Ideal Outcomes

Feedback: Where Art Meets Science

by Jason Richmond, CEO and Chief Culture Officer at Ideal Outcomes, Inc.

As a leader, constructive feedback is one of the most powerful tools in your toolkit. It can be tempting to see feedback as a top-down phenomenon and a way to keep your employees on track. However, if you ignore the potential for feedback as a two-way street, you’re missing out on an important part of leadership development.

By consciously soliciting feedback, you’ll be helping to create a healthier culture in your business.

Let’s take a look at how to effectively give and receive feedback as a leader and encourage a culture of feedback in your company.

The Importance of Feedback

It’s easy to see the benefit of giving feedback as a leader. By complimenting employees on a job well done or pointing out areas where they could make improvements, you can raise your company’s productivity, change potentially problematic behaviors, and measure performance.

However, being able to receive constructive criticism is just as important. As a leader, your actions and behaviors have a significant impact, setting the tone for the whole company. When you solicit and act on feedback, you’re not just taking the opportunity to improve your own performance (although that is certainly a benefit). You’re also modeling the culture you’d like to see in your organization: open, communicative, and always learning.

Tips for Giving Effective Feedback

Giving useful feedback is one of the most important leadership skills you can learn. The science part of giving feedback is to always provide specific facts and examples. The art comes with practice and making the person receiving the feedback view the experience as positive. Here’s how you can make your next feedback session a positive and supportive one:

Know Your Goal

As with any conversation that requires careful handling, a good feedback session is one with a clear outcome. Focus on key points and think about the result that you’d like to achieve. What learnings would you like someone to take on board in light of your comments? What changes in their behavior would you like to see?

Be Timely

Constructive criticism is most effective when it’s delivered promptly—when you’ve just noticed a certain behavior or when an employee’s actions have had a negative impact. It’s much easier to address a problem right away than to wait months.

In addition, positive feedback that’s delivered promptly can help employees feel appreciated for a job well done.

Focus On The Behavior, Not The Person

Pointing out someone’s negative personality traits with “you” statements (for example, “You always turn up late for meetings”) is the quickest way to get their defenses up. Far more effective is the use of “I” statements, where you focus on their behavior and its impact instead. Try something like: “When you turn up late for meetings, it impacts the team’s ability to deliver on time.”

Be Specific

By giving concrete examples of the behaviors you’ve noticed and their impact, you’ll be able to make your feedback feel less like a personal attack and give some evidence-based guidance on how to do things better next time.

Be Constructive and Follow Up

The most important thing to remember is that you’re supporting an employee and encouraging them to do better instead of simply criticizing them. So, give actionable takeaways and schedule a follow-up meeting to check in on their progress.

Tips for Receiving Feedback

Learning to take feedback well is as important as learning how to deliver it. Here’s some tips to help you demonstrate professionalism when receiving feedback.

Ask For Feedback

Receiving feedback, just like giving it, gets easier the more you do it. Take every opportunity you can to ask for feedback: at the beginning or end of a project, for example, when you work cross-functionally with a new team for the first time; or after reaching a milestone (your first six months, perhaps) in a new role.

Be Open

Being on the receiving end of honest feedback, however well intentioned, can feel awkward and scary. By embracing it in a positive spirit—as an opportunity to grow and develop, as opposed to a barrage of criticism—you can use it to improve your performance.

Signal That You Understand

“I hear you” is a very powerful message. So, acknowledge feedback and take it on board. Take notes, repeat statements in conversation, and ask plenty of questions to ensure you understand what’s being said.

Take Time To Process Feedback

Negative feedback isn’t personal, but it can sure feel that way. How can you take the sting out of it? Ask for time to absorb, reflect, and gather your thoughts before reacting. If the feedback comes in written form, it can be helpful to put it in a drawer for a day or two and wait before acting on it.

Look at Feedback as a Gift

Ultimately, feedback is a gift for personal development. It’s an opportunity to learn, grow, and do better. So, thank the giver for their time, and make a measurable plan to put their comments into action.

Build Your Company’s Feedback Culture

Of course, it’s not just leaders who benefit from giving and receiving feedback, but employees at every level. Feedback supports people on an individual basis, enhancing their personal development to help them reach their career goals, as well as raising the collective performance of your company.

Regular feedback is a powerful means of improving employee engagement, and it only gets easier with practice. Here are a few ways to build a feedback culture in your company:

Encourage Frequent Feedback

Feedback sessions aren’t a once-a-year activity; in fact, weekly feedback has been credited with improving employee engagement. By delivering feedback throughout the year, whether dealing with issues as they arise or giving someone a well-deserved pat on the back, you’ll foster a culture of learning and make it clear that you’re committed to your employees’ development.

Embrace 360 Feedback

Feedback is most beneficial when it flows in all directions. The process requires opening up and revealing a little of yourself, which can help foster good relationships between colleagues and break down silos. A 360-degree feedback program, where employees solicit feedback from colleagues at all levels, can be very effective.

Provide Feedback Training

Providing feedback in a constructive way isn’t something that comes naturally to everyone, and plenty of feedback sessions go awry simply because both parties feel nervous and awkward. The good news, however, is that giving and receiving feedback are skills that can be learned through practice, and it’s worth including this as part of your training and development programs.

Ready For Some Feedback?

Feedback is more than just useful—it’s an essential part of business growth and a healthy workplace culture. Understanding the art and science behind it will keep your employees inspired, motivated, and productive!

At Ideal Outcomes, we help companies turn their workplace culture into a competitive advantage. Get in touch today to find out how we can help you use feedback to create a thriving company culture.