How to empower your team through feedback

September 2, 2019 - 11 min read

How To Empower Your Team Through Feedback

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The benefits of asking for feedback, at every level of the organization

How to start asking for feedback

How often should you seek feedback?

Why asking for feedback is empowering for all involved

In conversation with BetterUp Coach Portia Hawkins

No matter the age, position, or industry they’re in, your employees want feedback. In fact, 65% of employees say they want more feedback than they’re getting from you today.

Give more feedback.

Give more feedback.

Give more feedback.

This is the advice we hear over and over again. We all know that our employees want feedback, but surprisingly few of us regularly ask for the feedback that we need. A recent Gallup poll revealed that only “15% of millennials strongly agree that they routinely ask for feedback. And one in three millennials strongly agrees they’ve told their manager the one thing they need most to get their work done and why.”

In my coaching sessions, I’ve found that we make a lot of assumptions about what people need, particularly when it comes to feedback. Giving feedback is often fraught with discomfort on both sides so these well-intentioned conversations can result in missed opportunities that adversely affect working relationships. And millennials aren’t the only ones who aren’t asking for the feedback that they need in order to succeed. Leaders at every level of their organization are missing opportunities to create a culture of feedback that can establish trust and help retain talent.

The value of transforming culture into one that’s inclusive of feedback creates a safe place where asking is the norm and team members are best positioned to do their best work. Beyond just knowing you should be asking for feedback, I’d like to share some advice from my practice on how and when to seek different types of feedback from your team members and make the most of it every time.

The benefits of asking for feedback, at every level of the organization

Josh Bersin writes, “When we open up the floodgates to feedback, in a positive and constructive way, we immediately find ways to run our operations better.”

Creating a feedback culture is a low-cost endeavor that contributes to team development and higher rates of productivity across the board. A top-down approach of getting leaders to embrace the practice of asking for feedback delivers exponential returns when others follow your lead. The practice further develops more effective leaders.

But a culture of feedback can only be established when leadership at every level of the organization adopts the behavior of strategically asking for feedback. Doing so communicates trust and loyalty and encourages a cycle of feedback that flows up (and doesn’t just trickle down).

Regardless of the type of leader you are (a people manager or individual contributor), I challenge you to shift how you’re thinking about giving feedback and start asking your teammates what feedback they have to give you, and how you can help them be more successful. This simple change can make a surprising world of difference in your day-to-day work.

Here are just a few of the benefits of regularly asking for feedback:

  • Demonstrating maturity and ownership for driving personal and professional success
  • Reducing mental interference resulting in focusing on more important tasks
  • Increasing confidence and productivity
  • Create a culture where feedback is embraced
  • Help employees understand how they contribute to important priorities (or not)
  • Meeting bottom-line business objectives sooner and more effectively
  • Create healthy dialogue that may otherwise be challenged
  • Cultivate self-awareness to better navigate career success

How to start asking for feedback

The simple act of asking for feedback can help you unearth opportunities to increase engagement at every level of your organization and introduce new and innovative ways of doing things at your company.

But how do you make asking for feedback a habit?

  • Have a ‘fireside chat’ with the intent of understanding the perspectives at the front line, middle level, and higher levels of the organization. Ask individuals questions like “how do you think things are going?” and “I see an area of opportunity and I’m doing [x] about it. What more would you like to see me do?” Always respond sincerely to their willingness to participate, and let them know when ideas are included in the final decision making.
  • Try “neutral networking” with the intent of learning more. The next time you’re at the coffee cart, ask a teammate you don’t know a specific question such as, “What do you like most about working here?” Remaining open, curious, and non-judgemental creates a safe environment for others to do the same.
  • Don’t make asking for feedback a process; make it a “way of being.” Building a leadership behavior means internalizing asking for feedback as “a way of being” vs. a process. If you start asking for feedback too often (such as at the end of every 1-1), your teammates will be less likely to share candidly. Seek feedback in more unexpected places and encounters, from teammates at all levels of your organization.

Remember that knowing the right ways to acquire feedback is key to actually getting it:

  • Ask for feedback with the intent and openness to receive it. This creates the opportunity to hear it “in the right way” which benefits both you and the individual giving you the feedback.
  • Practice active listening to feedback without interruption, regardless of the feedback. Active listening is followed by acknowledgment and appreciation. Sharing actionable things that can be done to implement the feedback (if applicable) is always a short-term win for the conversation. If it’s something that requires more thought, follow up later.
  • If the feedback feels untrue, use this time to inquire without being defensive. For example, “that’s a great project. I’d love an opportunity to work on it.” vs. “that couldn’t possibly be true because I’m not on the project!” Be thoughtful about how to receive feedback because it’s a real-time opportunity to put your best foot forward. Anticipate and respond to both positive and constructive feedback in ways that serve you best.

How often should you seek feedback?

Routine quickly loses value over time as your teammates no longer view these interactions as being genuine.

When it comes to asking for feedback, it’s important to be strategic about frequency. Avoid asking for feedback in excess (every week is too much). Before you seek people out, ask yourself:

  • Is this a pivotal point for the project, or your role?
  • Are you learning a new skill with delicate or risky implementation? (For example, presenting to the board for budget approval.)
  • Do you simply want a check-in? (For example, your team is working on an important project with their peers and lots of change is happening simultaneously.)

Gauge the timeliness of feedback, then casually ask the questions you have. Try something like, “Hey, Paul, there’s a lot going on but I’d like to ask you a question, do you have time? In what way am I giving you what you need to be successful on this project?”

Notice these “ask for feedback” opportunities are not routine because routine quickly loses value over time as your teammates no longer view these interactions as being genuine.

Why asking for feedback is empowering for all involved

I often ask clients, “What’s happening with the feedback you’re not getting?”

Honest feedback (regardless if it’s fact-based) can be leveraged to manifest an individual’s true potential. But the feedback that isn’t true is still a gift because we know it’s there, and we get to own it while making it work for us, and not against us. Make feedback (both positive and constructive) work for you:

  • Acknowledge it.
  • Internalize it.
  • Plan actionable steps to implement needed change.

By asking for feedback, we’re bringing a healthy and useful solution to those conversations while better supporting the entire organization. Feedback is critical to any performance management strategy

So today, I challenge you to provide much-needed guidance to your teammates by asking, not telling. By practicing this every day, I assure you that you’ll become a better leader, and your teammates will benefit greatly from your initiative.

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Published September 2, 2019

Portia Hawkins

BetterUp Fellow Coach MS, PCC

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