Feedback has always been a “trigger” word for me. Given my long history and short attention span, I’ve been getting feedback from well-meaning individuals for years. I understand the value of feedback; however, when I receive it from some, my left hand is behind my back with my fingers crossed. Why does feedback, such a critical component of every performance improvement effort, elicit such a mixed reaction?
I believe ineffective feedback suffers from three fatal flaws. First, it is unsolicited. Even when I don’t ask for feedback, it doesn’t seem to stop some people from giving it. Second, ineffective feedback can be frustratingly nonspecific if not downright inaccurate. Third, ineffective feedback is skewed toward the negative.
Over my career, I have had the opportunity to work with some virtuosos who have set powerful examples of how to provide feedback in a manner that not only improved my performance but built our relationship as well. Here’s how they did it:
1) The Feedback was expected. The best feedback I have received over my career has always been expected and embedded in clear objectives committed to by both parties. Effective feedback is also specific and focused; it is regularly scheduled, and seldom a surprise. I frequently requested the feedback and saw it as a helpful step to maintain my momentum toward important goals.
2) The Feedback was positive. Even problems, when resolved within the performance cycle, increased my confidence or “faith” in my ability. Success was celebrated without being disingenuous. Discussions about my performance were always driven by a belief in my skill and built upon my natural desire to improve.
3) The Feedback was self-reflective. It always began with my own assessment of what was working, and what was getting in the way. This was followed by identifying targeted actions I would take to maintain progress or get my performance back on track. My self-assessment was melded with input from my coach or performance partner who provided additional perspective that supported and enhanced my assessment and built commitment and accountability.
Lastly, in reflecting on my most positive performance experiences, I would describe it as always a process, rather than an isolated event. Goals were continually revived to keep up with changing conditions. Progress against these goals was reviewed in a closed-loop system that kept me moving in the correct direction.