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February 21, 2018

How to improve feedback to legal team members (Part 2 of 2)

By Gary Richards

In addition to the five guidelines for effective feedback listed in Part 1 of this series, consider these additional suggestions.

  1. Clearly define the expectation gap. The person receiving your corrective feedback must clearly understand the difference between what you expected and what they did: 

    Until this gap is obvious to the recipient, the likelihood is slim of their committing to change in the future. The purpose of corrective feedback is to define this gap with them, and to arrange their help and commitment to ‘close this gap’ in the future. Use a specific example to illustrate.

  1. Focus on the future, not the past. Once you have identified the performance gap to a team member and they understand it, move on with “so in the future…” describing how to meet your expectations next time. Focusing on the past can cause the recipient to defend what they did since it can’t be changed. Instead, focus on the future, which they can influence by changing.
  1. Be descriptive, not judgmental and avoid words that may trigger defensiveness, as shown in the table below  
Avoid Words that Trigger Defensiveness
  1. “YOU”…

… With a past or present problem.

Example: You assigned the wrong task code to this task…

(Look out for “we” if it really means “You”,

Example: We’ve got to be more careful…”
  1. “I” …to describe the problem/expectation gap:
Example:  I would expect code L140 to be used for this task, not L320 because…   
  1. Judgmental words: late, wrong, professional, cooperative, lazy, disorganized.
Example:  You assigned the wrong code-and we need to be more professional
  1. Describe the situation instead.
Example: When L140 is used for this task instead of L320, the client may get the wrong idea of our work.
  1. Control Words: must, should, ought, policy
Example: You must use the firm’s guidelines and definitions for these codes.
  1. Describe instead...let them put a label on it
Example:  Using the firm’s guidelines and definitions for these codes will help with accuracy until they become available from memory.
  1. “Why”…

…when trying to learn the reason for another’s behavior that you want changed.

Example: Why don’t you use the firm’s guidelines to avoid miscoding?
  1. “How or What”
Example: What makes it hard to select the correct task code? 
  1. Be specific, using a recent specific example of what you want changed: i.e., the outcome now occurring vs the exact outcome you desire instead. In other words, specify the gap with examples.
  1. Listen very carefully during the feedback conversation. Stop and ask for the recipient’s take on what you’re saying. This not only helps you get feedback on how the conversation is going, but it helps make sure it IS a conversation, not a monologue.

To prepare to give corrective feedback, consider using the script below to guide your phrasing:

  1. Say “I need your help regarding task descriptions and task code assignments. I have been reviewing the codes for work done on XYZ case…
  2. “When I see Code L140 Document/file management assigned to this time entry (show the task description assigned in the example) instead of code L320 Document production to that task…” Here you are describing the undesired result clearly, not criticizing the recipient.
  3. “…the problem is that can confuse the client when they review our bills. Keep in mind our definitions in this guide you received during code training…”(Show guide to the recipient, and explain why L320 is the correct code)
  4. “In the future, how about your reviewing these guidelines before assigning codes.” Or “How would you suggest that this coding can be accurate in the future?”
  5. Getting the recipient to interact may help uncover the reasons that they didn’t do what you expected, such as:
    • They think they are doing it
    • There is no negative consequence to them for poor performance
    • They don’t know how to do it
    • They don’t know why they should do it
    • They are punished for doing what they are supposed to do
  6. If a future solution comes from the recipient him/herself, the team member is much less likely to be defensive, and instead is apt to be more constructive and creative in discussing and implementing improvement.
  7. "Thanks for this conversation…I look forward to accurate codes next time.” Inviting the recipient to visualize how this change will look in the future increases the likelihood of correct codes.
  8. “And don’t hesitate to contact me if you have a question about how a task is to be labeled per our guidelines.” Offering to help shows that you will support their effort to reach a better outcome.

In summary, your objective in giving corrective feedback is to provide guidance by supplying information in a useful manner, to guide someone back on track toward successful performance.

Remember that people need feedback. If someone makes a mistake, it must be corrected or the behavior may continue and irreparable harm could occur.

Knowing how to give corrective feedback effectively can be the difference between having a motivated team and a team that feels misunderstood, unappreciated, and unmotivated.

This information is being adapted for our online LPM tools and templates.


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