Giving feedback shouldn’t just be your responsibility, although it starts with you.
One of the most common issues I help managers with is overcoming the fear of giving feedback, namely when having to be the bearer of bad news. For many of us, our imaginations can take over about all the things that could go wrong in the conversation and for some, we imagine an almost Jerry Springer-esque fallout (remember him?) But in all my time working with managers, and when I was a manager myself, I’ve yet to come across a time when chairs got hurled across a room in response to a tough message.
Part of this catastrophising about all the things that could go wrong when giving feedback comes from putting pressure on ourselves to be the sole arbiters of feedback. But what if we spread the responsibility for giving feedback? What if we created team cultures where everyone in the team felt confident and able to give feedback to each other?
If that sounds like something that appeals to you, then here are my top tips to get you to that place:
Proactively ask for feedback
It starts with you. I suggest to managers to not wait for the corporate HR team to roll-out a formal 360-degree feedback system. In fact, research from Ross Business School, at the University of Michigan, found that when chief executives proactively asked for feedback they had better bottom-line company performance. In other words, there is absolutely nothing stopping you from asking your team, along with your peers, line manager and other key stakeholders, the following questions:
- What do I do really well and should continue to do?
2. What do I do less well and should work on? What should I stop doing?
3. What am I not doing but should start doing?
Following a restructure, back when I was a senior manager, I ended up with a mix of teams. There were those who knew me well and trusted me, and those who didn’t really know me and so, didn’t trust me. I knew that I needed to play the long game to build trust and couldn’t force expectations too soon. Therefore, after the first three months, I asked everyone for feedback, using the three questions above. I gave people the choice of either sending me their feedback directly, or if they felt more comfortable and safer being anonymous, to print off feedback and put in an envelope marked for my attention. The first time I asked my new teams for feedback, many did it anonymously but over time they started to feel comfortable owning their feedback and telling me direct. And the reason for this is, in part, down to the next two tips.
Role-model how to receive feedback
Once you’ve received everyone’s responses to the three questions, the onus is very much on you to demonstrate how to receive feedback. Yes, even the feedback that hurts a bit. And, sometimes, some of the feedback can hurt as it can touch on our own insecurities. This is why it can be useful to talk through the feedback with someone you trust. It could be a coach, if you have one. Or a mentor, or a trusted colleague. Talking it through with someone can help you make sense of the feedback and identify themes and patterns that you might have overlooked. Taking time to reflect on the feedback is a key step and important for your own development
One thing I used to do was share the feedback with my immediate direct reports – I had five team managers who reported to me. First, I thanked them and their teams for taking the time to respond. Second, I shared the themes and some of the comments that related to themes. Third, I gave the team the opportunity to ask me questions. And finally, I’d talk about what I was going to do, which is the final tip.
Show what you’re doing in response to feedback
There is nothing more disheartening than taking the time to give your manager feedback via something like 360, only to never hear about it ever again. Therefore, a fundamental step is to talk about your plan. What specific things are you going to work on and how? What are you not going to work on and why? Then, once a month, share where you’ve got to on your development journey…. until the next time you ask for feedback. And then the whole thing starts again.
What I found, and what managers that I work with have found, is that gradually, over time, you’ve laid the foundations for a feedback culture. In my former team, my team managers then mimicked my process and asked for feedback, going through the steps outlined above. This then led to everyone else across the teams, i.e. non-managers, having some kind of self-facilitated 360.
It’s important to emphasise that creating this kind of culture takes time and consistent effort on your part. It took around 12 months to get to the point where the whole team, managers and non-managers, all conducted their own kind of 360. After that, it started to become the norm to give each other feedback directly and verbally, in team meetings or in private 121s, if the feedback was a bit more sensitive. What this doesn’t do is negate your responsibility for giving feedback but what it does do is share the responsibility and creates an environment where everyone is open and honest with each other.
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