How to Give Constructive Feedback Using the Plussing Technique

August 2, 2019

Prior to co-founding AWEC, Karen was a marketer, communicator and fundraiser, but her entrepreneurial story starts with her family – her father and grandfather were both business owners. She followed in their footsteps and founded a communications consulting company and an artisanal bakery, both of which taught her important lessons in entrepreneurship. 

“Building AWEC is both the most fulfilling and challenging work I have ever experienced,” she says.

In order to lead the AWEC program successfully, Karen must provide constant feedback to help develop people and encourage their personal and professional growth. One technique that has helped her to do so is ‘plussing’. 

In this article, Davide ‘Folletto’ Casali describes plussing, a method that Pixar Animation Studios (creators of the Toy Story and The Incredibles movies, and many others) popularized that consists of adding a constructive comment when critiquing the work of a team member. “Plussing is a simple concept that can have a big impact on how we cultivate a team dynamic and encourage open collaboration,” Karen says. 

Excellent Feedback Involves Addition Not Subtraction

While each company needs to find what works best for their culture, Karen highlights the importance of constant feedback in order to yield stronger team results. 

The article describes the core of plussing as accepting all offers and then improving on them. Making reference to a school-aged hobby as a performer, Karen likens plussing to a game of improv. “If you’re familiar with improv, it is critical to take what your improv partner has given you and build on it. If you don’t, the improv fails because you haven’t accepted what your partner has offered. When your partner looks good, you look good. The same goes in the workplace.” 

Even though not all ideas will work, it is important to be open to new suggestions as innovative ideas have been known to come from the most unexpected places. Another important principle to pay attention to when giving feedback is this: people must be separated from the problem. 

When delivering feedback, consider replacing statements like ‘your work plan’ with ‘that work plan’ to reduce the chances of defensiveness and discourage judgement. “The key is to always add to an idea or improve on an existing one, and never remove-only”, she says. 

There is Infinite Room for Growth.

The success of the first AWEC cohort shows the benefits of plussing as a key part of Karen’s leadership. The ripple effect of this culture is evident in the way cohort members share feedback among themselves after completing assignments and group projects.

“You many think you know the best way to do something, but by being open to constructive feedback, you may uncover a totally new way of doing business,” she says.

Even though integrating plussing into her interactions with the AWEC team is a work-in-progress, Karen encourages leaders by saying: “It is important for people in positions of authority to consciously adhere to a plussing approach (or something like it) in order to give team members room to grow, experiment and improve.” 

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