We know that feedback helps us learn and improve. We know that frequent feedback leads to better performance. So why do we shy away from asking for feedback?
Early in my career, I waited for my annual performance review to get feedback. I was nervous, and if I heard, “You are doing great,” I would smile, sigh with relief, and move the conversation to other topics. Receiving feedback can be uncomfortable, but it is invaluable for your career development. If you don’t take the opportunity to ask real, probing questions, you might not get the feedback you need until it is too late.
Most companies do not have a culture of providing regular or unsolicited feedback, so you have to be proactive. Establish a regular cadence of asking for input. Your manager, your peers, your direct reports, and especially your sponsor, who is invested in your success, can be great sources of feedback – if you know how to ask.
By asking for feedback, you are signaling to a colleague that you value his or her input. Most people will be happy to give it. The quality of the feedback you receive is almost completely dependent on the quality of the questions you ask. Try to avoid questions that result in a yes or no answer. Instead, think about starting questions with “how” or “what”.
After a major project or big presentation, you might ask:
“How did that go from your perspective?”
“How could I have done this better?”
“What would you do differently if you were me?”
“What should I consider going forward?”
“On a scale of 1-10, how would you grade me? What could I have done to make it a 10?”
For general feedback on your performance, two questions I have found very helpful for opening a conversation with managers or direct reports are:
“What should I do more of?”
“What should I do less of?”
Once you ask for feedback, you have to be ready to take action on it. If you want to continue to receive good feedback, you need to let people know that you appreciate their input and show them you are doing something about it.
As a leader, asking for feedback can be a powerful way to model the behavior. When Joanne Bauer, former President of Kimberly Clark Healthcare was trying to make a culture change in her organization, she asked everyone in the meeting for feedback.
The whole room got quiet.
“That’s great,” she said. “That’s feedback for me right there.”
She then asked her team to practice giving her feedback, asking specifically for both positive and negative feedback. She probed for suggested actions that she should take to demonstrate the changes they wished to see. Finally, she followed up with them periodically to discuss how she had put their suggestions into action. Her leadership helped create a new culture of giving and receiving feedback within her organization.
Like Joanne, when you receive feedback, you need to internalize it. We all have a difficult time hearing negative feedback. One approach I have learned is to write down the feedback points and come back to them later when you are ready to examine your actions objectively. Then, create a plan to address those points and share it with the person who gave you the feedback, asking them to help hold you accountable.
Remember, your sponsors are a great source of feedback. Sponsors have a view into where your gifts and strengths may play an important role in the organization. They can help you prepare for those opportunities. You might ask them questions like, “What does my career path look like?” or “Could you see me in another role that would be a win/win for me and the company?” Sponsors also have access to what is said about you when you are not in the room, and they are invested in your success. They may be the best people to give you the feedback you really need to hear without any varnish.
Feedback is critical to your leadership success. Establishing an approach to receive regular feedback helps you to make minor adjustments to improve performance. If you follow the steps outlined above to internalize feedback, action it, and follow up, your sponsor will recognize your constant improvements, and you will build trust and deepen your relationship with someone who can have an outsized impact on your career growth.
Share with us how you have established a cadence for feedback with your team or sponsor and how it has positively impacted your career.