We all want feedback. I want feedback from my bosses, those I supervise, and my peers so that I can improve. Peers and friends seek me out for my feedback so they can improve. And my children need feedback so they know how to behave. In short, we all need frequent feedback. Feedback from others is the fastest way to improve, it is how we learn and excel. Feedback motivates us and helps us to make appropriate course corrections and leverage our strengths. Admittedly, sometimes feedback is not what we expect and can push us outside of our comfort zones and even sting a little, but ultimately it is what helps us grow and improve.
At the State Department we have the 360 review process that provides feedback, but that is generally reserved for use during bidding season or when you take a leadership training course at the Foreign Service Institute. We have the obligatory “counseling sessions” which usually occur in support of the Employee Evaluation Report process. Though I am sure it exists in pockets, there does not seem to be any uniform application of a regular feedback process, there is even anecdotal evidence to suggest there exists a feedback vacuum.
Fullcirclefeedback.com.au defines a feedback vacuum as “a vacuum that occurs when people do not receive enough information about their performance.” This does not refer to the formal performance feedback process I mention above, but is rather an ongoing, regular and informal feedback loop that addresses:
- Whether or not employees are achieving their goals
- What they are supposed to be achieving in their role i.e. why their role exists
- What they are currently doing well and what areas require improvement
- How they are impacting others in the workplace
Keep in mind that feedback does not always have to be supervisor to subordinate, it can be peer to peer, subordinate to supervisor, and should be actively solicited by colleagues from colleagues at all levels.
The Partnership for Public Service outlines “Ten Good Guidelines for Giving Feedback”:
- Make it relevant. Your feedback should relate to how the person is meeting their performance standards and objectives, and helping to serve the office goals.
- Focus on the future. The past is over. Use it only to provide sufficient data so the person understands your concern. Focus on how things could be different in the future.
- Be honest and straightforward. Don’t avoid difficult issues. Try to be truthful and tactful at the same time.
- Make it timely. Give it as close to the event as possible. The exception being, wait until any feelings of anger have subsided.
- Be specific. Do not use vague and general statements such as “lacks professionalism.” Give people tangible examples of what you want them to change.
- Focus on behavior, not personality. People can’t change their personality; they can only change their behaviors. Describe observed behaviors, not your interpretation, or personality characteristics. Ask yourself: What could a camera or tape recorder have picked up that is, observable behavior?
- Keep it limited. If you have a lot of negative things to say, consider focusing just on the most important concerns. Address other issues later.
- Be sure it’s actionable. Only give feedback if the person can do something about it. Aim at skills, attitudes, and behaviors that can be developed or repeated. Be sure the person has access to learning opportunities and resources needed.
- Explain the impact. Tell the person why the behavior is important. Explain who and what it impacts and how.
- End on a positive note. Be encouraging and help motivate the person to develop him/herself. Remind him/her of their strengths and value to the office.
How feedback helps
Feedback helps employees find answers to important questions such as:
- How is my performance tracking with the needs of the office?
- What is the best use of my time?
- How do I prioritize tasks?
- How do I influence others?
- How does my position fit into the larger mission?
- What is the quality of my relationships with managers, team members, and colleagues?
Feedback provides the type of information we need to be successful in the workplace. The most prolific leaders actively seek feedback to enhance their performance.
Why feedback is important
Feedback is one of the easiest, effective, and most underutilized tools available to help people get on track. Feedback serves as a guide or roadmap to make people aware of their performance and how others perceive their performance.
Building a culture that values feedback is essential to creating and maintaining an environment that motivates employees to always bring their “A game” and to promote sustained high levels of performance. Feedback is directly correlated with employee satisfaction and productivity. People like to feel engaged in their organization and understand how their work contributes to the overall vision and mission. Ongoing and regular feedback is a powerful way to achieve that result.