I noticed that you interrupted your colleague multiple times while they were presenting their ideas…”
Finally, explain the impact of the observed behaviour on the individual, the team, or the project. Highlight the pros and cons. This step helps the recipient understand the significance of their actions and the importance of change. For example, “This behaviour may have made your teammate feel disregarded and demotivated, hindering collaboration within the team.”
This part is key as it explains what the benefit or consequences of the behaviour were. Ideally, the individual will acknowledge what they’ve done and treat this as a valuable takeaway.
Personal Takeaways for Effective Feedback
After practicing the SBI model for several years to provide both positive and critical feedback, here are a number of takeaways that I’ve learned.
Lay the foundation for giving and receiving feedback
When meeting a new team member, or working with someone new, it can be helpful to be explicit about your intention to help them out by sharing your intention of providing them feedback in the future. It’s also helpful to mention that you’re open to receiving feedback. This has a threefold effect: showing that you’re interested in supporting their success, preparing them to be open to receiving feedback, and the potential for yourself to receive feedback.
Write the feedback out beforehand
Before giving feedback, take some time to reflect and organize your thoughts. Writing out everything you plan to say helps ensure that your feedback is clear and concise. It also allows you to focus on the delivery of the feedback rather than worrying about the mechanics of the feedback model. This preparation enhances the effectiveness of your delivery. Over time you’ll get better at this, both determining which moments feedback should be provided, and being able to do it off the top of your head. When face to face with the recipient, mentioning that you have collected your thoughts by writing down the feedback and will read it back now can reduce the awkwardness of sounding like you’re reading something that has been written down.
Build up a habit of providing positive feedback
Not everyone will be used to receiving positive or constructive feedback from you. Its impossible to know how they’ll respond, and how open they’ll be. One way to work at building up a repertoire of providing feedback is to start by providing a few genuine positive feedbacks to the recipient over a period of time. An unsolicited message can do it. Over time this builds up the trust and shows that you’re supportive of them. Once this trust and openness has been built up, the recipient will likely be more open to and appreciative of constructive feedback.
Positive feedback can be shared via a quick message, but constructive should often be face to face
Many types of positive feedback can be shared over a quick message or email as there might not be much back and forth after the fact. It can be quite easy to make a message sound positive to the recipient. When it comes to constructive feedback, its easy for a recipient to read a message and misjudge the tone, making the feedback sound harsh. Having a real time face to face conversation provides much higher quality experience where the recipient’s emotions and reactions can be picked up on in realtime. Having a face to face also shows that you’re invested in their success as this takes more effort than composing a simple message or email. Another benefit is the proceeding conversation the recipient and yourself may have to dig deeper into the feedback, how they see things, etc. is faster than over messaging or email.
Providing feedback promptly is essential. Ideally, give feedback on the same day or as soon as possible after the incident. This ensures that the feedback is fresh in both your mind and the recipient’s, maximizing its effect. Delayed feedback may not have the same effect and can lead to misconceptions or forgotten details.
Aim to chat now or clearly schedule a time to share feedback
Blindsiding someone with feedback can be a surprise, especially if a meeting invite shows up out of nowhere with no details. Give the recipient a heads up if they would like to receive some feedback. Mentioning that it’s positive or constructive feedback meant to help them can help lower their defences and be open to the feedback.
Not everyone will be open to feedback
It can happen that someone just isn’t comfortable with receiving feedback, or that right now isn’t a great moment. Who knows what mindset the recipient is currently in. This can happen, and it’s of no use to push feedback on to someone who doesn’t want to receive it. This would lead to a loss of trust, amongst other negative outcomes. Instead, move on without providing the feedback. There might be another occasion in the future. Consider the previous point on providing unsolicited positive feedback. It may help open up the recipient to hearing constructive feedback.
Exclusively talk about the feedback
Prefer to grab some time to talk with the recipient outside of their ordinary schedule with you, and have the entire conversation only focus on the feedback and any potential questions or organic conversations that focus on the feedback. This makes it very intentional that the time should focus on the feedback and personal growth. It defeats the point if the feedback is promptly given, then the conversation pivots away to a different subject like it never happened. Time should be given for the recipient to reflect on it, ask any questions, and for yourself to make any suggestions, if necessary.
Don’t assume other people’s observations
Aim to provide feedback only on your own observations. Relying on another’s observations, especially if not present at the time can make it harder to form strong points for the SBI model. Sometimes this best practice should be broken if other’s have shared positive or critical feedback with you that is beneficial enough to share. As a manager, this is one of the superpowers: hearing how one team member is doing from other team members, and sharing that feedback to help their growth.
Providing feedback won’t always have the desired effect
Just sharing feedback with an individual won’t always change their behaviours going forward. Don’t let it weigh heavy on you or think badly of the recipient if you feel that it looks like previous feedback didn’t have any effect at all. It takes serious effort and willpower for someone to change their own behaviour. If witnessing someone completely disregard previous feedback, use this as another opportunity to provide feedback, while emphasizing that this was previously brought up. Provide benefit of the doubt as people can make mistakes, and it can take multiple times to get into the habit. As a manager, this is a powerful way to grow members of your team, but use it wisely.
If their attitude changes
People new to receiving critical feedback may have the feedback weigh heavily on themselves immediately or some time after. Criticism can be taken to heart. This can look like a stark negative change in their attitude. If this happens, help by empathizing with them that this is just a little bump on the road, and that the feedback is focused on the behaviour (which can be improved upon) and not a criticism of who the person is. More plainly: the feedback is aimed to improve their behaviours, not change who they are. Over time, receiving critical feedback can become easier and easier for the recipient.
Well done on making your way through the 69 mentions of the word feedback in this post! In summary, the SBI model provides a valuable framework for giving feedback that promotes professional growth and continuous improvement. By following the structure of Situation, Behaviour, and Impact, you can deliver specific and actionable feedback that helps your reports understand the context, the observed behaviour, and its impact. Remember to always provide feedback as soon as possible and take the time to prepare yourself before engaging in feedback discussions. By using the SBI model and incorporating these personal takeaways, you can foster a culture of growth and development within your team.