At some point in our careers, we’ve probably all gone to our immediate boss and asked for feedback on a task we’ve completed. It may have been something as simple as a team presentation, or something more meaningful like a sales pitch to a prospective new client.
We all have different motivations for asking for feedback.
Sometimes we ask because we think we’d done a pretty good job of something and we’re hoping the boss validates our own sense of satisfaction. Sometimes it’s the opposite – we think we’ve messed up but we’re not quite sure, and we’re looking for reassurance.
And sometimes we think there’s room for improvement in something we’ve done, and we genuinely want to know what we can do to achieve a better result the next time.
We all value constructive feedback that helps us to be better at what we do – or at least we should. But there are two problems.
The first is that in the headlong rush to get things done, feedback is often overlooked; and if time isn’t the issue, then there are leaders and managers who really struggle at the prospect of sharing an honest appraisal of someone’s work or performance with them.
And deep down we know that’s often because people often perceive feedback as a gigantic banana skin that has the potential to catapult them into conflict with their colleagues.
In most cases, it doesn’t. But even when it does, that’s not necessarily a bad thing – as long as it’s handled properly – because constructive conflict is sometimes necessary to drive change.
A recent Gallup poll found that those people who are likely to agree they’ve received some form of meaningful and helpful feedback in the previous week are four times more likely to be engaged with their job and their employer than those who have had none.
For business leaders, the engagement constructive and useful feedback brings is like the Holy Grail, because real engagement translates into value that money simply can’t buy:
When you invest in giving meaningful feedback you create a culture of value within your organisation. We’ve written often about the metrics of inclusion but, in short, inclusive workplaces deliver three key benefits:
Productivity. Performance. Profit. To say nothing of loyalty and a willingness to go above and beyond. In short, feedback is rocket fuel for your business – and most of the time it costs you absolutely nothing other than your time.
Here, then, are some thoughts on feedback and how to make it count.
Feedback and performance review are not created equal
Feedback is not an annual performance appraisal involving 360 reviews, 18-page self-appraisal forms and calendar appointments. No one wants to be interviewed about how they’re doing, no matter how much your HR team tells you they do.
For businesses that use and plan them properly, annual reviews can be a remarkably effective tool in setting out a roadmap for the year ahead, recognising value, and benchmarking progress against existing targets and objectives.
For everyone else – and especially those who use them to suddenly tackle problems that have been going on, unchallenged, for months, they’re just a box-ticking necessity that will always be recognised for being exactly that.
Nor is feedback empty platitudes congratulating people on ‘that thing’ they stayed late to do ‘the other night’.
Great feedback absolutely has to be meaningful, but it also has to be heartfelt, authentic and, above all, quick and spontaneous. Meaningful feedback given in a timely manner is the ultimate power-up for the person receiving it – fuelling their sense of worth (inclusion) and their motivation.
Like all habits, feedback becomes easier the more you do it – for everyone
Feedback that’s either rare or sporadic can be deeply awkward. It certainly risks feeling contrived, and it’s often only given when it’s critical – which itself breeds a fear of receiving it.
But when you give meaningful feedback quickly and frequently it becomes part and parcel of the workplace culture. Not only that, but people actually begin to look forward to it. Before you know it, meaningful feedback becomes the norm, and your workplace has developed a way to create virtuous ongoing learning.
Meaningful feedback recognises effort and gifts tools
Meaningful feedback does not need to be critical, and neither does it have to be gushing.
Meaningful feedback does two things: it recognises and values someone’s contribution, and it gives that individual knowledge or tools that will help them to either repeat it or improve it in the future.
“Hey, Jo – great pitch to the new client yesterday”
That’s not meaningful feedback. It leaves too many variables: Why was it great? What was great about it? Was it the content? The delivery? The jokes?
“Hey Jo – great pitch yesterday – you obviously spent a lot of time on it, and those sales projections you came up with really compelling. In fact, maybe it’d be good to leave that slide up at the end next time to let it sink in – but you smashed it out of the park.”
It’s only 44 words – 9 seconds – longer than the first version, but Jo now not only feels really valued, but she’s learned that it’s worth spending time on these things, that detail is important, and how the key messages are presented can change the effectiveness of a pitch.
In 12 seconds, you have made an investment in an individual that will make them feel better about where they work, better about who they are, and better about the value they contribute to the business as a whole.
Your people aren’t robots
If they were, you could happily benchmark everyone’s performance against exactly the same criteria. But different people have different skills and abilities and, crucially, different potential. Feedback should seek to enhance the former and encourage the latter.
Really effective leaders give personalised feedback that’s designed to make an individual’s virtues more virtuous and to fertilise the growth of hidden talents that perhaps that individual doesn’t even know they have.
Coaching. Conversation. Conversion.
These three things will transform your employee engagement and kickstart your process of building an inclusive culture.
Coaching your senior team to give meaningful feedback creates an ongoing culture of training, and of constructive and positive reinforcement.
Conversations rather than meetings normalise your feedback processes, making them not only familiar, but also desirable.
Conversion is key. Some people are naturally suspicious of intimate management styles, but by persuading both your managers and employees of the creative and inclusive benefits that coaching fosters, you’ll begin the step-changes needed to put your people at the heart of your business.