Making feedback count

Any organization, which is a ‘learning organization’, will always have an edge over other companies in today’s global competitive world. How does an organization keep learning? What feeds into the learning of an organization. Well, there are two primary factors:

1) Learning from the external factors such as economy, competition, end-user needs etc.

2) Internal factors such as innovation, ability to quickly adapt to changes and most importantly, keep people up to date when it comes to embracing changes. Organizations need to be ready to embrace signals coming in from all the different factors to be true ‘learning organization’.

One of the key internal factors is its ‘people’ working towards making an organization what it is. While adapting to external factors is important, creating a culture to embrace ‘feedback’ is equally important to keep up with what is constant – ‘change’ for an organization to be ‘learning’ organization.

Here are some tips to make sure every ‘feedback’ session counts for both, the giver and the receiver irrespective of the frequency of such sessions.

How do you give feedback? 

This is an activity not be taken lightly. If you are walking into the room to give feedback without spending few hours thinking about it, talking to relevant people and validating your inputs, rest assured, you are not doing yourself a favor. While you prepare for the feedback to an individual or group of people, here are things to keep in mind.

  1. Be objective: Don’t pass on judgment as feedback such as ‘your performance is not good or you don’t know how to win business’. Instead, discuss about symptoms, observations and let the receiver know that you are here to discuss what and how you feel.
  2. Drive conversation through examples: For every point you want to make, think of an example as to why you are making your point. If you can’t think of an example you can discuss with the receiver, it is not worthwhile to include that point as part of your feedback.
  3. Use more of ‘here is what I would do’: While you discuss about your observations and drive the conversation via examples, it is also important to discuss what you would have done in that situation. This gives more confidence and room for discussion rather than making the feedback session more of one-way street.
  4. Focus on the receiver’s strengths: Every individual has set of strengths and many weaknesses. While feedback needs to constructive and objective enough for the receiver to be able to do something good with it, it is important that you stay focused on his / her strengths. Bring out your observations about things that an individual is really doing well.
  5. Give feedback when it matters: Sometimes, it is not worth waiting 6-8 months to give certain type of feedback. For example, if an individual is trying to be public speaker and your observation was that he / she did not engage the audience well, you need to give that feedback right after the session so that it can be improved while the context is fresh.

How do you receive feedback?

Each one of us has received feedback in our professional lives in more than one occasion. There must have been times when you felt totally worthless on some occasions and other times when you were on the ninth cloud. Receiving feedback can be a mix of many emotions including frustration, anxiousness, anger, happiness and much more. The last thing you would want to do is to ‘react’ emotionally during the feedback session. Here are few things you want to avoid as a reaction.

  1. Don’t defend what’s being said: Never disagree on the content during the feedback session out of emotions. This is your time to ‘inhale’ as much as you can in a way that you can ponder over it later. Do not defend what’s being said.
  2. Don’t react as if your world is coming to an end: The feedback session is meant to help you and your career. It is not meant for you to feel humiliated or to feel as if your world is coming to an end. Trust me, it is not. So, the last thing you want to do is to react as if your world is coming to an end especially, if you are hearing things, which are not pleasing.
  3. Avoid negative body language and facial expressions: Do not let emotions control your body language and facial expressions. It will only alert an individual who is giving feedback and might make him /her conscious. In such a case, you may not get to hear things which actually could have helped you and could be game changer for your career.
  4. Don’t sit cold: You don’t want to sit ‘cold’ as you receive feedback. It is meant to encourage discussions, you asking questions in the right spirit. For example, if you don’t understand something being said or right examples are not provided – you should ask them. However, what you don’t want to do is to defend the content as a reaction.

How do you make the most of your feedback?

After emotions dry out from the feedback sessions, now would be good time to objectively reflect, ponder and come up with next steps. Here are some useful steps you can take to make the most of feedback you have received from your stakeholders.

  1. Set-up follow-up meetings: Always set-up follow-up meetings with individuals once you have had time to ponder over the feedback and get rid of the emotions. The follow-up meeting is your chance to speak, discuss and ensure everyone is on the same page.
  2. Set the context right: Arguably, any individual giving feedback may not have the complete context that we want. The follow-up meeting is your chance to make sure you set the right context in the right spirit. You need to be careful not to be sounding in ‘denial’ mode but it is important to set the context right.
  3. Come up with implementable action items: Always prepare how you will implement constructive feedback, which has been presented to you. This gives confidence to all the stakeholders including you. Your goal should be to receive a different set of ‘constructive criticism’ next time around. Also, don’t be shy to ask for help to bridge some of the gaps identified.
  4. Prepare to discuss items you strongly disagree on: It is important that you make a point about things that you disagree with. However, not for everything that is being said.
  5. Use the opportunity to give feedback as applicable: This is also an opportunity for you to give couple of inputs to individuals who helped you with critical feedback and for their time. You might want to appreciate their effort and encourage them to have such sessions more often, especially, as and when they observe something.

Learning organizations understand the importance of embracing the culture of feedback and motivates/encourages people to do it as often as possible.

Through embracing feedback, you get the entire organization ready for adapting to any change as necessary due to external factors because everyone anticipates and gets used to ‘change’.

By no means, giving or receiving feedback is easy. This itself is a learning process. It would be useful to find out what techniques you have used to give feedback or how you have made the most out of feedback you have received.

Mahesh Baxi is the CEO of Compassites. Mahesh has over 19 years of global IT services experience. Mahesh has spent most of his professional life in front of the customers and is very passionate about working with customers. Prior to joining Compassites, Mahesh served as the MD for ThoughtWorks India. Prior to this, Mahesh served as Global Head of Delivery and COO at ThoughtWorks India. Before joining ThoughtWorks, Mahesh spent about 12 years in San Jose, where he held leadership roles in a number of startups that include Apttus, Vendavo, Nextance and Challenger Systems.

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