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February Spotlight: Creating a Culture of Feedback

Monday, February 10, 2020 5:51 PM | Angela Dawson

Todd Davis is FranklinCovey’s Chief People Officer and the author and co-author, respectively, of The Wall Street Journal bestsellers Get Better: 15 Proven Practices to Build Effective Relationships at Work and Everyone Deserves a Great Manager: The 6 Critical Practices for Leading a Team

“Have you got a few minutes? I’ve got some feedback for you.” The words we all dread to hear…right?

And why is that? The origin of the word “feed” means to nourish, sustain, and foster. And “back” means to support. So if that is what feedback really means, who wouldn’t want that?

Not only have we forgotten the definition of the word, but many have completely misunderstood the intent, whether they are giving the feedback or receiving it. A very common mindset with managers and leaders is “I give feedback so I can fix people’s problems.” Makes sense. Sounds logical, and even helpful. But the truly great managers’ mindset is “I give and I seek feedback to elevate the entire team".

Creating a culture of feedback, where giving and receiving feedback, even proactively seeking it out, is commonplace. It is one of the most effective things great managers focus on. And it all hinges on our intent.

Am I giving you feedback because I want you to know how smart I am or that I know more than you do? Or maybe I’m feeling threatened and so I find comfort in making someone else feel threatened? Or, do I really see a behavior that I believe is hindering you or holding you back from realizing your full potential. And my sole intent is to help.

And when I seek feedback, am I only looking for compliments or validation, or, do I really care and want to know where others think I can improve. Do I have the humility to not only hear what they might have to say, but to evaluate it and then if needed, act on it?

Giving feedback is hard. And intent is everything. If our intent is right, if we really want to help, while the perfect words might not come through, our intent will.

Great managers don’t think about giving negative or positive feedback in these discussions. And not because they are trying to dance around those words. But because they want to emphasize the real intent behind the feedback. They refer to redirecting feedback or reinforcing feedback.

Redirecting Feedback – I love this phrase. I love it because to me, in the context of feedback, the word “redirecting” indicates that someone is doing a lot of things right, that they have talents and capabilities, but that they just need to adjust or tweak some of the things they’re doing. Redirecting conveys hope. It conveys that “I believe in you”. That you can do it. I will often began a redirecting conversation by saying something like “Sam, I want you to know how much I value you and the contributions you have made to our team. You are very talented and I’m glad you’re here. There are a couple of things I’d like to share with you and I want you to know that my only intent in sharing these with you is because I care deeply about your success and I believe if you can adjust these things, you will become even more accomplished than you are today.”

Reinforcing Feedback - For anyone who has helped raise a small child, you remember the first time “Johnny” tied his own shoes. And you said “Johnny, that was wonderful that you were able to tie your shoes all by yourself!” And Johnny felt quite a rush when you called him out on that behavior. He was anxious to do it again and again. Well guess what? That sense of pride and accomplishment doesn’t go away as we get older. As adults, we are all still “Johnny” or “Jane” and we crave that feeling when someone sincerely notices something we’ve done well. This is reinforcing feedback and because many tend to think of feedback as a time to “fix problems”, they frequently miss this invaluable opportunity to recognize the effective behaviors that certain team members are demonstrating. “Sam, I want you to know that in the meeting yesterday, the data you had so carefully prepared made all the difference in conversation. Your attention to detail is something I’ve always appreciated and I wanted to thank you for being so prepared.” Sam is going to remember those words and you can bet that she will be the data expert if she isn’t already.” Great managers don’t miss the opportunity to provide reinforcing feedback. They are constantly on the lookout for it.

Seeking feedback is equally as important as giving it, especially for managers. And again, your intent is everything. Realize that your title alone makes it a little (or a lot) unsafe for others to give you feedback….to tell you the truth. Great managers make it safe.

If I’m the boss and after the team meeting I show up in Stan’s office and say “Hey Stan, how do you think the meeting went?” What do you think Stan is going to say? “Uh, great…it went great Todd.” Put on the spot, especially by our manager, most of us are going to say exactly what we think they want to hear. It’s human nature. And I suspect we’ve all experienced it when put in a position like this.

But let’s say I’m Stan’s boss and my real intent is to improve. So I go to Stan the day BEFORE the meeting and I say “Hey Stan, I know you’ll be at the team meeting tomorrow and I’d like to ask you a favor. I’m really trying to improve the effectiveness of our meetings. Would you please note down those things you observe that you believe I could do better in conducting the meeting? Sure I’d love to know what you think is going well, but I’m really focused on where I can improve. And then maybe later this week we can meet and you can share with me your observations. Would that be okay?"

I suspect by asking Stan this way, by making it safe, I’m going to get a lot more than “Uh, great…it went great Todd.” And then I’ll have an opportunity to practice a little humility as I try and improve.

Great managers understand the huge value in creating a culture of feedback. By giving redirecting feedback when needed, and by looking for opportunities for giving reinforcing feedback. And they model proactively seeking feedback as well. Sincerely asking for suggestions on where they can improve. When this type of giving and receiving feedback is just part of how a team operates, you can bet they will be one of the highest performing teams in the organization.

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