Some of the best feedback I’ve received was early in my career and although it was certainly ‘tough love’, I listened to it and it’s made me the professional I am today. That same senior manager from all those years ago now seeks my advice and feedback in their CEO post so I was clearly listening to the right person!
Most of us know that if we’re to continue to grow and develop, personal feedback is vital. A far smaller proportion of us however, either seek out that personal feedback or provide it to others on a regular basis. We instead prefer to wait for the appraisal or 360 review process to come round…
Why do we find it so hard to give and receive personal feedback?
Performance management is a big topic and challenge in many organisations. We’ve all been involved in conversations about how it could be done differently and the level of resource required at the point of the annual appraisal in order for it be valuable.
Well, flip it on it’s head, split it into a million pieces and think of the value that can be delivered, each day, through immediate, insightful feedback between colleagues. After a presentation, a team meeting, an important sales call, whatever the action might be, there’s feedback, or ‘positive critical insight’ as we prefer to call it, that can be given to contribute to the growth of that individual or individuals.
If we think of it as informal insight through a positive lens, it could be something like ‘keep doing that, it was great because…’ or ‘how do you feel that could have been even stronger?’ or maybe ‘I loved the part where you…next time maybe you could…’
In our very British society, there’s no doubt that this kind of approach needs two things. Firstly, leadership and secondly, practice.
Seeking out and always giving positive critical insight is a behaviour and one that can be role modelled by leadership to great effect to develop a culture of feedback within organisations. Stuart Fletcher, former CEO of Bupa has a wonderful technique of asking those around him how he’s doing out of ten – it demonstrates that he understands he requires feedback to grow too, leads to open conversations and encourages other business leaders and managers to behave in a similar way.
A key part of being successful in delivering positive critical insight is being comfortable to deliver it but also receive it. Continuous performance enrichment means managers seeking feedback about their own performance, for their own growth, as well as having the confidence to provide ongoing insight to those in their teams. It all sounds sensible right? But as we know, a lot harder to do in practise.
Some corporate organisations have got a little too comfortable, a little too friendly and many managers, as well as leaders (even the best ones!), worry about having this kind of dynamic, constructive conversation. It’s all about fear of failure, upsetting people, being taken in the wrong way. There’s a huge amount of skill and competence in handling these conversations in a dynamic, positive, collaborative way and I work with many leaders and organisations in this area. It’s essential to develop both competence and confidence for such conversations.
If we look at elites in any field e.g. Olympians, a pianist or a world renowned chef, they are thirsty for feedback and seek it all the time, to help them be the best in their field and there is much for businesses to learn here. The lightbulb moment for companies usually comes as they realise that those who give 110 per cent each day and are committed to the growth of the organisation – we call them ‘investors’ – are always actively looking to get better and grow. They want constructive feedback, they’re looking for challenge and input and if they don’t get it where they are, they will look to get it elsewhere.
Organisations (and their leadership) need to stop hiding behind 360 platforms and re-frame personal feedback as a part of everyday exchanges between managers and reports as well as peer to peer colleagues. In addition to the formal appraisal structure, when the simple question of ‘how did I do?’ becomes a part of ‘the way we do things around here’, it’s a game changer.