Giving feedback to promote confidence and learning

Feedback faces
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What are the building blocks for confident, focussed and trusted leadership?

This series, 'Building great leadership' covers everything you need to know, from identifying and developing leaders, to giving effective feedback and measuring success.

“There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.”

Aristotle’s words may be a wake-up call for those who prefer a quiet life, but thankfully in today’s business world performance reviews have generally moved away from negative criticism and towards constructive feedback.

But it has to be said that there is feedback, and then there is feedback; and whilst one is the sort of tick box exercise that leaves you feeling none the wiser, the other can be a genuinely helpful pointer towards personal development.

In the ‘measuring leadership’ article within this series we examined the way in which 360° feedback can be a valuable tool in helping leaders to understand their strengths and build on them as well as know their weaknesses and work out ways to address them.

However, whilst receiving performance related feedback through 360° exercises allied to the annual appraisal can be an essential element of a personal development cycle; taken on their own they are insufficient to support ongoing performance improvement.

The business of change

Let’s be honest for a moment.

From a budgeting and reporting perspective we may divide business life into discrete annual chunks; we may even prepare a three-year or five-year plan for the benefit of lenders or shareholders, but at heart we know that business isn’t like that.

We live in an ever developing, constantly moving world in which change is the norm.

Even if we rely on seasonal trade we are always looking forward, building on past successes, learning from past failures, seeking to develop and grow.

The annual report may enable us to provide a snapshot but it certainly doesn’t provide a demarcation line at which we stop, cast aside the past and start again.

So why should feedback and appraisals and performance reviews be any different?

It’s a topic which has been increasingly gaining traction over the last few years. Companies such as Accenture and Microsoft have joined other national and pan-global organisations in moving away from the traditional annual reporting cycle.

Interestingly, when Deloitte followed suit in 2015 they revealed that the majority of their executives didn’t see their old appraisal system as driving either employee engagement or performance.

It’s hardly surprising when you think about it.

We live in an ever developing, constantly moving world in which change is the norm.

Organisations which look to succeed in this world have to do so within the context of a high-performance innovative culture and this in turn requires people to adopt a mindset of continuous and continuing development.

So they need to receive ongoing feedback which will help them to understand where they are making progress in their development and which areas need attention, where they are making a strong contribution and where this could be stronger.

This simply isn’t possible in the context of the stand-alone annual appraisal.

Receiving feedback

With this in mind what are the top tips for giving and receiving feedback?

Perhaps before we move on it is worth taking a quick glance at some of the top benefits of which constructive feedback can bring.

Let’s start with an often overlooked benefit, the fact that good feedback can not only give people confidence, it can also fuel engagement and performance.

Set aside personal feelings of like or dislike in order to provide fair and balanced commentaries.

In our article ‘leaders are learners’ we touch on impostor syndrome, the belief that you aren’t really up to the task and that one day you’ll be found out.

Providing constructive feedback not only helps people to gain a sense of worth, to mitigate against impostor syndrome, it also helps them to understand what they can do in order to further improve and to build on an already sound foundation.

So feedback can build confidence, but it also can act as a catalyst for change.

By revealing blind spots, by highlighting areas for improvement, constructive feedback can provide impetus needed in order to instigate change behaviour.

Adding the fact that in an ever-changing business world, regular feedback enables regular goal reviews, helping people to stay up with or ahead of the game is easy to see why feedback can become such a powerful force in aiding personal development.

Top tips for giving feedback

However, in order to deliver development differentiation, it is important that those giving feedback have been carefully selected.

For example, whilst you don’t want to completely rely on others’ opinions to boost your confidence, you need to be able to trust that the validation you are receiving is fair and truthful.

Feedback is only any good if you are prepared to act on it.

It may not be easy, but this means that those chosen to give the feedback have to be seen as being prepared to offer up entirely truthful opinions, even if these are negative. And to be quite honest, there’s nothing wrong in a little negative feedback.

After all, how are you expected to develop if you don’t know which traits and behaviours are in need of improvement?

Asking someone who cares about your development as well as the quality of your performance to tell you what they think may therefore be the most effective way to build awareness of both the things you do well and the things you can improve on.

But feedback is only any good if you are prepared to act on it. You may not have to do anything big but sometimes a series of small adjustments can still have a profound effect.

So analyse your feedback, look out for strengths and weaknesses and be prepared to build on strengths and work on weaknesses as part of an overall development plan.

What of those who have been asked to provide feedback, what should be their guiding principles? Quite simply, if you are looking to help want to grow and improve then:

  • make your feedback constructive, using it to positively reinforce good performance and highlight areas for improvement
  • provide specific information and examples to backup your comments
  • base your remarks on personal observations rather than hearsay

Above all, set aside personal feelings of like or dislike in order to provide fair and balanced commentaries which will genuinely open up opportunities for personal development.

It is ironic that in a 24/7 social media driven world we can be more isolated than in the past.

Opening yourself up to feedback or being prepared to provide feedback for others can help to remove this feeling of isolation; instead building a sense of cohesion which will not only benefit individual development, but also the overall culture and long-term success of the organisation.

Catch up on the rest of the 'Building great leadership' series.

Helen Green
Leadership Collaborator
Quest Leadership Development
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