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ARTICLE

NAVIGATING FEEDBACK:

THE KEY TO PROFESSIONAL GROWTH

By James McPartland

How often in our work lives do we hear the word “feedback”? And how does it make us feel?

There is no way around this reality—at some point, we will be giving or receiving feedback from a boss, a colleague, a peer, a subordinate, or a client. The better we can become utilizing feedback as a communication tool, the better we can become as people, and by ripple effect, the better our work and our organizations.

Even though we may have misgivings about the feedback process, most workers prefer to receive more feedback, not less. According to a recent study cited by the LinkedIn Talent Blog, 60% of respondents surveyed preferred to receive feedback weekly or daily. For younger employees (those under 30), that number leaps to 72%.

On the one hand, we are looking for actionable information, but on the other, we don't want to be whiplashed around by it.

Conversely, come into feedback with a genuine desire to improve yourself, be of the best service with those you do business with, accomplish all your long-term goals, and sharpen yourself to the next level. You will be able to hear your feedback in a way that is useful for you.

If you don't know precisely the best intention to use when receiving feedback, you can always fall back on "What can I learn from this, and how can this help everyone around me?” That is how you can always take responsibility for yourself.

Your job as a giver of feedback is to positively impact the receiver's future and everyone with whom they interact. They rely on you to give an accurate picture from your perspective, outlining where they excel and where they can improve. Be supportive, be hopeful. Ask yourself, “How can I help this person raise their game, no matter how well they are doing?”

Have you ever had the experience where a company you worked for asks for your feedback, you give precise, actionable information, and then nothing ever happens? Granted, you can't expect the organization to act on every piece of input. However, wouldn't it be great to know how they received the feedback and the decision-making process they used to consider or execute changes?

Sometimes not acting on feedback is a result of poor listening. If your team tells you one thing, but you hear quite another, your action step will be completely unrelated to what your team shared with you. That's why learning how to listen actively and repeat what you hear is so vital to preserve the feedback loop.

Commit to listen carefully and act on the things you know you can improve. Otherwise, the feedback process can’t help you or help the company.

Part of the key to a healthy feedback system's success is the overall environment of where it occurs. Particularly at work, people need to feel like they are safe. A toxic work environment makes useful feedback nearly impossible.

One of the best ways to create an effective system for feedback is to build a feedback structure that is part of the organization's procedures. To some degree, most effective corporate businesses have some feedback system built-in. It depends on the industry, of course, but most have some quarterly review or end of the year evaluation.

“The secret sauce” to productive feedback is the intention behind it, the environment in which we exchange feedback, and the systems we use to capture it.

We all have an intrinsic need to feel like we are making progress and are valuable to our work communities. Are people getting what they expect out of us? Are we accomplishing what we set out to do? Are we designing the experience we promised? To what degree are we succeeding or failing?

That all starts with our intention.

What is Your Intention in Giving and Receiving Feedback?

If your intention when receiving feedback is to avoid embarrassment, or conversely, to pump up your ego, you will be up and down like a yo-yo for the rest of your professional life.

That's a manic experience that doesn't feel very good.

I recommend a few steps that I use myself when navigating the feedback experience as a receiver. In short—remember to look at it through the lens of the person providing the information. Seek to understand the end game or goal of the individual taking time to give you input.

When we cultivate a culture of giving and receiving feedback, we ultimately help each other become a better version of ourselves.

At the C-suite level, if an incoming CEO takes the time to get an honest assessment of where the company stands from all the department heads and how it could improve, but doesn’t do anything with that information, was the feedback worth it? Or was it just interesting information?

Cultivate a Healthy Environment

Google did a study on high-performing teams, and found that critical to a team’s success was an environment that was psychologically safe. In a psychologically safe environment, we won't feel like feedback coming to us is a punch in the nose. We're allowed to make mistakes without our team using it as a weapon against us. There is a degree of trust amongst the team that when we share goals and make decisions, we do it together with the wellbeing of the entire team in mind.

Intellectually, we know that giving and receiving feedback is a natural part of our professional lives. In our hearts, we know that we have to accept some objective valuation of how we're doing in our jobs.

Yet so many of us have difficulty navigating feedback. The mere mention of the word might cause us to sweat and fear professional ramifications or embarrassment. If it feels personal, it’s because it is. How can we disentangle our work identities from ourselves, especially when our work is where we spend most of our time

Be Clear About Your Intention: Why is Feedback Important to You?

On the technical side, ask for clarification when you need it and examples. Repeat what you hear, so each of you is on the same page. If you get triggered, own it, and don't take it out on the person giving you feedback.

It is NOT your job to make this person more like you, embarrass them, condescend, punish them, or make you feel better about yourself. If you want to punch this person in the nose, you are better off working out your aggression elsewhere.

It’s a good thing to remember that the person you are giving feedback wants to do well and needs you to improve their performance to their personal standard. Your honest feedback serves them as a mirror reflection would, a reflection they can only receive from an external and objective source. We all need a mirror to know how we truly look. In the same way, how else can we know how we’re truly performing without an external, objective source of feedback?

Acting on Feedback

Creating Effective Systems for Feedback

Unfortunately, they are often not nearly enough. Part of the problem is that we need to have much more timely information to react and improve in real-time.

Studies have shown that when feedback is absent or slow, workers tend to jump to the wrong conclusions. Absent any feedback, you may face unanticipated consequences from your team. If you leave feedback as a mysterious empty page until the end of each quarter, your team will fill it with made up conclusions. Our brains are expertly designed to fill in the missing gaps.

All that said, for feedback to be effective, we need to have a system in place that aims to provide shorter and more frequent feedback loops.

The Case for Frequent Feedback Loops

Thomas Koulopoulos of Inc. magazine paints a picture of infrequent feedback. He says, "Using feedback on performance to course correct once a year, or even twice a year, is akin to trying to navigate a minefield by reviewing your performance after you've crossed it...only on this minefield the landmines are shifting underground as you walk through them!"

Like your own body, high-performance systems use the microfeedback of its senses and systems to adjust and react to the environment around it. While your team's feedback may not have a biological living thing's chemical complexity, it is still a network and can be agile and react in real-time.

The more you can utilize short feedback loops, the more nimble and faster improving your team will be.

One popular choice for collecting consistent feedback is through the performance of a 360-degree review, which provides a system for getting feedback from subordinates, superiors, and peers. As Koulopoulos points out, “Rather than have one person determine how well someone has performed once or twice a year, a real-time 360 relies on the perspectives of everyone that a person works and interacts with on an ongoing basis… A 360 evaluation consists of a standard set of criteria, questions, and ratings that the persons will be measured against. These can vary widely, but most often will focus on several factors; effectiveness of interactions and communication with others, reliability and consistency, ability to achieve stated goals, and overall performance.”

There are various options in the market for collecting 360-degree feedback. A popular one we like to use with our team is the 363 DiSC Profile. We have found it to be highly effective in obtaining actionable feedback based on our client’s everyday performance.

Taking Personal Responsibility for Your Own Feedback

If there is no system in place for providing and receiving feedback, I encourage you to create your own. I encourage all my clients to utilize an accountability partner that can help them evaluate and improve in areas they want to work on. I advise them to pick someone that would be willing to help, preferably a trusted friend or peer that is well positioned to see their behaviors in action. At the end of each week, I encourage my clients to ask them, "On a scale of 1 to 10, how well did I do in this area?”

Yes, of course, their number would be subjective. But we can always ask questions and get more information. The point is that we work to develop some kind of metric with which to consistently compare and have systems in place to improve ourselves.

If you don't have an accountability buddy, consider using a mentor or a coach. I'm a big believer that professional growth happens through personal development. If you’re interested in receiving coaching, we welcome you to reach out to our team for more information.

If no one is telling you how you are doing at work, then it is your responsibility to ask. Ultimately, your personal growth depends on how far you want to go. How fast you get there is dependent on how well you work to collect and utilize actionable feedback. It is the best way to most efficiently become the person you are meant to be and share your gifts with the world.

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