By Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle Giulioni
Where do I stand? How am I seen? What do you think? I don’t mean to sound needy … but a little bit of information could go a long way with me. — An employee (perhaps yours)
How appropriate that the word begins with feed. Because for many employees, information from others about how they’re perceived and how they’re doing is currently a severe source of malnourishment in today’s workplace.
Yet in study after study, employees in every sector are starving for feedback. And, it’s a pretty human response. We spend 40+ hours each week at work, dedicating our bodies, minds, and souls to the cause. A little attention is not too much to ask.
Managers, beware. A low-feedback diet may be harmful to the health of your business. Side effects include:
- Stunted growth;
- Lack of clarity;
- Lost opportunities;
- Loss of talent.
Good people move on — either psychologically or physically — when their hunger for feedback isn’t satisfied. And this loss of talent is completely unnecessary because feedback:
- Doesn’t cost anything except a little genuine attention to others.
- Lends itself to literally any setting — face-to-face or virtually — with no more than a moment’s preparation.
- Isn’t just the domain of managers — anyone who is willing or asked can get involved.
Feedback is a hindsight lens through which people can pass their self-perceptions — and in the process, it yields a clearer vision of who they are and the value they bring. Sounds good, right?
What about you?
Be honest. When it comes to giving and getting feedback, where do you stand?
It’s feeding time
Opportunities for feedback abound. And what probably comes to your mind first is performance feedback — job-related information about an employee’s behavior or results that helps to drive improvement. That’s certainly important — but it’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about a broader and more expansive dialogue that drives development.
We’ve just discussed the value of hindsight conversations with employees, which surface essential information from their point of view. The problem is that an individual’s perspective is rarely a complete picture.
Employees need a reality check — an opportunity to expand their perspective beyond their own to round out their self-assessment. Voila! An opportunity for feedback.
When you help employees to proactively solicit the points of view of others, they get a two-fer:
- They’re able to check their assumptions, balance their understanding of themselves, and discover who they are in the eyes of others.
- They develop the capacity to independently initiate feedback conversations.
Do this well enough for long enough and pretty soon you’ll have a self-generating feeding frenzy (in a good way) in which employees become comfortable getting and volunteering feedback freely among themselves.
Who’s who in their zoo
So feedback is another sort of a hindsight conversation. The good, the bad, and the ugly need to be confirmed or dispelled as employees’ perspectives are checked against the points of view held by others.
To ensure the most complete picture, it’s important to tap into the broadest career audience possible. Ask employees who might have additional insight into them, their strengths, abilities, interests, and opportunities.
The answer will likely include some combination of:
You’ll notice that you are last on the list. And that’s to make a point.
When it comes to career development, it takes a village
Employees need to develop the broadest network possible to facilitate their career success. Co-workers and others within and outside the organization have potentially important information, ideas, and helpful contacts. And gathering feedback from them is an ideal way for employees to begin to engage others in creating the path forward.
As a manager, you have a unique perspective. But yours is one of many that will inform employees’ understanding of themselves and help to be the basis for effective planning.
Encourage employees to gather feedback from others before sharing your own. It’s not about politeness (e.g., letting the guests get their food first) but about power. You’ve got it and, as a result, your perspective may carry undue weight. When employees come to you with a plate full of feedback from others, they are better able to put your perspective into perspective.
Just remember: ABC
Soliciting and accepting feedback graciously are skills that distinguish successful and effective individuals. Yet, many people have not had the benefit of learning these skills. Your employees are likely among them.
Since the act of opening one’s self up to the opinions of others can be challenging, the agenda for such a discussion should be simple — as straightforward as ABC. Encourage employees to focus on just three things as they gather feedback from others: abilities, blind spots, and conditions.
- What are my greatest strengths?
- Which of my skills are most valuable?
- What can you always count on me for?
- What value do I bring?
- What behaviors have you observed that might get in my way?
- How have I fallen short of expectations?
- How might my strengths work against me?
- What one change could I make that would have the greatest positive effect on my success?
- In what settings or under what circumstances do I make the greatest contributions?
- Under what conditions have you observed me struggling?
- Do I tend to perform best when working with others or flying solo?
- What factors have you noticed trigger stress or other negative reactions for me?
Work with employees to select a question or two from each category to use as the starting point for feedback conversations with individuals in their career networks.
As you can imagine, live, face-to-face feedback conversations are ideal. But, given today’s distributed workforce, employees may need to resort to virtual means — phone or web-chat. Either way, this sort of real-time interaction can surface valuable information while strengthening relationships.
Greater awareness and stronger relationships support career development. In this way, feedback really does help employees grow where they are, so they won’t go and grow somewhere else. As a bonus, they develop a critical skill that leads to greater success on the job and in life.
And, if you have an online tool that you love, keep using it — in addition to, not instead of, conversation.