A Team Culture Fueled by Feedback

“Make feedback normal. Not a performance review.” – Ed Batista

Performance reviews. One-on-ones. Department meetings. What do these all have in common? The opportunity and inevitability of feedback! For some, feedback fuels our curiosity and creativity to learn new things. For others, a natural recoil occurs — the word “feedback” is synonymous with “fear.” But whether we like it or not, feedback is fundamental to our success and overall professional development. Without it, stagnancy would prevail and new, exciting ideas and results would fail to be discovered. Because the Wonder Buds are committed to constant growth, we invite you to join us as we peel apart the mysterious layers that make up feedback and learn how to give it, hear it, and use it to our advantage.

What is Feedback?

Contrary to popular belief, feedback is not necessarily advice, praise, criticism, or evaluation. True feedback is information about how one is doing in an effort to reach a goal. Effective feedback is given in a time of learning when there is still time to act on it. It’s used to provide constructive criticism or encouraging suggestions on ways to better oneself, an organization, or a team. At its very core, feedback is a fundamental pillar of a successful company culture. Without it, that culture that a team has worked so hard to construct can collapse. 

Why Should We Care About Feedback?

Asking for feedback results in continuous improvement, smarter decision-making and stronger teams. Here are a few reasons why feedback matters:

  • Whether things are going well or not, feedback helps people overcome the two biggest barriers from doing great work: unclear expectations and inadequate skills.
  • Constructive feedback is vital to employees’ ongoing development. It clarifies expectations, helps people learn from their mistakes, and builds confidence. 
  • Feedback helps people make better-informed decisions, produce their best work, and become better leaders. In a 2013 study discussed in Forbes, researchers found that leaders who gave honest feedback were rated as five times more effective than ones who do not. What’s more, leaders who gave honest feedback had employees who were rated as three times more engaged. Nice!

How to Effectively Ask for Feedback

We unintentionally ask for feedback in hundreds of ways throughout our days. Emails, instant messages, and shoulder taps are all direct and indirect ways we ask for feedback on a daily basis. But if you’re looking to effectively and intentionally ask for feedback, follow these steps:

  • Set up a meeting and define your goals — Go into your meeting with an agenda and document the feedback. Bring a specific thought or action item to the table to keep the meeting succinct and efficient.
  • Ask the right questions — Robert Cialdini, a psychology professor at Arizona State University, recommends this simple swap: Instead of saying “Can I get your opinion on this?” say “Can I get your advice on this?” Ask specific, open ended questions, and ask often. Instead of asking, “What do you think of this project?” ask, “What would success on this project look like for you?”
  • Follow up and take action — The biggest waste of time is collecting feedback and doing nothing with it. Make the changes you need to in order to improve processes in the future with all stakeholders involved. And when you have made those changes, circle back with those who have provided input, and tell them what you have done. This will send them the message that you value their input, which will encourage them to continue contributing in honest and straightforward ways in the future.

How to Effectively Hear Feedback

Putting your preconceptions, emotions, and interests aside to truly hear and understand the feedback you receive is no walk in the park. These tips make it easier. Read on to listen and learn like a pro:

  • Listen with curiosity — Feedback is the answer to a problem you may or may not have known you have. If you are curious, you can become engaged in the conversation. Without an element of genuine curiosity, the feedback directed toward you will not be processed.
  • Ask away — Asking questions after receiving constructive criticism shows that you're taking those remarks to heart, and that you're serious about understanding them and using them to your advantage- even if you disagree. Check yourself for signs of defensiveness, as this will prohibit you from absorbing key information and valid remarks.
  • Always Assume Positive Intent — AAPI, people. When someone offers feedback on what you’re doing, whether you asked for it or not, assume that they’re trying to help you. This video and this article provide you with tips on how to take feedback like a pro.
  • Be mindful of your cognitive bias — Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms your preexisting beliefs or hypotheses. Cognitive bias can prevent us from fairly evaluating the critical feedback that could help us. Tell yourself that the goal is to learn and that behaviors can change. 

How to Effectively Give Feedback

Giving feedback can be tricky. Your team may not absorb your comments if the delivery is harsh or unclear, and what you intend to say and what someone hears are not always the same. Many of us avoid confrontation by serving up a “feedback sandwich,” hoping constructive criticism will be easier to swallow if it’s wedged between two layers of praise. Researchers agree this method is ultimately unappetizing, so here are a few tried-and-true tips on how to effectively give feedback:

  • Be curious! Approach critical feedback with a sense of curiosity and an honest desire to understand the other person’s perspective. State your point directly and then ask “Does this feedback resonate with you? Why or why not?”
  • Focus on strengths — When opportunities for improvement are framed in the context of someone’s strengths, feedback becomes a developmental tool, not a marker of deficiency. The message goes from, “Fix your flaws,” to “Keep playing to your strengths while you neutralize your weaknesses.” Looking to learn more? Check out this podcast, we think you’ll like it. 
  • Be specific — Making your feedback as specific as possible will help clear up confusion and avoid miscommunication. Deliver feedback directly and dispassionately (it’s a word). Plainly say what you perceive the issue to be, what made you feel that way, and how you’d like to work together with the recipient of your feedback to resolve the concern. Here’s an example on how to structure your sentences: “When I [heard/observed/saw] your [action/behavior/output], I felt concerned because . . .  I’d like to understand your perspective and talk about how we can resolve this.”
  • See something, say something — Giving unsolicited feedback in a positive way reinforces more of what you’d like to see more of without being threatening. It makes the listener feel safe, show you’re saying it because you care about them and want them to succeed.
  • Encourage dissent — Rather than encouraging agreement, actively seek out dissent with a slight change in how you ask for feedback. Best selling author and speaker Daniel Pink notes that “people are more likely to say, ‘Does that make sense?’, out of politeness, and also just out of self, ‘Oh, of course, that makes sense. Yeah, yeah, yeah.’ So, I converted a little bit, “What about that doesn’t make sense?” Learn more about ways to frame your questions with dissent through this article

Still stumped? This podcast provides some more insight.

Structuring Opportunities for Feedback

So we’ve established that feedback is important and necessary. Now let’s outline an actionable plan to put feedback opportunities in place for your team.

  • Set expectations — Before any work is begun, set clear expectations about what success looks like for a given project. By setting the expectation that you’d like to hear about any concerns, you establish it’s safe to talk about problems even in the early phases. Be sure to include or ask for helpful tips or common pitfalls. As Julie Zhuo, author and vice president of product design at Facebook, mentions in “The Making of a Manager,” establishing expectations is “like starting a journey with a well-marked map and milestones”. 
  • Establish Project Check-Ins — Once expectations are established, take time to schedule Project Check-Ins. This allows your team to receive guided feedback and an internal review on projects at various stages of progress or completion, and before they go out to other departments or clients. These check-ins are great opportunities for curious critique and conversations that dive into the reasons on why decisions and choices were made on a certain project. Not only do check-ins give yourself, your team, and your projects more breathing room, it reduces urgency while inviting opportunities to collaborate, strategize, save time and quickly pivot to new ideas. 
  • Ask often — Don’t wait until a performance review to share critical feedback! If you wait for biannual reviews, your report will be blindsided with bad news and potentially feel 1 of 3 ways:
    — “This review isn’t fair. If it were that bad, why didn’t it come up until now? There must be a mistake.”
    — “This review is fair, but my manager wasn’t paying attention to my performance until it was time for my review.”
    — “This review is fair, but my manager wasn’t honest with me sooner, and I wasn’t given a chance to improve.”

The sooner that someone realizes they are not meeting expectations, the quicker they can potentially turn things around. If you’d like to listen and learn more about feedback opportunities, the following TED Talks should give you a variety of valuable insights.

Avoiding feedback prevents us from uncovering exciting new discoveries and breakthroughs in our daily grind. In using these tips, tools, and resources, the Buds here at Wonderist Agency can lean into feedback with an open mind and clear direction for improvement. 

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