The Power of Effective Feedback

Working - Vietnam: Oct. 17, 2019

The best leaders are those who ask for feedback and initiate employee engagement.

The need to learn and grow should be put forward.

Giving and receiving feedback is a skill.

Effective Feedback within the workplace results in closer relationships, better collaboration and increased effectiveness in performance. Business performance trainer and executive coach, Victor Burill, shares some valuable insight.

The Importance of Feedback in High-Performing Teams

According to a recent Forbes article, one of the essential characteristics of a high-performing team is one where the team members cultivate and practice an open feedback culture. These teams should provide and receive feedback regularly, regardless of position and tenure, in a productive way that should also deepen their relationships. Leaders can set the example by asking for feedback from team members, and responding positively versus defensively, effectively integrating the feedback into work behaviors.

Building an Open Feedback Culture starts with the Leader

Stephen R. Covey, the world renowned author and keynote speaker says...

“Leaders beware! The higher you go in an organisation, the less likely people are to give you straight feedback. Feedback is your life-support system. Without it, you will eventually fail. Do everything you can to create a culture where it is safe to give you feedback.”​

This should be taken as a motivational warning for any leader into creating an open feedback culture in the workplace.

The best leaders ask for more feedback, according to a study done by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman. In their research of over 50,000 executives they found that "Leaders who ranked at the top 10% in asking for feedback were rated much higher, on average, in overall leadership effectiveness."

Feedback is also linked to employee engagement. In another recent study of over 22,000 leaders, Zenger and Folkman found that there was a correlation between low ratings from direct reports about the leader's ability to give honest feedback and low engagement scores. Conversely, if a leader was rated in the top 10% at giving honest feedback, their reports ranked their engagement in the top 23%.

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Courtney Seiter, Director of People at Buffer says inviting feedback often, especially from those you trust will help any leader see challenges ahead of time, and you’ll gain experience in responding positively to feedback. She suggests beginning with open-ended questions for those who know you well and can speak with confidence about your work. Here are some great example questions:

- If you had to make two suggestions for improving my work, what would they be?

- How could I handle my projects more effectively?

- What could I do to make your job easier?

- How could I do a better job of following through on commitments?

- If you were in my position, what would you do to show people more appreciation?

- When do I need to involve other people in my decisions?

- How could I do a better job of prioritising my activities?

Overcoming the Fear of Giving and Receiving Feedback

One of the roadblocks of an open feedback culture is fear. When team members are fearful of what type of reaction they might receive if they say what they see, they are less likely to share openly – especially with their superiors.

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Imagine if you have just been asked if you would be open to some feedback. What would your reaction be? Does your stomach tighten? Do you feel fear or anger? Do you anticipate that this feedback will be critical? Are you already feeling defensive and believe that you need to explain, rationalise and justify your actions? These feelings are similar to those felt by many leaders.

Many managers I know think they are open to feedback. They often tell employees that I had an open-door policy for everyone. Then they get frustrated when they hear backdoor gossip. If they tell employees that they can speak with them, why weren’t they all coming to them directly? The answer is often because of how they are expected to react when others hold opposing views.

Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone in a 2014 issue of Harvard Business Review say... 

“The [feedback] process strikes at the tension between two core human needs — the need to learn and grow, and the need to be accepted just the way you are."

Providing Feedback isn’t Solely the Team Leader’s Responsibility

According to Mary Shapiro, who teaches organizational behavior at Simmons College and is the author of the HBR Guide to Leading Teams, leaders can’t be the only one holding everyone accountable because they can’t possibly observe everything that’s going on. If the boss is the only one praising or critiquing, group dynamics suffer. “You want to give everyone the opportunity to say their piece,” she says. “Your job as a manager is to ensure that team members are “providing regular constructive feedback,” says Roger Schwarz, an organizational psychologist and the author of Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams. “There needs to be an expectation within the team that this is a shared leadership responsibility,” he says.

How to Give and Receive Feedback

Giving and receiving feedback is a skill and most people are not naturally good at it, says Shapiro. “One of your goals is to develop your team’s capacity to give feedback and help people get used to articulating how they feel the team is doing.” Take baby steps. At the second or third check-in, ask the group general questions such as, “On a scale of one to five, how well is the team sharing the workload? What needs to change?”

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Courtney Seiter, Director of People at Buffer suggests the 7 Criteria for Effective Feedback are:

- The feedback provider is credible in the eyes of the feedback recipient

- The feedback provider is trusted by the feedback recipient

- The feedback is conveyed with good intentions

- The timing and the circumstances of giving the feedback are appropriate

- The feedback is given in an interactive manner

- The feedback message is clear

- The feedback is helpful to recipient

Final Tips of Giving & Receiving Feedback

Do:

- Make sure your team understands that feedback is a shared leadership responsibility

- Schedule routine check-in meetings where you encourage feedback

- Keep the tone positive by encouraging team members to say what they appreciate about others’ contributions

- Ask questions to get feedback on your feedback

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Don’t:

- Start meetings with your own feedback for the team — allow everyone else to first express how they think they’re doing

- Shy away from performance issues — address them openly with the group

- Get in the middle of personality conflicts — help facilitate difficult conversations

- Don’t assume you’re always right

Good luck in your journey in building a safe, feedback rich environment with your teams! - Victor Burrill

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