For the workplace, create a blueprint about exchanging feedback that is built around the achievement of topline results, a mutual commitment to growth, and employee empowerment.
Giving and receiving employee feedback has become a hot topic in businesses and is increasingly being recognized as a critical element of any robust performance-improvement strategy.
From Netflix’s “radical transparency and blunt firings” to Patagonia’s “tech-enabled system of continuous feedback,” organizations are trumpeting their unique approach to employee feedback as the most effective approach in breaking down silos and driving greater engagement and ownership.
Yet many leaders still lack a concrete sense of direction about exchanging feedback in the workplace and remain confused about what kind of approach best serves their organization’s goals.
To reap the rewards of workplace feedback, employees must understand the role it plays in driving organizational results, and leaders must master a revitalized approach to exchanging feedback that more effectively impacts those results.
The Purpose of Feedback in the Workplace
Feedback often focuses on performance management and areas in which the recipient can improve. The question often missed is what is the underlying purpose of feedback?
Feedback is meant to drive improved performance in the workplace; however, the purpose of it is not to address the performance of the individual being evaluated, more or less, in a vacuum.
Improvements to individual performance are often meaningless if they do not further the goals of the organization. If, for example, an employee becomes an increasingly efficient typist but their writing is not cogent, concise, and meaningful, this improvement is useless. If they’re sending important emails quickly but carelessly, they may well be sowing confusion or contributing to misalignment among other employees.
In the corporate world, success depends on every member of an organization working to improve their individual performance in a way that elevates organizational performance. As such, the purpose of this exchange is not simply to drive individual improvement but to achieve a net increase in organizational performance.
It’s up to corporate leaders to identify and clearly define key results—that is, the three to five meaningful, measurable, and memorable topline results that organizations need to deliver to be considered successful. Once these objectives are disseminated across every level of the organization, stakeholders can align around a shared vision of success.
These key results serve as a clear set of metrics employees can gauge their performance by, providing a blueprint for effective exchanges of feedback in the workplace. If an employee’s day-to-day work is not directly contributing to key results, leaders can use a thoughtful feedback discussion to address and close those performance gaps.
Mastering the Practice of Exchanging Feedback
Many assume that feedback flows from a leader to a direct report. In fact, according to the Workplace Accountability Index, only 31 percent of employees agree that co-workers regularly ask them for feedback.
Feedback is most effective when colleagues help one another elevate their performance. Feedback provides the opportunity to spur mutual performance improvement by celebrating one another’s successes and thoughtfully identifying individual and organizational growth opportunities.
On a high-performing team, everyone is responsible for ensuring the success of the collective, which can only be achieved when each employee feels heard, valued, and empowered to share their opinions. Employees who seek feedback demonstrate their ownership for closing the gaps in results and the role they play in the achievement of those outcomes.
As such, exchanging feedback in the workplace works best when it follows this format:
- Ask a colleague, “What feedback do you have for me today around [topic]? Ask for specific feedback around a key result or activity that will drive those results. Remain attentive and receptive to your colleague’s honest feedback.
- Highlight your colleague’s successes and praise them for specific achievements that have helped to drive those key results. An emphasis on progress made is vital to ensuring both parties continue to recognize movement in the right direction.
- Point out specific gaps in your colleague’s performance that may be hindering the achievement of key results or areas in which behavior could be more frequently demonstrated. Collaboratively strategize ways to bridge these opportunities for closing gaps.
- End on a note of gratitude by thanking your partner for their time and perspective.
This road map creates an even playing field where two colleagues—whether a superior and a direct report or two peers—can engage in honest, open dialogue that enables them to progress toward a common desired outcome. As this approach illustrates, effective feedback is as much about seeking feedback from others as it is offering feedback to them.
Positivity: The Secret Weapon of Constructive Feedback
When a child is learning to play baseball, they respond best to praise, gratitude, and feedback that highlights potential areas for growth. If they swing at a pitch and miss, their coach may say, “Good swing! Now move your right foot back a little bit and choke up on the bat. Awesome job adjusting!” This kind of feedback provides specific ways the young slugger can improve and, because it is fundamentally encouraging, it is far more likely to be effective.
When a person feels uplifted and supported by others, they are almost always more deeply committed to striving to achieve their team’s goals. As a result, they tend to be more receptive to differing perspectives (feedback) and, by extension, more likely to improve their own performance in a way that facilitates such achievement.
Feedback alone, however, rarely leads to meaningful performance improvements. Organization-wide growth often hinges on a team’s willingness (and ability) to calibrate ownership around topline key results and engage in collaborative, reciprocal feedback exchanges rather than punitive lectures. It’s also important to put an ongoing emphasis on employees’ strengths and successes instead of their shortcomings, which will ensure ownership for shared results.