Feedback: The Breakfast of Champions

Credit for the title goes to the late Steve Haines, my former strategic planning mentor. He was a big fan of the feedback mechanism for guaranteeing success.

I’m fascinated that some folks are big fans of metrics and measurements of success until it comes to their own performance. Seems they’d prefer not to know if they’re succeeding based on their fear that their performance is less than perfect.

Rather than embracing the imperfect human situation we all share, they would prefer to maintain their own private illusion that no news is good news. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when their fears of failure become a reality due to a lack of the candid feedback that we all need to make the course corrections required for ongoing success.

When it comes to soliciting performance feedback, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Leaders who solicit feedback regularly become ever more successful, and those who don’t become ever more unsuccessful.

Some folks are so frightened by the prospect of any kind of negative feedback that they will attack and try to discredit any hapless soul who delivers it. This is called “killing the messenger.” All too often I find this technique to be alive and well in my travels in business circles.

Here are some basic guidelines for soliciting and profiting from performance feedback:

  1. Ask for feedback regularly, at least every 6 months.
  2. You’ll get more honest and useful feedback if people are allowed to remain anonymous. In particular your subordinates have every reason to be less than candid with you if their feedback can be traced back to them.
  3. Keep it simple: a) 1-5 rating of overall performance b) “what’s working well?” and c) “what could be better?” Most people really dislike the in-depth 360 degree feedback process because it’s so time consuming.
  4. Thank those who provided feedback, and ask clarifying questions to make sure you’ve heard them correctly. If you argue with them or tell them why they’re wrong, guess what will happen the next time you ask for feedback?
  5. All feedback is not created equal; you’ll never please all the people all the time. Consider the source, and look for actionable patterns and trends rather than outliers with personal agendas only.
  6. Change your behavior only if there is a clear advantage to doing so, both for you and for the business.
  7. Share the overall feedback patterns and trends with your team and tell them how you plan to capitalize on this valuable information. This will make you an outstanding role model for their own performance improvement efforts.

High-Performance Habits

  1. Solicit performance feedback regularly.
  2. Allow those providing feedback to remain anonymous so they’re more likely to be honest.
  3. Thank those who provided feedback, and tell them how you plan to capitalize on the trends you’ve identified.
  4. Only change your behavior if there is a clear advantage to you and the business in doing so.
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