Feedback IS Critical – Use It

I read awhile back, from where I don’t remember, that one important part of leadership is asking for feedback. Research showed that this was the one that leaders least used. This one peaked my interest enough for me to want to write about it. Is this true? If you are a leader – how often do you really ask for feedback? If you are a director or higher, do you get feedback from the troops in the trenches? After posing those questions over the last month (most of it when I was on sabbatical), I can say that the research is probably spot on. My simple sample size with many different folks – really pointed out to me that many leaders do not gather this information. From my experience, there is plenty of data being gathered for some decisions that are being made.. When it comes to decisions, on the individual basis, the data is somewhat limited. 

So, what is being gathered? I got from some folks, that their companies have formal survey’s to gather feedback. Some folks commented that the leader would discuss the results. Action plans were discussed, but little action on the plans were witnessed. Good start, but overall execution needs more work. Another area that folks pointed out needing some improvement, were the questions. They felt like they were way too broad and did not help pinpoint the work that is being done. Too broad a question could have too many concepts rolled into one.. Making scoring a bit tough. Getting to the detail that could help the leader is somewhat lost. Making the questions more focused is not always good either, as the survey becomes a chore (too long). There needs to be a balance.  Having the company provide a venue for gathering feedback could be very powerful. Some leaders take the feedback to heart and really work with people to address the items areas needing attention. But, that truly is the exception. Some are words only.. Taking the time to read the feedback, gather some more information, develop plans but actions don’t match plan. Others mostly commented that they get some occasional questions asked of them from the leader in one on one’s or skip level discussions. The respondents pretty much felt like they were put on the spot. Getting a question out of the blue, “How am I doing? Anything that I can do better?” left them caught off guard. You really want to think about that and provide some rich feedback.

So, why not really use feedback to your benefit? Here are a few that came out….

  • Don’t know how to interrupt the feedback (if given).
  • Feedback is less than actionable.
  • Treat feedback as an exercise.
    • “Who knows me better than myself?”
    • “True feedback comes from the boss.”
  • No visible reward (or punishment). The soft skills are normally not recognized. 

The challenge is really two fold. First, we all have to be honest and timely with the feedback. This is something that I have had preached to me all of my career. This should not get lost the higher up the ladder a leader goes. Second, reward systems need to really be hard deliverable and soft-skilled based.