If you are a millennial reading this article, then you are most likely like the rest us – looking for lots attention from leaders and managers who will spend time with you and help you develop. We want to feel like our work has an impact. Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Deutsche Bank, Bank of America, and many other organizations across the globe have figured this out about us. And they are bringing out fantastic new feedback practices to meet our hunger.
Why? Because feedback is one of the greatest tools for shaping behavior and fostering learning. Yet, people find it difficult to achieve the growth and learning they want from the feedback. Perhaps because so much of what is said tends to be unspecific or focused on emotions rather than the behavior that needs change.
Did you ever stop to think that every response you give another person at the workplace can be considered feedback? When your colleague said “Well, that speech you made was great. Keep up the good work” or when they said “I don’t know how you thought this was good enough to send out,” s/he is giving you feedback.
They both intended to tell you something that can help you grow. In the first situation, they intended to reinforce a good behavior or performance. While in the second, they intended to redirect the behavior or performance. These are two halves of the same coin. They both give us the information they need to improve their performance or work up to the full potential.
But do you think that in either example, the feedback that was delivered was the most useful? In the first example, I learned that I gave a good speech. But it did not necessarily give me all the information I needed to build on that performance for next time. In the second example, I learned that my work wasn’t good enough but it also told me that I held my work in higher regard than I should have. Even going as far as making me feel like I was stupid for considering it worthy of submitting. Even if it was clear that that the intention was to redirect the behavior, it was not useful in helping me do so.
Useful feedback is detailed feedback. The feedback is:
- Specific – It tells you what exactly went wrong, where and when it happened, who was involved, and how it could have been better. “This presentation needs more oomph!” is the type of feedback that will not tell the receiver what to do next time or what went wrong this time. Their next attempt might as well be another shot in the dark.
- Explaining the impact – It helps you understand the impact the behavior has on you, the team, or the organization. When the feedback is framed as a means to reach a goal of the team or organization, then it is an opportunity to solve a problem rather than criticize. Most BYLC graduates will relate to this as the feedback being work-centered and not person centered.
- Inquiring – It continues to ask questions during the feedback process, seeking descriptions from the recipient, and is not just based on assumptions or one version of the story. It does not assume that the one version is right. The more you can engage the recipient in thinking about alternative approaches during the feedback process, the more likely that they will be committed to the improvement.
- Accurate – It is credible feedback when the giver has an accurate understanding of the issue before jumping in, especially where the feedback has the potential of impacting the person’s perception of themselves and/or strain relationships. It is best to cross check your observations with others to see if they arrived at similar interpretations as you.
“The presentation you just made was not necessarily the most visually attractive. I found the use of graphics to be inconsistent and the amount of text used as hard to digest. You should find out whether other people in the room felt the same way. Perhaps, when you deliver the presentation next time you could modulate your voice in a way that makes it more inspiring and holds the audience’s attention. This time, I felt, that it was not evident whether you bought into your own ideas. How did you feel about the ideas you presented? What did you make of the reactions that you got from the audience?” This kind of feedback will leave the listener with more to process during the feedback process and even when they go back to the drawing board.
If you are the one receiving the feedback, it is equally important for you to participate in the learning process – by probing. It is unlikely that every time someone gives you feedback, they will give you detailed feedback. Rather the onus is on you to probe, seek information, and ask about the details so that you can better redirect or reinforce your behavior or performance. Often, you yourself are the most important stakeholder in helping you achieve your goals.
My advice is for you to take ownership of your own learning and development rather than wait for someone else to do it. Have the humility to seek out that one-on-one attention you crave. Don’t just do it for the attention, but really listen, ask questions, and follow through by integrating it into your learning and development plan with next steps attached to it. Don’t have one? Then make one.
Shirley Poertner and Karen Massetti, (1996), The Art of Giving and Receiving Feedback, Coastal Training Technologies Corp.
Cynthia M. Poel, (2009), Feedback that works, Harvard Business Review
Portia Crowe, (2016), Goldman Sachs just figured out something important about millennials, Business Insider