Feedback – across an organization, most people will agree it is critical to the individual, a team, and even company-wide performance improvement and growth.
So why is it then, most people (and companies) stink at giving and receiving feedback?
What do I mean when I say “stink at it?” Here are some common things we see and hear when beginning work with new clients:
Too many contrived processes that mask the actual message (such as the “sandwich approach” done inauthentically)
Unnecessarily soften feedback in a way that makes the message murky, at best
Lack of agreement on what happens after the feedback is given
No follow up
Lack of specificity (“you are doing awesome!” or “you aren’t a team player”
There are a number of approaches to providing more effective feedback. I like what Joel Peterson has to say on feedback. Specifically, I applaud Peterson’s points on specificity and clarity; those are critical to improvement (or, to the continuation of high levels of performance).
Solid feedback processes are not enough, however. There is a bigger issue at play here: company culture.
Want to truly have an organization that has consistent and effective feedback that fosters growth, development, and high performance? Consider the following:
• From the recruiting process through to the offboarding of employees, the organization must paint a realistic picture of what is expected (and what actually happens) with regard to feedback. For example, a useful question during the interview process, which can reveal if a potential employee will thrive in an environment where regular, candid feedback is the norm: “Tell me about a time when you received constructive feedback, and made a change as a result.” In the interview, the interviewer can paint a scenario and ask the candidate to role play the response. For example: “During your 1:1 meeting, you report that you did not achieve the desired organizational outcomes on a key project. Describe what happened and what you will do to ensure your performance improves.”
• Nothing speaks louder than actions. Accountability and feedback don’t always mean the focus will be on something that went wrong. In the Peterson post, he talks about specificity, which is a critical component. This applies to positive and constructive feedback. For employees to know what they should do more of, and less of, leaders need to give specific examples. At the same time, saying nothing also highlights what is important to an organization. For example, if the organization espouses the importance of teamwork, and yet rewards and highlights an employee who achieves high work output, but also verbally abuses coworkers, the company sends mixed messages about what is important, and undermines efforts to build a winning culture.
• Have clear values – and mean it. Organizational values should serve as guardrails and guides for how people in the company should think and behave. If accountability is an organizational value, and yet employees don’t have productive and consistent conversations that support accountability, well, the company loses tremendous credibility, and genuine feedback isn’t likely to occur. For example, when an employee says things like “nobody told me about …” or “she didn’t follow up with me,” or “I didn’t get an agenda for the meeting,” you can see there is a clear abdication of responsibility and accountability. Those types of comments must be met with direct and honest feedback. Yes, someone may have dropped the ball in communication, but the person who is expressing the displeasure also has responsibility here. As an example, the employee certainly had a chance to ask for an agenda, or to contribute agenda items in advance of the meeting.
Effective feedback can boost productivity, growth, and high performance. To make this a reality, it starts now, and it starts with each of you (and me) reading this post.