Yes. I Am Asking For It

Let’s talk great feedback. What exactly is “great” feedback? We know it when we hear it, right? Unfortunately, we don’t often get helpful, timely feedback—let alone great feedback. This post reviews potential issues that influence the value of feedback and opportunities for generating and leveraging great feedback.

Why Feedback?

Most of us appreciate hearing when our contributions are valuable. Public and private kudos let leaders and followers know what they’ve done well. Equally important, however, is guidance when performance is off track. “Negativity bias” suggests mistakes have greater perceptual impact and are more easily recalled than positive inputs. The Marines used to say, “one ah shit wipes out 1000 attaboys.”

Clarity & Candor

Does this sound familiar? Alex’s VP offered consistent, public praise for delivering stellar results, so a less than outstanding performance rating left Alex blindsided and confused. The leader also indicated Alex needed to communicate “differently” with the team. When pressed, however, the VP wouldn’t provide clarifying examples of exactly how Alex didn’t meet expectations. How does Alex solve the dilemma of imperfect feedback?

Professionals need feedback with sufficient candor to allow for clear understanding of perceptions and actions that require course correction. While the concept of courageous conversations has received more play over recent years, some workplace environments still couch feedback in ambiguous terms. Even in organizations that have worked to improve their culture, leaders do not always embrace candor as a gift to enable positive development.

Timing Counts

Feedback also needs to be timely. Annual—or even quarterly—conversations that surface issues after the fact do not allow professionals to make meaningful changes to impact their performance and working relationships. The closer we move feedback to “real time,” the more valuable to the recipient. Even better, applying the concept of “feed forward” enables professionals to consider in advance those skills, attitudes, and behaviors that will make them more effective.

The Power of Feed Forward

Soliciting feed forward helps leaders (and Alex, in the earlier example) stave off “surprises” in performance feedback. This is a three-part process. At every step of the way, the leader must be open, actively listening, and appreciative. Additionally, the leader needs to avoid any defensive actions or responses on his or her part.

In the first step, an executive or professional needs to decide what to work on. Sources for this area of focus might be a recent “360” evaluation; a mentor’s suggestion; internal knowledge; or simply asking colleagues, reports, and supervisors how the individual could be a more effective leader.

Research tells us that we tend to avoid information that’s negative or contrary to our own beliefs. Bad news makes us uncomfortable. It’s hard to hear and easy to dismiss as false. The most effective leaders fight any impulse to reject candid input. Ask for specific examples to clarify observations that seem vague. For every piece of information, the correct response is, “thank you.” As appropriate, the leader could add appreciation for candor or courage on the part of the giver, and that he or she has offered valuable information for the leader to think about.

Follow Through

Although entrepreneurs, executives, or other professionals may navigate the process on their own, leaders who partner with a coach have a built in sounding board and accountability system. From the information gathered, the leader chooses a priority to attend to. At this point, he or she can return to workplace contacts, share the commitment to improve in the area of focus, and ask for willing participants to assist with his or her growth and development. Marshall Goldsmith, a globally recognized executive coach, thought leader, and best selling author, promotes this stakeholder-centered type of coaching as an effective means for leaders to create change that sticks.

Leaders share their intent to “work on being better at (the area of focus)” and a commitment to check in weekly or biweekly with stakeholders. This check in is a quick inquiry on any observations where the leader did well or missed the mark, and a request for any suggestions. Remember the correct response to this input? Yep, it’s “thank you.”None of this works unless the leader diligently attends to actions and behaviors in the area of focus, actively and appreciatively listens to the thoughts of colleagues and team members, and incorporates appropriate suggestions given to the leader to try. After an agreed-upon period of time—no less than three months, but six months is better—participants are asked to rate the leader’s improvement in the area of focus. Leaders who effectively incorporate positive change in one area can then move on to a new area of focus.

What’s holding you back in your leadership or business? If you’re uncertain, perhaps it’s time for you to boldly, but humbly, “ask for it.”

If you’d like to learn more about growing your leadership, or if you are facing or seeking a change, click here to touch base with Dr. Kathryn Bingham.

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