Professional Development: It’s not a one way street

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A friend of mine was talking to me earlier this week about his experience at work when it comes to professional development. Like many people, he’s just been through the semi-annual performance review process and he got some great feedback that celebrated his accomplishments, as well as some specific feedback on what he might do differently in the future in service of his career next steps. I told him that as a starting point, he’s lucky – many organizations don’t invest in providing balanced, meaningful feedback in a timely fashion, and as I’ve written about before, the performance review cycle is often abused.

As my friend was speaking, what delighted me was his concern for his manager. He told me that he felt there were no avenues for him to provide feedback to his manager, and therefore, he didn’t know how to approach it with him, given that he wanted to help his manager by investing in providing that feedback, too.

Decades of corporate history have set expectations that feedback goes one way; down. Our research, over about 20 years, has shown that the highest performing teams are formed with individuals at all levels that are open to constant, candid feedback, including peer-to-peer and peer-to-manager. Knowing this, and making it easy to have these conversations – especially the most valuable ones where we offer our manager or leader constructive feedback for their growth – are two different things. It takes someone brave to just offer unsolicited feedback to their manager in an environment where it’s not expected or where there’s no implied permission for the conversation, and some might say it’s downright stupid and/or career limiting as a result. My personal view is that an important part of everyone’s role – whether formally stated or not – is to develop other people and there’s always a way to make it happen in a safe manner, even in the most culturally challenging environments.

We work with teams all the time where there’s a lot of value in improving the cadence, propensity, and candor of feedback in all directions, and we go further and suggest it takes places in 360 degree format in real time (e.g. after a specific event or meeting, daily or weekly) across functional teams as well as managerial levels. We take the time to set expectations on how to do this by practicing caring candor and being of service to each other and this makes a big difference. In doing so, we’ve seen teams transformed in front of our eyes; individuals feel more valued and are motivated to step up merely by the celebration of their successes, people start to think more consciously about how they interact with their colleagues and it shows up in everything they do, and managers feel more like a member of the team again – instead of one side of the ‘them and us’ equation. Moreover, all members of the team – at any level – feel more connected and centered around the team’s north star or purpose.

From my point of view, I know some of the best feedback I’ve had is from people who have been part of my team, and the more open we are to hearing and acting upon feedback from a wide range of sources, the more easily we’ll be in a position to grow, develop, and succeed. Being open to it is the first step, and helping others be open to it is critical, too.

So, I suggested to my friend that he ask his manager for permission to provide feedback, and he do that with the view that he could then offer feedback in the future. My friend jumped at the chance and was delighted to report back that his manager asked him to start right away. On hearing the constructive feedback, his manager thanked my friend for looking out for him. What a win-win situation.

Rob Whitfield is the CEO of Ferrazzi Greenlight, a behavior engineering company that provides keynote speaking, coaching, and consulting services to organizations around the world. If you’d like your team to be more agile in mindsets, behaviors, and practices, and to achieve some of the benefits that are well within reach, get in touch and we can explore how you can empower your people to want to aim higher, together. Not only will your results speak for themselves, but you’ll have more control, satisfaction, and joy in your day to day work. Follow me on LinkedIn, or get in touch to start shifting your results.