Warning: there are lots of F words in this post. No, not that F word. The other one–FEEDBACK!
According to my recent survey with over 100 respondents, feedback is the #1 thing employees want more of. Feedback is also the #1 thing managers want the most help on how to deliver. With that in mind, here’s a few lessons I’ve learned about delivering, receiving and increasing the amount of quality feedback I got or gave after 10 years in Corporate America.
PART 1: GIVING FEEDBACK
1. Seriously question if the feedback is worth delivering at all. Two tests to confirm it’s worthy of a conversation—
- Style/Bias vs. Substance. Is this a style preference? Is this unconscious bias? Or is this a matter of true substantiative feedback?
- The Actual Work. Is this really impeding my (team’s) ability to move the actual work forward? If yes, then proceed in having a conversation.
2. Timing. We all know this. But it’s worth repeating–give feedback as soon as possible after the incident occurs. Don’t wait. I have had dozens of employees and not a single one has ever said “can you wait a while before you give me feedback?” If you lead a team, consider making a copy of my work style survey to ask your employees about their preferences on this topic and others!
3. No Feedback Sandwiches. Above all else—resist the temptation to sandwich feedback. DO. NOT. Sandwich. I repeat: do not serve feedback sandwiches at your leadership table unless you want to confuse someone quickly.
4. Approaches Matter. Good news on this! You have at least two methods you can try to address a situation requiring feedback—the coaching approach or the managing approach–
- Coaching Approach. This is my personal favorite to start with because it may result in you not actually having to deliver even an ounce of feedback! In this approach you ask questions first. Immediately after the “offense” ask questions like—
- How did you think that went?
- What would you do differently next time?
- What do you need from me?
If after this initial coaching conversation you observe their self-awareness is not yet in tune you can then move on to the second method…
- Managing Approach. Consider leveraging the DESC Model below to outline main points.
- DESCRIBE. Focus on the facts of what you saw.
- EXPRESS. This isn’t about how you or anyone else feels, but rather the outputs you observe. What went wrong? How did or does it impact the business? We don’t want to rake the employee over hot coals here. We do want to be clear on facts and impacts.
- SPECIFY. What exactly would you like them to do differently next time? What does good look like?
- CONSEQUENCES. What can they expect to happen if a change is not made? Alternatively, what can they expect to happen if change IS made? If they do the specific things you’re asking them to do what are the positive consequences that may result for them, the business, etc.
5. Commit to a Zero Tolerance Policy on “Feedback Triangles.” A feedback triangle is when you tell a 3rd party the feedback instead of telling the person directly. Go directly to the individual or decide it’s not worth saying at all. Those are the only options. Indirect feedback is slimy, tactless, and in poor taste. I can say this because I’ve made this mistake before and I felt slimy, tactless, and totally in poor taste giving and receiving triangulated feedback.
- What about company sanctioned 360-degree anonymous feedback surveys? Aren’t those feedback triangles?
- In short, yes! They are! But they don’t have to be. After watching too many of my own employees get devastated by their own 360’s I made the personal decision to copy & paste my responses and send them directly to the person as soon as I submit it. That way they have an opportunity to ask questions, get clarity and make more meaningful change based on what you share.
- If you’re in a position where you feel you can’t give this feedback to a peer directly, try consulting your manager for help on how to deliver it but do not ask them to deliver it for you (that’s a feedback triangle). Or leverage the tips above!
- If you are in a position where you feel you can’t give this feedback to your manager directly, consult HR for help on how to deliver it but do not ask them to deliver it for you (that’s a feedback triangle). Or leverage the tips above!
PART 2: HOW TO GET MORE QUALITY FEEDBACK
Maybe your manager still just isn’t giving you the amount of feedback you want as often as you want. After all, 100% of you in my survey said you wanted more feedback more often! Here’s a couple questions I’d lovingly encourage you to reflect on if you were my client or employee–
1. Who do you want feedback from? Why them? Now you might be thinking–Is this coach lady crazy?! From my manager! DUH! And because THEY’RE MY BOSS! Obviously. Well here’s the thing–after becoming an entrepreneur it became painfully clear how much I relied on someone else to tell me “Great job! Here’s what could be better.” There is no one to do that for you when you own your own business. Research tells me 65% of you reading this want to be an entrepreneur some day. Work to own your own brand & business now! A very healthy skill set to develop NOW is self-assessment to build self-awareness. If you’re like I was and find yourself searching for feedback every week or even monthly consider the possibility that you may be able to provide some of it to yourself. Here’s how:
- Keep a career journal and practice self-assessment at a cadence you wish your boss would give you feedback (weekly, monthly, etc.). What did you do well? What have you learned? What do you want to do better next time? What support do you need to get there?
- Initiate a feedback conversation with your leader after your own self-assessment to help you check for accuracy. They’ll love you for it. I promise.
2. What do you want feedback on? What might your very own self-measuring stick look like? Help you help you. Help your manager help you and build out that measuring stick! What skills are you working to excel at right now? How are YOU defining what good looks like? How about your manager’s definition of good? Get on the same page about what YOU want to be measuring and HOW. I guarantee you’ll get more feedback because they’ll find it much easier knowing what you’re motivated to improve.
3. Proceed with Caution. Don’t ask for feedback if you’re not prepared to hear both positive and critical inputs. When I was a first time manager I asked for feedback every week from my direct reports. That was obviously way. too. much. I wasn’t resilient enough as a leader to take in feedback that frequently. I was more like a baby horse struggling to find my footing easily knocked over by a little whisper of wind. That level of external and internal feedback was not productive to my growth process. I didn’t realize it was ok to NOT ask for that much feedback until I observed my leaders levels above me. They rarely asked “so how did I do?” at the end of a meeting. Maybe once a quarter (if that) they’d ask me what they could be doing better. You’re going to screw up AND you’re going to crush it. Potentially all in the same week depending on who you ask. See above and get great at self-assessing vs. needing others to uncover or validate your strengths & errors.
Ok…so now you’ve given some feedback expertly. You’ve found ways to get more feedback. And then the bomb drops. Uh Oh! You receive criticism that is ideally constructive (but perhaps not) and really tough to hear…
PART 3: RECEIVING FEEDBACK WITH GRACE
1. Try to stay open & get curious. Ask at least 1 – 3 clarifying questions before allowing yourself to share a reaction/thought/opinion. Make feedback a basketball game—pass the ball 3 times before you take a shot. In other words, try to ask 3 questions before taking a shot at your own reaction.
2. Thank them & exit. Graciously. You’ll be glad you did.
3. Breathe & Remind Yourself:
- It’s one data point. It’s one person’s perspective. So check that data against some others you’ve recently received. What do the averages tell you? Have you been getting this message from one individual or more? Have you gotten similar feedback in past roles?
- Everyone is entitled to their opinion (including YOU!). Check in with yourself and your opinion on the matter. You get to make the ultimate decision on what feedback is worth acting on and what’s not (see #1 under giving feedback to help you decide).
- Is this something you want to change? Often times the most painful feedback is something we already didn’t love about our work.
- Or is this something you’ll choose to roll off your back? Why? You are who you are after all who I suspect to be a fabulous, vibrant, intelligent, bold, and self-improvement focused leader if you’re reading this! Pick your focus areas and leave the rest. Your future self will thank you.
4. Get out the self-measuring stick you built under Part 2 to help you decide if it’s worth working on.
- What 1 or 2 skills do you want to improve right now? Maybe you really tanked on that one presentation but the majority of your role & future goals are about being behind the scenes in data analytics. Is eliminating a few “umms” from a rare presentation more important than advancing your knowledge on database querying language like SQL? Probably not at this point.
- How are you defining success? How is your manager defining success? Nothing else much matters. Think of success in all forms—
- How do you want people to experience your communication style?
- What do you want people’s experiences to be working with you in general?
- Does EVERYBODY have to like you in your version of success? If so, I’d love to be your coach so we can work on this!
Hope this helps you on your journey to create healthy, productive, quality working relationships and results!
If you’d like to dig deeper into any of this with a coach I am here for you! Please use my contact form to reach out or comment below.