Feedback—A Two Way Street

3 min read

“We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.”
– Bill Gates

Feedback may be the breakfast of champions, but sometimes it can strike fear, be intimidating, de-motivating, and often, just plain unpleasant. While feedback is often not a leader’s favorite “meal,” it is an essential component of a healthy work culture – and a fundamental building block to creating an engaged, high performing team. Ask yourself, “When was the last time someone gave me feedback outside of a performance review?”

If you have to think longer than 10 seconds, it likely has been too long. Although the feedback process often, unfortunately, produces anxiety for the receiver AND the giver, it is truly one of the greatest gifts you can give and receive. Positive feedback may be the catalyst you need to build up the courage to do something outside your comfort zone or think innovatively to create that “next great idea.” The converse is also true. Research shows that what is often perceived as “negative” or “constructive” feedback actually fosters greater growth and deeper possibilities for success.

Regardless of one’s leadership level, people desire to know:

  • What is expected of me?
  • How am I doing?
  • What am I doing well?
  • What can I develop even more?
  • What’s next?

People seek opportunities to excel by enhancing their best qualities and addressing behaviors that need development.  A feedback culture allows these opportunities to become actionable realities through growth and self-reflection.

So, as employees and leaders, how do we foster a culture of feedback where everyone is eager to give, ask for, and receive positive AND negative feedback?

A culture of feedback flourishes when three essential success factors are in play:

1) Leaders and employees understand that feedback is a shared responsibility – feedback doesn’t fall into only the hands of a leader

2) The giver AND receiver foster a growth mindset – the focus is on learning and development for each person

3) Communication skills to “feedforward” are used to create an environment of positive expectation, allowing giver and receiver to openly hear one another about the feedback content

So, HOW do organizations encourage a culture of feedback?

First, focus on what is important to people. Give feedback by positively reinforcing what someone is already doing well; our brains are more open to a conversation if it starts on a positive note. Remember, it is important to share feedback about behaviors that require development, so understanding how to give this kind of feedback is pivotal.

While giving and receiving feedback, it is vital that you stay calm and regulate your emotions – you always “own” your response. When expressing desire for development or a critique of performance, remember to: 

Leaders, keep in mind some employees may be highly sensitive to feedback about their development; ask the employee for permission to schedule a feedback session. The agenda must be a simple 2-step process, in this order:

1. Discuss what the person is doing WELL

           2. Discuss what the person might do EVEN Better

NOTE: Always send the agenda prior to the meeting.

Finally, follow up! Proactively set a date together to re-evaluate the progress. As you receive feedback (both positive and for development), actively listen to understand, engage in conversation, and, ask thought-provoking questions for clarity of your improvement. Remember, you can initiate and schedule your own feedback session; Don’t wait! Ask successful peers for suggestions on your improvement, especially if you feel feedback from your direct manager isn’t being offered as much as you would like.

As leaders, keep in mind that feedback from your employees about your leadership, is vital, too. Schedule time to ask, one-on-one, for direct feedback from each of your employees, utilizing this “brain-friendly”, 4-step process:

  1. On a scale of 1-10, how I am I doing as a leader?
  2. Thank you for the score of ___.
  3. What is going well that made the score a ___?
  4. What would it take for my leadership to score a 10?

Take notes for your own leadership development plan. And, after receiving your employees’ feedback, engage in a reality-check. Schedule time to also ask a mentor for a performance feedback session. Doing so, will allow you to examine the employees’ feedback, as compared to your mentor’s feedback and that of your own intuitive knowing yourself. Finally, and maybe most importantly, evaluate your leadership behaviors with a research-based leadership assessment. This comprehensive approach will increase your self-awareness, while upping the ante on the authentic quality of your leadership.

Leaders AND Employees, once you realize you can give and receive feedback in a non-threatening way, you’ll recognize new opportunities, growth, and advancement that can occur! The value of embracing feedback far outweighs the potential discomfort and gives you actionable behaviors to improve your success. Remember, a thriving feedback culture is a shared, two-way street, paved by balanced, “brain-friendly” giving and receiving of feedback.

Cheri Rainey is the CEO/Founder of Rainey Leadership Learning, partnering with leaders to support the entire employee life cycle.