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Feedback Is the Breakfast of Champions – Understanding the McKinsey Feedback Model

Editor's Note: Take a look at our featured best practice, Complete Toolkit for Improving Meetings (30-slide PowerPoint presentation). Wasting valuable resources in unproductive and inefficient meetings can be one of the biggest avoidable costs for any business. This Meetings Toolkit has been complied to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of Meetings with tools and templates designed using direct feedback from many [read more]

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According to Ken Blanchard, the co-founder of Situational Leadership,

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”

McKinsey is a feedback-driven culture. Their culture has developed better consultants and made sure that there is greater client impact. Even less tenured consultants are expected to provide frequent, upward feedback to their leadership.

Providing feedback is critical to helping our team and our company thrive. With feedback, team members can better understand which behaviors are best continued and which behaviors need to be changed. When this occurs, this allows every consultant and member of the team to be effective in their specific roles and functions.

However, arriving at this point requires a special approach and skill of giving and receiving feedback. Giving feedback can be difficult when not done the right way. It can destroy but it can also build. It is those who have mastered the McKinsey Feedback approach who can bring out the Champion in ourselves and our company.

The McKinsey Feedback Model

“I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better.” – Elon Musk

Elon Musk was able to nail it when it comes to the McKinsey Feedback Model.

The McKinsey Feedback Model, also known as the Action-Feeling-Feedback Model, is a communication and feedback framework designed to improve interpersonal and team dynamics within an organization. It is often used to facilitate open and constructive feedback discussions, promoting effective communication and understanding among team members.  The McKinsey Feedback Model follows a structured format that allows the feedback to be specific, fact-based, less personal, irrefutable, and actionable.

As you can see from the slide, this framework has 3 key components:

  1. The Action: This refers to the specific behavior or action that is observed by others. It could be a behavior during a meeting, a task completion, or any other observable action.
  1. The Feeling: This represents the emotional response or reaction of the observer to the action. It focuses on how the behavior made the observer feel and what impact it had on them.
  1. The Feedback: The feedback component involves expressing the feelings and emotions associated with the observed action in a constructive and open manner. It aims to create a safe space for discussion and understanding, fostering positive change in behavior.

The Action and The Feeling set the stage for giving the recommendations without getting derailed by debating the context. The Feedback will solve the problem and prevent The Action and The Feeling from occurring again.

When this happens, the expected change in behavior can be realized and successive spurs of improvements can be seen. The McKinsey Feedback Model is the approach the Firm highly recommends for delivering feedback. It is an approach that can make a person do things differently next time.

The McKinsey Feedback Model helps team members communicate more effectively, build trust, and address any conflicts or issues that may arise within the team. It encourages a culture of continuous improvement and learning, where individuals are open to feedback and willing to make positive changes based on that feedback.

Criticism of the McKinsey Feedback Model

While the McKinsey Feedback Model can be valuable in improving team dynamics, it is not without its critiques, some of which include:

  1. Subjectivity: The model heavily relies on the emotional responses and perceptions of the observer, which can introduce subjectivity and bias into the feedback process.
  1. Limited Focus: The model primarily concentrates on interpersonal interactions and may not address broader organizational or systemic issues that might impact team dynamics.
  1. Implementation Challenges: Facilitating effective feedback discussions requires skilled facilitators and a supportive organizational culture, which may not always be present.
  1. Time-Consuming: The feedback process can be time-consuming, especially if multiple team members are involved, which might impact productivity.
  1. Emotional Impact: Expressing feelings openly can be challenging and uncomfortable for some individuals, leading to potential resistance or defensiveness.

Interested in gaining more understanding of the McKinsey Feedback Model? You can learn more and download an editable PowerPoint about McKinsey Feedback Model here on the Flevy documents marketplace.

Further, are you interested in other McKinsey communication frameworks and practices?  Take a look at the best practice Corporate Communication materials from Team Neosi (found here).  This firm has a combined 40+ years of experience at McKinsey as communication specialists.

Other Feedback Models & Frameworks

Some alternative feedback models to also consider, each with their pros and cons, include:

  • SBI Feedback Model (Situation-Behavior-Impact): Focuses on describing the observed situation, specific behavior, and its impact on others.
  • Pendleton’s Feedback Model: Utilizes a two-way feedback approach, where the recipient also provides feedback to the giver.
  • STAR Feedback Model (Situation-Task-Action-Result): Emphasizes providing feedback in the context of specific situations, tasks, actions, and their outcomes.
  • DESC Feedback Model (Describe-Express-Specify-Consequences): Guides feedback by describing behavior, expressing feelings, specifying improvements, and discussing potential consequences.
  • Johari Window Model: A psychological tool that encourages individuals to explore their self-awareness and mutual understanding with others.
  • Plus-Delta Feedback Model: Participants identify positive aspects (pluses) and areas for improvement (deltas) in a given situation or project.
  • 360-Degree Feedback: Collects feedback from multiple sources (e.g., peers, subordinates, supervisors) to provide a comprehensive view of an individual’s performance.
  • Feedback Sandwich: Presents feedback in a “positive-criticism-positive” format to balance constructive criticism with positive reinforcement.

Take a look at Flevy’s best practices in providing Feedback here.

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34-slide PowerPoint presentation
Feedback is a vital part of any leader's skillset. Project managers, team leaders, teachers, coaches develop this skill over the course of their careers. Not just giving feedback, but also receiving it is essential for efficiently sharing information within teams and groups. Let's take a closer [read more]

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Joseph Robinson is the Vice President of Strategy at Flevy. Flevy is the marketplace for best practices in business management. Learn how the Fortune 100 and global consulting firms do it. Improve the growth and efficiency of your organization by leveraging Flevy's library of best practice methodologies and templates. The documents at Flevy (https://flevy.com) are of the same caliber as those produced by top-tier management consulting firms, like McKinsey, BCG, Bain, and Accenture. Most were developed by seasoned executives and consultants with 20+ years of experience. Flevy covers 200+ management topics, ranging from Digital Transformation to Growth Strategy to Lean Management. You can peruse a full list of management topics available on Flevy here. Prior to Flevy, Joseph worked as an Associate at BCG and holds an MBA from the Sloan School of Management at MIT. You can connect with Joseph on LinkedIn here.


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