To grow one needs to continuously improve.
A key ingredient to improvement is feedback.
Feedback however is both difficult to give and receive.
Feedback challenges are even more pronounced these days due to three factors:
a) Covid: an increasingly sensitive workforce emerging from a year of Covid-19 driven challenges with heightened emotions and changed mindsets.
b) DEI: a concern that criticism may be taken as a form of insensitivity or discrimination as companies rightly focus on ensuring Diversity, Inclusion and Equality.
c) Polarization: a polarized social and political environment.
The six steps to giving better feedback.
Best practices suggest that there are six approaches that can help people give and accept feedback in ways that recognize these and other realities.
1.Focus on how the task or the process could have been improved rather than criticize the person: By focusing on how an assignment could be done better the emphasis is in on the product and not the person.
2. Compare the shortfalls to a higher standard that might have been met on another project or another time: By recalling assignments or times where the individual or team did a great job, one re-enforces to the person or team that they are capable of having done better. The emphasis is on what was less than ideal on this occasion versus rather than believing the individual or team is incapable of doing a good job.
3. Make yourself sensitive and aware of extenuating circumstances: We all have bad days and many times these are a result of something else distracting us or worrying us in our lives. It may be illness, family issues or other challenges. By empathizing with an individual via wondering if there is a reason quality has slipped indicates both concern and humanity.
4. Provide input as specific as possible as to what could be done better: Pointing out what went wrong or was less than optimal is only one half of feedback. The more important half is showing or teaching or guiding on how one can improve. Identify either steps or training or changes that need to be made.
5. Identify the next opportunity or project for a do-over or try another take: By showing both how one can improve and then identifying an upcoming opportunity to put the feedback to work concentrates the mind and channels emotions to action and the possibility of correcting the shortfall.
6. Provide personal help and perspective: If feedback is provided in the context of what others have struggled with over the years or what you may have learned and improved it lets people know that mistakes, mess-ups, and other shortfalls are par for the course in career growth. By also asking how you can help re-enforces that you are on the persons side and are committed to try to make them improve.
The importance of holding ourselves accountable to getting feedback.
If we do not get continuous feedback, we begin to lose our edge and slowly wither into mediocrity.
But for a variety of reasons including those discussed earlier (Covid, DEI and polarization) but also because we may be too senior or too powerful and therefore either believe we do not need it or people are afraid to offer it to us many of us may not get feedback unless we actively solicit, listen and are sensitive to nuances and signals.
We should all be concerned if we do not get feedback of some sort because it may mean we a) don’t really matter, b) are being put out to pasture, c) are considered too difficult or prickly to deal with or d) have a reputation as bullies who punish anyone pointing out faults.
Three ways of ensuring one is getting feedback
1. Scan for signals: People are constantly providing feedback even if they are not vocalizing it. In some instances, you may gauge it in numerical signals from how well your writing is read, reacted to, or shared or whether you are invited to key meetings. Other times it is to watch facial and body language. You learn a lot by reading a room or a Zoom gallery.
2. Ask for feedback on a regular basis: One can do this with three simple questions which by the way they are framed ensure people are comfortable helping you since they are positive in tone:
a. What worked well?
b. If/when I do this next time what could be better?
c. Who do you think does what I need to do well and where can I learn more?
3. End of Day or Week Self Review: Most people know in their gut what worked or went well and what did not. Many successful individuals end the day or week with some variation of a quick review :
a. The Work: What went well with my work product that I feel proud signing it and what could have gone better.
b. The Team: What felt good and productive in the way I interacted with people and where could I have been better in some ways in handling my or someone else’s emotions.
c. The Improvement: What little improvement did I manage to make today or this week? A new habit. Learning a new approach. Strengthening a relationship.
One improves slowly over time.
Some days one improves and other days there are setbacks that one learns from. A practice of continuous improvement is what drives not just success for athletes but for all people.
The day we stop learning we stop growing and we begin dying.
By being accountable for our own feedback and by being comfortable helping others with feedback to unleash their growth is a sign of not just successful businesspeople but people who find success in every component of life.
Happiness is not necessarily where you start but how you get better and where you are going.
Feedback is a key to growth and the journey forward.
(And as many do every week please feel free to provide feedback to this piece as well as this thought letter. Your input has improve it bit by bit…)
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Rishad Tobaccowala (@rishad) is the author of the bestselling “Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data” published by HarperCollins globally in January 2020. It has been described as an “operating manual” for managing people, teams and careers in the age we live in and The Economist Magazine called it perhaps the best recent book on Stakeholder Capitalism. Business and Strategy named it among the best business books of the year and the best book on Marketing in 2020. Rishad is also a speaker, teacher and advisor who helps people think, feel and see differently about how to grow their companies, their teams and themselves. More at https://rishadtobaccowala.com/