Can I Give You Some Feedback?

Have you ever been part of a 360 degree review process? The idea behind these programs is to give an individual a truly holistic view of their performance by asking for feedback from their supervisors, peers and direct reports. A long time ago, I had my own 360-degree review experience through the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL).

In other words, a long time ago, I had the pleasure to find out what everyone I worked with thinks of me. The way I look at that experience, it reminds me of a trip to the emergency room. So much deeply personal feedback and information of high value and interest was thrown at me. And like many trips to the ER, I left feeling pained, but hopeful (or not). I mean, you hear everyone’s impression of you and you just want to crawl into a hole.

The program at CCL also included a lot of one-on-one counseling and self assessments, which I definitely needed. Eventually, I was able to take the feedback constructively, and realize that my own perception is just one small piece of the whole. I left realizing how I perceive myself is very different from how others perceive me, and if I didn’t bridge that gap it wouldn’t be helpful for the business or me personally.

360-Degree Reviews and Emotional Intelligence
It turns out that 360-degree reviews really help with the emotional intelligence component of leadership. The process allows you to become more self aware, and therefore you are able to self-regulate. Another invaluable result from 360-degree reviews is that they can help identify your true motivations, and how people receive that.

This happened with a colleague of mine. Shari attended CCL a few years after me, and gave herself excellent marks on collaboration during the self-assessment component of her 360-degree review. She was shocked when her colleagues scored her on the low end of the spectrum for collaboration. “Really?” she asked me. “I always meet with my team before we embark on any big project, and am very clear in letting them know what our goals are. How could they score me so low here?”

What Shari began to realize was that her teammates had a different view of collaboration. For them, collaboration meant sharing goals and outcomes together before beginning the process of achieving them, and then coming up with a plan together. Shari is an incredibly driven and successful business leader, and she is motivated by winning and accomplishing her own goals. This became evident to her as she read the feedback from her peers, who felt that rather than collaborating together to achieve goals, they were just carrying out her orders. This feedback has been valuable for Shari as a leader throughout her career. She hasn’t stopped being driven by her goals and the desire to win, but she has become more self aware. She has learned to listen to her team, invite their feedback early on in the planning process, and has been developing her collaboration skills.

The Cycle of Feedback
One of the reasons I felt so vulnerable after I read the feedback (and criticisms) of so many of my peers was that I really cared what they thought of me. It was hard to hear them say negative things. It would have been easy for me to dismiss that criticism, saying “it’s just who I am,” or to blame them for misunderstanding me. We all want feedback; but what we really want is praise.

So, here’s my question: What are we looking for?

There’s praise, there’s criticism and there’s feedback. How can we provide all of them in balance where people feel esteemed, loved and honored, without hiding the truth?

I like to think of feedback like a muscle that needs to be trained. As you use it, it gets stronger. As you encourage more and more truthful feedback among your team, the more comfortable people are receiving it and giving it. Wondering how to start training the feedback muscle? It’s easy. For example, I always ask one question at the end of all of the meetings I hold. “How do you think I did in this meeting?”

I do the same thing after sales calls. I will start by asking my sales reps what their expectations are, and when we debrief after a call I will ask them how I did and what I should do differently next time. This gives them an opportunity to provide me with truthful feedback I can use to grow as a leader. It also opens up the dialog. Nine times out of ten, they will respond with, “How did I do?”

In performance reviews, which can be top-down in so many organizations, there is always an opportunity to include a 360-degree component. At the end of any formal review, I like to ask my team members, “How would you like me to support you differently?” and “What do I do that drives you crazy?” We are in a relationship after all. We care about each other and feedback is just one of the ways we can demonstrate that we care.

To keep training your “feedback muscles,” you need to be intentional. Start by creating a regular training schedule. Find opportunities to include simple, intentional feedback questions into your daily meetings or follow-up emails.

Here are some questions you can start incorporating:

  • How did we do today?
  • What could we have done differently?
  • What did we do well?
  • Were there any missed opportunities?

Keep at it, you and your team will be so accustomed to the cycle of giving and receiving feedback that you won’t even realize how much the entire team’s output and execution has improved in the process. The natural result of the balanced communication is that your personal output as well as the team’s output will continuously improve.