Agile · Communication · Leadership · Recognizing excellence

Feedback

I know it is barely October, but at our company we are starting the year-end review process, giving and gathering feedback on what has gone well and what could use improvement.

Side note here: why does no one want to talk about failure anymore? Agile development emphasizes the value of ‘failing fast’ and plenty of smart and innovative people talk about all they learned from failure. Why not discuss what failed this year and what we can learn from that instead of simply what ‘needs improvement’? Perhaps another time I’ll write about the upside of failure, but for now I’ll get back to what I started saying.

As I write up thoughts about the people I work with to give to their managers, and as I think about what I’ve done both well and poorly this past year, I am again reminded of the crucial importance of good and timely feedback. Here are three reasons why it is so valuable:

  1. Timely feedback means that the insight into what I did well and what I did poorly comes close enough to the event itself that I can most easily learn from it. It is much easier for me to remember what I did and how people responded to it if I’m given the feedback right away. That way I can connect my specific actions – good or bad – with the feedback I’m getting so I can understand how to change.
  2. Timely feedback also gives the person a chance to adapt during the year instead of being told way after the fact what went right or wrong. If someone tells me immediately that the way I handled a client issue was really successful then I can keep building on that strength during the year and try to improve further. If someone tells me I dropped the ball on something important I can dig in and show initiative while there is still time to correct things. The worst kind of feedback is the surprise kind that comes at year end when I have no more opportunity to build on my successes or learn from and redeem my failures.
  3. Finally, good feedback – the kind that gives specific details about what was done and why it was either helpful or harmful in the situation – shows that the person giving the feedback cares about the person they are addressing and wants them to succeed. Most of us want to do our jobs well and even to get better at what we do for a living; honest feedback helps us sharpen our strengths and address our weaknesses. Providing this timely honest feedback builds trust (unlike those surprises I mentioned above) and strengthens the entire team.

I’ve been fortunate to work with some good leaders in my career who have invested the time to point out what I did well and where I stumbled; these men and women have helped me grow in the things I’m good at and understand the things I don’t do well. One of the best ways for me to honor their investment in me is to do the same for the people I work with. I try to make it a point both to praise the people around me when they do something well and to point out (in private and in an encouraging manner I hope) when I’ve seen something not go well. And I’ve watched them work to address their shortcomings as well as stretching even further into their strengths. Providing honest feedback – even sincere praise but especially specific critique – can be challenging, but the rewards of having a stronger team and helping those around us grow are worth it. Of course, in truth it’s not that simple.

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