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ORCA – A powerful feedback model

Ken Blanchard described it as “the breakfast of champions”; Bill Gates said “We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve”; and Jim Yong Kim said that “the most fundamental thing about leadership is to have the humility to continue to get feedback and to try to get better

We all know that feedback is important to helping individuals and teams improve. Yet, it is also something many of us shy away from, and are reluctant to give or to receive. When people show genuine humility and ask for honest feedback, you probably don’t need to worry too much about how you share your feedback as they will interpret it in the way that helps them improve. 

However, it is more common to find yourself in a position where you want to give feedback to someone where you are not sure how it will be received. In this situation, it pays to spend some time thinking about how you frame that feedback in order for it to have the greatest impact.

In one of my coaching sessions with Agile Centre co-founder and partner, John McFadyen, he described a simple model for structuring and sharing feedback. I found it really useful, particularly for sharing feedback in a non-confrontational way, or with people who may take it the wrong way.  I originally thought it was a commonly used model, but I recently found out that it is one that John developed himself about 9 years ago. It is rooted in the theory of non-violent communication and feedback theory. I have found it useful so wanted to share it more widely. 

It is the ORCA feedback model. It describes 4 core elements of feedback and helps you structure them into a conversation or other communication.

OObservations:

The facts of the situation. Preferably witnessed first hand. These should be inarguable and free from judgement, interpretation or assumption.

R – Relevance: 

Why this matters. We should provide feedback on things that are important and that the recipient should care about.

C – Consequences:

The result of the situation. This could be how it made you (or someone else) feel, or the actions that resulted. Again this is factual and inarguable.

A – Actions:

What would you like to happen as a result of this feedback?

The power of this model is that it sticks to the facts, and doesn’t make assumptions. The observations and the consequences are facts, not opinions and the inherent lack of judgement makes it easier to focus on the actions. When used to help structure a conversation, it helps quickly move it onto the actions and the future, rather than the past. In written feedback, it helps place the focus on the actions.

It is simple to understand and simple to use. 

Here’s a quick example if Brody used ORCA to structure the famous piece of feedback he gave to Quinn in this clip from the film Jaws.

We were on your boat, ‘Orca’ looking for the shark. I was throwing the chum into the ocean when I saw the shark [observation]. We were intending to catch the shark so that it would stop terrorising the local beach [relevance]. I could see that the shark was huge – you later estimated it was 25 feet and 3 tonnes – I was worried that if we tried to catch the shark it could damage the boat, making me nervous that we wouldn’t be able to and could capsize.[consequences]. I think you’re gonna need a bigger boat. [action]

 

(Orca image by eschipul and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.)