When you think of the word "feedback," what comes to mind? Does it include annual reviews, or tense meetings with your manager when they want to "discuss something," and you're not sure if it's going to further your development?
Or maybe a mistake has been made and it seems too late to go back and fix the issue.
I like to think of feedback like a flight you're navigating on a plane. Your end destination is Seattle, but somewhere along the way you get off-course and end up in San Diego.
Oops. How did that happen?
As a result, you have to course correct and go the extra mile to get back to your planned destination. However, what if you had realized while still in-air that you were heading to the wrong destination, and were able to course correct in Spokane rather than over a thousand miles south in California?
It would've saved you both time and money, plus the frustration of knowing that you could have adjusted your direction had you known about it sooner.
Feedback is course correction, the guidance along the way that helps you control an outcome. It could be a long or short term goal. Feedback is what helps you land at the airport that you actually want to land at. Just a small difference in course correction makes a really big difference.
This is where frequent feedback steps into the picture. When you focus on both giving and receiving feedback, you create the desire to proactively initiate that evaluation. Not only can you give your managers the tools to give direct feedback to their direct reports, and you are also giving your direct reports the desire to receive feedback.
And in the process, both manager and employee are interrogating their own realities and provoking learning.
What feedback looked like in the past
You're probably familiar with the traditional model of feedback: annual reviews where an employer or manager would go over an employee's performance, identify areas where they had grown or succeeded, and then identify where there there is opportunity for development.
The traditional model of feedback is reactive rather than proactive, and in the space between action and review, there are areas of opportunity that are missed. And when you start thinking about costs to the business, there is all sorts of duplication to the work that starts happening. For example, people go to other employees and try to learn from them, which is taking up their bandwidth as well.
When you replace this model with one where frequent, frequent feedback becomes a cultural norm, then you can nurture and support growth within your organization.
Millennials and feedback
One of the things that I explore in conversations with Fierce clients is where they already have formalized structures in place in which feedback can occur. These could be weekly, biweekly, or monthly meetings or check-ins. Having these formalized structures in place makes it easier to integrate frequent feedback in your company.
Traditionally, these structures may have existed but frequent feedback may not have been occurring in these spaces. I see this culture exist in industries where there are older generations in the workplace, like government entities, financial services, or manufacturing. It can be difficult to create this type of feedback in a workplace culture when there are employees who have been in the organization for a while, or are used to the same processes that have been in place for an extended period of time.
However, more and more organizations are filling their workforce with Millennials and Generation Z employees, and there is a discrepancy in what these generations desire in feedback about their performance compared to prior generations.
According to data from a survey conducted by the Harvard Business Review, Millennials want feedback 50 percent more often than other employees and see constant coaching and feedback as integral to their development.
There's a call for authentic, in-the-moment feedback that can't be ignored. And I honestly think that other people in the workplace want feedback too, besides Millennials.
Change is the new norm inside corporate America. Organizations can lean into the power and the benefits of ongoing feedback if they have the ability to course-correct along the way.
Feedback conversations in the moment
At Fierce, leaders provide direct and frequent feedback.
What's the result of these conversations? I am left feeling valued. I'm always growing. Yes, feedback is not always going to be something that makes you feel good. It can still be tough to receive critical feedback, and that emotion doesn't go away. However, it's intended to be constructive and for my benefit.
There are some times when I don't hear critical feedback well in the moment. And that's ok. Ask for some time to process the feedback, or if you are a manager, make sure to offer that time to your direct report. Respecting that space is important.
Then follow through on that feedback. Check back in.
What comes out of these feedback conversations—despite the subject of the observation—is that I am operating out of a growth versus fixed mindset. I can respond to the feedback as an opportunity to grow and continue in my development.
Here are some steps you can take to make frequent feedback conversations a norm in your workplace:
Step 1: Check in with yourself first
What characterizes successful feedback conversations is that they go both ways. If you are a manager, check in with yourself before delivering feedback. Our bodies have physiological reactions to feedback we don't want to hear. It's not uncommon for your body to go into deny, defend, deflect mode as a defense mechanism.
These lead to the feedback conversations that aren't meaningful or leave a less-than-positive emotional wake.
Before you share the feedback with your employee, ask yourself a few questions:
Are you ready to be proven wrong? Interrogate reality? Provoke learning? Are you prepared to have this conversation in a way that enriches the relationship?
Go into the conversation with the knowledge that the benefits outweigh the risks. Make sure that you pause to interrogate your own reality and provoke learning.
Step 2: Prelude feedback with a precursor
It's easiest to initiate feedback conversations when you already have a precedent, a pre-existing structure in place where check-ins are happening on a regular basis.
Instead of jumping straight to delivering the feedback, begin the conversation with a precursor. Try saying, "Hey, I have some feedback for you. Do you want to hear it?" Remember that a fierce, meaningful conversation is one where you're talking with someone and not to them.
If you're used to having consistent check-ins with your direct reports but haven't made frequent feedback a norm, be sure to let your employees know that you will be shifting the conversation models during your one-on-ones. Create the expectation that at every single week or bi-weekly meeting, you are going to be giving feedback to each other.
Having this shared understanding and holding each other accountable to it is going to help you become comfortable with both giving and receiving feedback.
Step 3: Start with a critical mass
A lot of the organizations that we work with here at Fierce experience communication that is so chaotic that the conversations don't carry any weight and don't enrich relationships. People hear empty promises.
These people need fierce conversations the most. And yes, It's a very daunting task when you're in that place, when you're trying to create a cultural change. When you don't know where or with whom to start.
If it matters to someone, it matters everywhere. Start small and you will start seeing cultural shifts. You can begin by identifying a critical population within your organization.
I see a lot of power in starting with the C-Suite. Generally, organizations that are experiencing this type of communication and conversation chaos possess a C-Suite that sees there is a problem and responds to it, or the C-Suite is the problem.
But even if frequent and consistent feedback isn't coming from your C-Suite, there are still ways to infiltrate the culture of your company and make feedback conversations a norm. The power of Fierce Conversations and our content is that we emphasize that the action is on the individual. You don't need to wait for someone else to change for change to happen. It starts with you, and once you make that change, you will see others respond to it.
Step 4: Share the why behind the action
The most important way to get someone to change when they need to change is to show them the benefits of doing so. Having a sense of purpose is going to drive behavior and behavioral changes. In fact, not having this connection to purpose is one of the six leading business problems we've identified in our latest eBook.
In Fierce Conversations programs, we talk about the powerful why before we introduce the action that's going to happen. What's in it for me?
What is the root issue that is making them so strongly committed to doing something differently? Are you actually trying to solve for the right issue in this place?
The first step is to have the conversation of "what is in it for you?". If you are experiencing resistance to this change, identify what the root cause of the resistance is and the unwillingness to adapt to this change.
And then, again, identify the why behind what you are doing, the why behind frequent, in-the-moment feedback conversations.
A huge, really core piece of initiating this cultural change is having the skills and the confidence to have feedback conversations. You may encounter some sort of fear or lack of confidence along the way. That's the beauty of what the Fierce training provides you: equipping of confidence and actual conversation tools.
Think about the airplane analogy: When feedback isn't consistent, you end up in San Diego rather than Spokane.
Every single time I come away from a feedback conversation in which I was actually open to having the discussion and showed up to the conversation, I was left with at least three or four really good ideas, as well as an understanding of how to be a better version of myself.
And the tangible benefits of these conversations is that you end up landing in Seattle or Spokane. I'm left with the knowledge that I am valued and that my company is pulling me up along with them. I like that people expect more of me and that people know I can do more and be better.
That's both empowering and motivating.
Mistakes are a part of creating new norms in the workplace
I like to remind people that we're all imperfect humans, and there are always opportunities for frequent feedback conversations to not go well. So here are some tips:
Give someone time to process.
Taking responsibility for your own emotional wake is really important. Check back in to see how someone is feeling after you've delivered feedback to them.
Consistency doesn't happen in a day, and people aren't going to new norms at first. That's the nature of change. Be aware that creating a culture of ongoing feedback is going to take time.
Take advantage of a chance to formalize giving frequent feedback. Once you've made these types of feedback conversations a habit, you can remove that infrequency. Remember the benefits to giving feedback and creating a cultural norm, and don't forget to reinforce change with the power of why.
To find out how you can create a culture of ongoing feedback in your workplace, check out our Feedback program. We're also happy to chat and brainstorm strategies to integrate feedback training in your leadership development programs.