In this article I’ll describe the basic steps of the feedback process: Observation, Assessment, Discussion, and Transcription.
I’ll also describe how to better gather and deliver feedback as well as provide actual examples that I’ve witnessed through the years so you can better understand this process. These basic steps of feedback are based on Jurgen Baert’s seminar at GP Brighton 2009. Thanks to approaching this process in a structured way I’ve been able to successfully provide plenty of useful feedback for many judges; hopefully this article will help you too!
Observation is, by definition, subjective. It’s about watching the subject’s actions during a certain period of time, as well as the reactions that come up from said actions or any other events. Observation can come either from passive or active interactions. These two can be approached differently, but generally if regardless of if you’re a passive or an active observer the goal here is to build your own perception of someone else’s performance.
The most common situation to observe someone is at an event. Continued interaction with someone often leads to more in-depth feedback since you usually have the chance to observe the other person in many different situations.
Example: At a Grand Prix you might be “buddied” with some other judge. The two of you stick together and share as much time as possible doing whatever tasks and responsibilities assigned to you. Here both of you will have plenty of opportunities to shadow the other one, pay attention to him or her, and gather plenty of information. The most important thing is to not lose focus on your partner and share your day with him or her.
What about when someone is in charge of a task or of a group of people? You can of course give feedback upwards, and it is actually something I strongly recommend.
Example: You’re floor judging a PTQ, and the HJ makes a veeeeeeery long announcement during the player meeting. The HJ expands for too long on the latest changes in policy, so much that players start to chat. On the floor you have to ask players repeatedly to stay quiet and listen to the HJ. You just found something the HJ of your PTQ can improve on. I’ve been that HJ, and luckily someone was there to point it out for me to improve on it.
There’s a common misconception about “I didn’t spend enough time with the judge.” That leads judges to think they don’t have enough material to give feedback. In my experience feedback can be based on many different sorts of interactions, and in my opinion no matter how brief the interaction was there might be some advice you can provide.
Example: You’re on the Deck Check team, and while doing a Mid-Round Deck Check you notice the entry slips not being cut properly. We have found a potential area for improvement for someone on the Paper team.
In any of these situations it’s advisable to take notes. You’ll often see judges on the floor carrying notepads, and it is something that I’d recommend everyone do. This common practice is very important later on in the feedback process with examples to base our feedback.It’s easily half of the work when providing feedback. Remember: feedback is not only meant to point out potential problems, it also can include praise on a job well done. It might be somewhat easy for ourselves to get a general picture of what we want to transmit as feedback, but the subject is going to have a much easier time understanding and accepting the feedback if we can base our Observation in well-defined and documented examples. Taking notes as things happen will provide you more accurate examples so you don’t rely too much on your memory.
Observation can also happen outside of events. You can interact with other judges in a more continued way while contributing to a judge project, for example. Or perhaps you are just watching something happening without being a part of it.
Examples: You can give feedback to a fellow judge on the perception of the online persona this judge is presenting to the community.
Example: You can give me feedback on this same article!
In these situations it’s possible to observe remotely another judge’s actions, and find areas where we can help others improve.
Assessment is, in my opinion, the key part of feedback. This is where you transform your Observation into ideas to transmit later on to the judge you’ve been gathering feedback for during the Discussion step. The Assessment step has three very well differentiated parts: Identification, Analysis, and Assistance.
This is about figuring out whether an Observation is a strength or an area for improvement. At this stage you can define what review area (leadership, attitude, teamwork, rules knowledge, etc.)to categorize a certain Observation.
Example: At a GP a player asks a judge where the toilets are. The judge replies “No”, and walks away. This is poor customer service, and an area for improvement.
Example: At a PTQ a player asks this same judge “Can I name Swamp with my Pithing Needle”. The judge answers “Yes”, and walks away. The judge did the right thing not coaching the player. However, it’d have been a good idea for the judge to stick around for a bit to make sure there would not be any further problems. The former is a strength; the latter is an area for improvement.
Before the Analysis step, when reading through your notes you can try to establish connections between separate interactions.
The difference between good feedback and really good feedback is in the analysis. Most of the time what matters is not on the surface: what matters is not “what” happened; it is “why” it happened.
Here we take both strengths and weaknesses, and we try to understand why a behavior is happening. We are aiming to find underlying causes, and evaluate if the observed behavior is something relevant the judge can act upon.
Example: At a PTQ you are a Team Lead and you give feedback to a judge in your team about his work ethics because he sat on the stage for a full hour during the last round chatting with the Scorekeeper. When you ask this judge about it he says he did that because his feet hurt so much he couldn’t even stand. If you give feedback about work ethics to this judge he might very well not accept it, since he’ll see sitting down for an hour as a need he had to fulfill. Here you can successfully give feedback about not communicating effectively about his need.
This last example may seem pretty straightforward, but keep in mind that correctly identifying the “why” in a given situation becomes more relevant with more important issues. Something also important to consider is for someone to really accept feedback, they need to agree with it.
Without analyzing why something happened we can’t possibly correctly evaluate the situation. To arrive at reasonable, adequate, and relevant feedback this Analysis is the key part of this whole process. It gives us the crucial bits of information we need to come up with the best Assessment possible.
Example: In the previous example where the judge just answered no to a question about the bathrooms, he is communicating in a cut-and-dry fashion.. He might just have trouble interacting with strangers, or might be uncomfortable in an authority role. This may be a confidence or maturity problem, or perhaps the judge might just not be aware of the importance of customer service in judging.
Example: A judge has an arm in a cast from a bike accident, and he has trouble doing Deck Checks in a timely fashion. In this situation there’s not much feedback you can provide, just accommodate this judge to the best of your possibilities, and help him have a great time at the event. Giving him feedback along the lines of “You did DCs much slower than others” is kind of obvious and not likely to be very useful; it’s not something that can be acted upon.
If there is only one thing you’ll take from this article let’s have it be this one:
Feedback should include advice on how to improve.
Pointing out areas for improvement is just not enough in itself, we have to include our analysis of our Observation and provide actionable advice so to provide Assistance for others to improve. The more specific this advice is, the better.
A very common way of providing advice is sharing resources with the subject of the feedback. The Judge Wiki, the Judge Blogs, or perhaps a particularly relevant article are some of the many resources available for judges to improve on their skills. Do you know someone who wants to improve on his feedback and review writing skills? Link them to this article!
Example: Giving feedback that says “your Team Lead meeting was not good” is just pointing at a problem you noticed during your Observation. Adding to that sentence “Let me link you to this article that helped me plan better ahead of time, and that included tips and tricks on Team Leading” is actual advice that can be acted upon, and is a better way to provide feedback.
Example: Feedback that says “you were grumpy during the PTQ” is just a statement from your Observation. That feedback lacks Analysis (why was this judge grumpy?) and Assistance (why is it bad to look grumpy and how to avoid being perceived as such).
It’s important to reason why you’re suggesting certain areas for improvement. In the example above is important to explain to your grumpy fellow judge that part of our job is to provide a good play experience to players, and being perceived as grumpy diminishes that experience. Using your own experience to help the other judge getting a better picture of where are you trying to get with your feedback is often a good idea. Share examples of past situations where you had to deal with similar situations, and use your own learning process as a way to illustrate to others ways for improving.
Having a direct Discussion with the subject is essential to get feedback across successfully. It is true that sometimes it’s not possible to do this face-to-face after an event, and in those situations I strongly recommend to send the written feedback to the subject via email after its Transcription before submitting it on the Judge Center. The basic premise of feedback is that our goal as observers is to help the subject we’re observing improve. Communicating and effectively discussing feedback helps get across the idea that when providing feedback we do it because we care about them.
Example: You observe another judge at a GP that is not focused on the team’s tasks, grumpy, and visibly unhappy. You write him a review, giving him advice, but… after submitting the review this judge gets back to you and explains that his behavior was due to a severe health problem in the family. Here you skipped one step in your Analysis, which was finding the underlying cause for your Observation. The feedback might be very well correct and accurate, and may include good Assistance, but a direct Discussion with the subject would have provided you with a better insight, that would have lead you to a better Identification, so you could come to a correct Analysis of the situation.
As you can see the Discussion may change the results of your initial Assessment. This means that the process described in this article is not as linear as it would seem at first. You may go back and forth between the different steps as you see fit, what matters is that you arrive to well-informed conclusions. I’d like to stress here how important it is for each of us to find the nuances that work for us. Feel free to experiment, be open to accept the responses to your feedback, and don’t forget to take notes during the Discussion, so you can incorporate them later on in Transcription.
In any case, nothing beats a good face to face talk, where you can get your point across effectively. As we will see next under Transcription, writing feedback down (and submitting it on the Judge Center) is important for several reasons, but I’d dare to say that the most effective and useful way of providing feedback is in face-to-face interactions.
Transcription of feedback serves different purposes. The two main ones are providing the subject with a written reminder of the feedback so they can refer to it in the future; and sharing this feedback with the Senior judges (L4+s and Regional Coordinators). It’s important to understand why the Senior judges have access to these reviews. The reasoning behind this practice is that these High Level judges read these reviews on occasion so to understand their regions’ goals and needs, as well as to make sure individuals meet the adequate requirements and skills for event staffing.
Submitting reviews as timely as possible is remarkably important. I’ve been guilty of procrastinating myself way too many times. As a rule of thumb I’d suggest to enter reviews within a month of the Observation, and preferably earlier than that.
Real Life™ often gets in the way of the fun, and sometimes it is just not possible to submit reviews as timely as we’d like. Don’t let the rule of thumb above prevent you from submitting a review… but don’t submit it two years after an event (to provide you with an extreme example of what not to do).
Include as many examples as you can to illustrate your Observation from your, and explain the reasoning for your Assessment. Provide detail on why you came up with your Analysis and of course remember to include your suggested Assistance.
Formatting matters. Nobody likes to read a wall of text. Sadly the Judge Center doesn’t allow much text formatting, but you can do your best in creating your own formatting with symbols and paragraph breaks. While the default is to split the review into Strengths, Areas for Improvement, and Comments, there is no strict need to adhere to this structure.
Example: A common practice is to put everything under comments, so you can create a narrative that follows perhaps a temporal line, or split your discourse into topics. See the Judge Center capture to the right – edited for privacy reasons – for an example (click to enlarge).
Something often discussed is whether to write reviews in second or third person. Both ways work fine, some people like to alternate styles between Strengths and Areas for Improvement, but my personal preference is to write everything in second person. The review is mainly for the subject, so better talk to him or her directly!
When rating a review (Below average / Average / Above average / Outstanding) be reasonable, and remember this rating might be relative: consider whether your rating may need an explanation or not.
Example: You rate an otherwise excellent judge as “Below average” because on this particular event he didn’t perform as he usually does. This rating is relative to his average performance, and deserves a note about it included in the review.
Example: A L1 judge you just met does an excellent job at an event, and in your opinion he performed at a level that is closer to what you’d expect from a moderately experienced L2. Your rating of “Outstanding” is likely to be self-explanatory, but mentioning in the review the reasons for such rating of course won’t hurt.
When going through the feedback process remember to keep your focus on stuff that truly matters. Feedback should aim to be on reasonable, relevant, and actionable areas for improvement. Remember: we give feedback because we care.