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Quick start: SBI feedback method

Coach offering guidance to an athlete

The biggest unanticipated perk of being a Googler is the personal and professional development classes that Google provides. I wish every employer invested in their teams the way that Google invests in me.

Giving and Receiving Feedback – a session taught by my fellow Googlers – has had the biggest impact on my work at Google. During the class I learned about (and practiced!) a lot of different feedback methods, including Situation-Behavior-Impact (SBI) – a feedback model developed by the Center for Creative Leadership. Over the years, SBI’s stuck with me. It’s a great method because it helps me be specific in the positive and negative feedback I give. This specificity is rooted in the model’s three distinct components tying behavior to personal impact.

Parts of SBI

Situation: When and where did the action or inaction happen? Be specific so that the person you’re talking to can orient themselves to the moment you’re addressing.

This morning while our team was setting OKRs

Behavior: Describe observable behavior related to the situation. This is the key component and most difficult part – you can only address behavior that you observed.

You didn’t sign up to own any objectives

Impact: Describe the impact this behavior had, in terms of how you felt or other actions. This is where you’ll use an I statement.

I feel concerned because I want you to take a leadership role on the team, but I’m not sure our goals are the same.

Intent: Here’s where you move from making a statement about your perception, into a conversation about their intention.

So I wanted to check in and ask how the OKR process is going for you.

As an alternative to intent, Open Table’s Senior Design Manager Leslie Yang adds a forward-looking closing: Change.

Change: Stating what can change gives people practice for being specific for what they want or what they’ll do in the future.

What does change look like?

SBI does not involve providing judgement or solutions. Instead, it’s a starting point for a conversation about behavior, impact, and intent. Using SBI takes practice! You’re not going to get it right the first time, or every time, but with enough practice, you’ll start to recognize when the SBI model is the right way to provide feedback.

Professional SBI

Congratulatory SBI

Situation: Great job facilitating that team meeting on hiring – their priorities weren’t well-defined
Behavior: Getting the team to focus on immediate needs by charting their plans helped everyone agree on next steps
Impact: Now we’ll be able to hire for a strong research foundation on the project

Constructive SBI

Situation: I asked you to complete the literature review by Friday for our presentation today
Behavior: Because you didn’t send it to me by Friday
Impact: I had to spend the weekend working on it. I felt frustrated because I wanted to spend that time with my family.
Intent: What was going on for you?
Change: How can we change this for the next research deliverable?

Personal SBI (at home)

Congratulatory SBI

Situation: This morning when you woke up early
Behavior: You took the dog out and got breakfast ready for yourself
Impact: I felt proud when you took on that responsibility

Constructive SBI

Situation: This morning, when you were looking for your gi
Behavior: You asked me to find it for you before looking for it yourself
Impact: I felt annoyed because I want you to feel responsible for your things
Intent: What were you thinking about when that happened?
Change: What should we do differently next time?

SBI caveats

  • SBI is helpful for getting yourself out of the Thinking Trap of mind-reading. Instead of assuming you know what’s happening with someone, using SBI gives you an opportunity to find out what’s really going on.
  • SBI doesn’t work with sociopaths. This method only works with people who are sensitive to the impact their actions have on others.
  • Not every SBI conversation has a good ‘Intent’ stage to go with it. That’s okay. Sometimes the impact feedback is enough.
  • You may find yourself in the middle of a situation when it’s time to use SBI. That’s okay – adapt the method to the current context.

If you’re looking for in-depth advice on using feedback with your team, check out the Center for Creative Leadership white paper Busting Myths about Feedback, what leaders should know (24 pages, PDF).

By Abi Jones

Abi Jones is the UX Manager for Imaging & Diagnostics in Google Health. She leads an interdisciplinary team of researchers and designers focused on using artificial intelligence to assist in diagnosing cancer and preventing blindness.

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