Lessons for Feedback from a Galaxy Far, Far Away…

Mar 26, 2019 | Culture, Leadership

Imagine you are Admiral Ozzel in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. You’ve had a productive career doing the Empire’s evil bidding—maybe you’re close to your pension and have a cache of Imperial credits squirreled away off-ship. But, after a major battle, you take the blame for a strategic setback for the Empire in its ongoing struggle against the Rebel Alliance.

You can sense your anxiety rising as you end up on the business end of a teleconference with your boss, Darth Vader. “You’ve failed me for the last time,” he says—words you never, ever want to hear from the Empire’s top enforcer—before Lord Vader harnesses the invisible power of “the Force” to telekinetically choke you. To death. Via video chat.

While Lord Vader’s “Force choke” is an iconic film moment, was it an effective way to give feedback to an employee?

Let’s examine the lessons that can be learned from this scene when giving employee feedback in the business world, and explore what Mr. Skywalker could have done differently to more effectively develop a performance-enhancing culture.

Give negative feedback privately and in person.

Vader gets partial credit here for at least for not giving the feedback via text. But, while Galactic Skype may seem like a great tool, difficult chats are easier when everyone is in the same room. Feel free to loudly share positive feedback, when appropriate, but save the constructive feedback for private sessions. Doing so one-on-one helps employees zero-in on their own behavior, without worrying about what others might be thinking. Plus, getting Force-choked in front of colleagues is just embarrassing.  

Make it a conversation.

Instead of cutting off his Admiral mid-sentence, Darth Vader would have done better to engage in a dialogue to explore the issues and deepen the understanding between them. When giving feedback at MacPhie, we ensure it’s a back-and-forth where employees can follow-up and ask questions to better understand how they can improve.

Be specific.

“You’ve failed me” isn’t exactly a lot to go on. Leaders can’t expect change without being precise. At MacPhie, we provide examples to employees to give them the specificity and context necessary to understand both their strengths and potential areas of improvement.

Give feedback more than once a year.

Darth Vader was sort of on the right track here with his impulse for an impromptu feedback session. At MacPhie, we don’t just provide feedback at year-end performance reviews. We give formal feedback twice a year, and augment that with informal feedback on a continual basis. Don’t be afraid to help your employees improve by saying, “thank you for putting in the effort and doing a great job. Here are a few tips on how you can do even better next time.”

Do not Force choke.

Enough said.

Strive to deliver feedback appropriately, so the process isn’t thought of as something negative that employees dread. But, when it involves telekinetic violence, who can blame them for that impulse?

Rather than looking to Darth Vader, instead consider channeling a more positive influence from Star Wars; be Yoda, minus the obscure grammar. Despite his unusual phrasing, the green Jedi Master provides some deep insights when training Luke Skywalker that are far more thoughtful and inspiring to juniors who look to their leaders for guidance and support.

Giving effective feedback is both an art and a science. Leaders need to give serious thought to how improving the feedback process can enhance an organization’s culture. Feedback should be insightful and empowering for employees and delivered in a way that helps align their goals with the goals of your organization.

And, again, do not Force choke.

By: Swaraj Mann


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