The gift of giving feedback

In the past, I worked with a company that used to get together each month to update the team on the organization's strategic direction, share news about successes, discuss challenges and allow the team to network. This was a great approach and everyone looked forward to the day with the exception of one regular presentation. Anna, as we'll call this person, was a senior figure who had a standing agenda item to share news about new joiners, those who had gone above and beyond in their work in the prior month, and leavers. The first time I saw Anna speak, I thought she was having a bad day. She was quiet, monotone, she read the pieces of information directly from her notes and only smiled very briefly when passing the baton to the next presenter. Then I saw her again the following month and again most months thereafter and each time it was the same. Now, to be clear, it wasn't like everyone thought she was doing a fantastic job in that area of her work. Indeed, everyone was talking about Anna and how she didn't do a good job at the monthly meeting, but no-one was telling the one person who could truly do something about it; Anna.

For whatever reasons Anna wasn't excelling at that aspect of her role (which is a separate topic and, as an aside, I have a core experiential learning course on that very topic), she was being robbed of the opportunity to develop skills in this area, improve the perceptions of others around her and, potentially, get to the next level in her career. 

Now, let's get really personal and see if we can bring this to life for you so you truly understand the impact of people not sharing feedback with you. If you've ever walked around for the afternoon with something in your teeth from your lunch, only to get home and see it there, you've probably asked yourself why someone didn't tell you about it. And you won't be alone. Now, the fact that the two examples are so far apart makes no real difference to recipient of the feedback. Knowledge is power, and although it's easier to check for remnants of your lunch before you head back to work, it's always better to know (through any means) how you can make changes.

Let's be clear on what we're talking about when I use the term feedback. Somewhat clinically, it's sharing your perceptions of another’s behavior and performance based on objective observation and analysis to reinforce or redirect the performance of another person. 

Keeping it simple, there are two broad types of feedback. There's the "you're doing a great job" kind of feedback, which is often known as "positive" or "reinforcing" feedback and then there's the "you need to do this differently" feedback, which can be known as "developmental", "constructive", or - in some company cultures - "negative" feedback.

The funny thing about feedback is that it truly is a gift. I remember, early on in my career, I used to love getting the positive feedback. Each pat on the back made me feel great. And as I matured, and saw the true value in feedback (which, being honest, probably came as I moved on to being a manager and needing to develop my team), I saw that although all feedback is a gift, the biggest, best gift you can give someone is the gift of constructive feedback. And why? Simply because it helps them grow.

If you spend your working life only receiving positive feedback, you'll know that you are doing a good job in the areas where you are doing a good job now, but you won't easily grow from that. And sure, being an expert in some areas is great, though broadening your skillset and capabilities such that you can be the "go to" person across breadth because you have the depth, is the better outcome.

It's not surprising to me that the turnover rate in companies is 14.9% lower where there is regular employee feedback, according to a survey by Office Vibe. So giving feedback is not just good for the individual employee, it's good for the team, manager/leader and company.  

Further, in 2012, Towers Watson research showed that only 39% of employees thought that their senior leadership did a good job of developing their future leaders. I imagine that a failure to provide feedback would contribute towards this. And what a waste that is! Think of the loss of knowledge from leavers, the cost of replacing and training these people and the impact on the team members who remain. A lot of this pain would be experienced because of a lack of feedback and when weighed against the cost of appropriately training everyone on how to give good feedback (that's feedback that is delivered well, rather than just positive feedback), it really doesn't stack up.

On top of that, 69% of employees say they would work harder if they felt their efforts were better recognized (Office Vibe) and if we engage our team members and provide balanced feedback, we are recognizing what they have done well and at the same time helping them to grow and develop in a safe environment.

So, if it makes sense to give feedback to our colleagues, why don't we do it?

Well, there's certainly something emotional about the phrase, "I'd like to give you some feedback". We've all felt that sinking feeling when we hear it, though for the most part - leaving aside corporate conditioning and assuming that people have the best possible intent in the process - there's truly only value in it!

I run a learning session on this very topic and the participants recoil in horror when I mention that phrase. But over the course of the event, they learn to embrace it and see feedback as the gift it truly is. 

What would happen, I wonder, if you received feedback each day or week; would that help you grow and develop? And would that mean you could be promoted earlier and receive all of the pay, training and other benefits that come along with that? Sure. 

And the funny thing is, that the gift of feedback is only really a gift if you give it to someone. The fact that 15 people knew you had something green from your lunch in your teeth didn't help you and it didn't help them. Had they told you, you could have done something about it.

The same is true for Anna; perhaps she doesn't know how to present effectively, perhaps she hasn't had appropriate training and opportunities to practice so she isn't nervous and perhaps she would want to do that if she knew! But as no-one has given her the gift of this feedback, she doesn't know. And therein lies the rub; we grow when we receive feedback that will help us grow.  And for those people who know something could be better but keep that gift of feedback to themselves, shame on you for not giving out more gifts along the way.

As well as being an experienced management consultant and energetic public speaker, Rob Whitfield is a certified Trainer of Neuro-Linguistic Programming, a certified Master Coach and a certified Master Practitioner of Hypnotherapy and Time Line Therapy. No Bull. Start your transformation journey here or sign up here to get your own copy of the FREE periodic One Brit, No Bull newsletter delivered by email.