Feedback for team members in the work environment is a double edged sword. On one hand it can be constructive and useful, while on the other hand it can also cause stress and discomfort.
The stress and discomfort usually comes about because of the top-down aspect of feedback. Usually it’s a manager or leader providing feedback to a team member for the purposes of ‘course correction.’ Having the status of manager or leader poses a perceived threat to those who report to them.
Emphasis on perceived threat there. Even if you are the most likeable manager with a friendly open style of communication, there is power implied in your position that can be seen a threat to those on the team. It can be subtle but it’s almost always there.
So while a constructive feedback conversation with a team member can have the best of intentions, it can also be met with some trepidation, even if it’s only slight. This is especially the case if the timing of feedback is unexpected and not part of a normal performance management process.
On this podcast episode we discuss a simple fix for this and that’s to flip the top-down feedback culture to a bottom-up feedback culture. Rather than waiting for upline feedback to come to you, be proactive in seeking it. Even better, be proactive in seeking feedback from all directions and from all stakeholders.
As the recipient of the feedback, it puts you in the position of power. It tells your manager (and others) that you’ve got the confidence to take the initiative and are willing to receive and to act upon the feedback.
And if you teach your team to do the same, it takes some of the leadership workload off of you. Rather than having to prepare and initiate difficult conversations, you can have the conversation knowing that the recipient is already prepared for it.
None of this is meant to imply of course that all feedback is negative. Positive feedback is always appreciated and, when it’s top-down, the implied power of the leader actually adds weight to the feedback. But constructive feedback isn’t always positive hence the value in trying the flip approach.
Here are our tips on how to solicit feedback on an ad hoc basis. As a manager or leader, try it on for yourself first then encourage your team members to do the same. Teach them that feedback on their performance as individuals is their priority and not yours but let them know that you are willing to give them the attention they seek.
1 - Be explicit and specific with your feedback requests
“Can you give me some feedback on my performance,” is too generic and will likely generate vague responses.
You want specific feedback that you can action so be specific with your questions. Try some of these for size.
2 - Gather feedback from multiple sources
Seek feedback from all directions, not just your leader or manager, and don’t just go for the friendly options. Think of the people you are in contact with frequently. There may be someone who has worked with you on a recent project. Or someone with a skill set or position that you are aspiring to. A customer or stakeholder that you provide service to. And of course don’t forget those who report to you (and those who report to them).
3 - Make proactive feedback a regular habit
The more you exercise your feedback muscle the more it will grow. Weekly is probably too much but anywhere between every two to four weeks is likely to garner you fresh material to ensure your development is ongoing.
Try to mix it up and seek feedback from different people each time but also come back to the same people from time to time. Demonstrate to them that you’ve incorporated their feedback and are eager for more.
4 - Keep the feedback current
Make your request for feedback as close to an event or situation as possible so it's fresh in people's mind. If you want feedback on your performance on a project, seek it soon after, or even during the project, rather than waiting for a few months. The mental burden on the person giving the feedback will be much lower and quality of the feedback will be much higher.
Some people prefer to contemplate and write answers to questions rather than to give answers verbally so cater for these styles when approaching someone for feedback. Ask them how they would prefer to respond and, if it’s not going to be now, when they think they might get back to you.
Even your initial approach can be varied. Use your judgement to determine whether a quick ad hoc conversation is the best approach, whether you are better to book a time with someone to discuss, or if an email approach will work best.
Where to next?
Before we finish this off, we should make the point that flipping feedback doesn’t make top-down feedback redundant. There will still be times as a leader when you need to initiate a feedback conversation with a team member rather that waiting for them to solicit it from you. You’ll still need to manage your team after all. But if a culture has been established that invites and welcomes feedback, those conversations will be much easier and more productive to have.
If you’d like to dive more into this, we can highly recommend that you watch/listen to this webinar from the NeuroLeadership Institute - Preview IMPROVE: The Neuroscience of Better Feedback.
And if you’d like a resource to help you have conversations with your team members, try our GROW Model Cheat Sheet.
4 Ways to Flip Feedback for Leaders and Managers