Is feedback really a gift?

In today’s world most everyone has engaged in 360 feedback processes, bi-directional feedback, and opinion surveys of one sort or another in order to gauge leadership strengths, 360-degree job performance, what’s working/what’s not working, and overall customer satisfaction. Companies put employees (and often their alliance partners, channel partners, and even their customers) through this rigor typically on an annual basis, with the end-goal being to learn and then improve the individual and/or collective team performance. (I personally have gone through a myriad of these assessments, and have executed equally as many.)

In fact, recently, I have been engaged in giving a variety of these personal assessments, 360-degree feedback processes, and partner/customer satisfaction surveys to my corporate and non-profit clients. The response is extreme. Some are down right opposed to the process and even angry that they have to participate – scratching it up as a waste of time vs. others who embrace it as a way to grow and learn more about themselves. Some view the process as a risky political landmine leading to full exposure and disclosure vs. others who are eager to learn what others really think about them. Some folks defensively say “I am who I am” or “it is what it is” and I am not going to change at this age or stage in my life.

Well, here is what I think about all these assessments, feedback processes, and surveys – and why I do believe, when used appropriately, feedback is a gift and can be an indispensable tool in helping us become fully aligned – as individuals, professionals, teams, and overall organizations.

  1. There is value in knowing what others think about us and there is equal value in staying open to that feedback. Sometimes the truth hurts. We have all been there. We get feedback that cuts to the core. Often times our first reaction is complete and utter disbelief – followed quickly thereafter with rejection that the source of the feedback simply ‘doesn’t get it’ or ‘get you.’ Some of us never get past this denial stage – and we choose to stay as we are, discounting any and all suggestions for change or dare I say – improvement – because ‘we are who we are and they are just going to have to get over it.’ Well, honestly, sometimes that is the appropriate response – but not always. What I will suggest is that when we are really honest with ourselves, we know when the truth has been shared. We find a mirror and take a long hard look at ourselves and we know….we know. Yes – it can be a hard pill to swallow.
    However, if we don’t swallow it – I know for sure we won’t get better. Ignoring feedback hurts no one more than ourselves. Feedback, when received openly without filters, can be a powerful compass for change. And can be an opportunity for further personal growth when taken to heart.
  2. Systemic integration of these processes, versus annual report cards, is imperative.
    One mistake I regularly see is that individuals and companies make feedback processes and/or surveys monumental, once a year events. They are typically anticipated, staged – and often artificial in nature. This is almost always the only time they get any formal feedback as to how they are doing – within their own team or their extended team. I just don’t get that.
    The power and associated benefits of feedback is when it is integrated into a day-in, day-out expectation. Now, I am not just talking about the informal, ad-hoc water cooler discussions or the ‘in the heat of battle’ letting off steam (although they have their place and time, too). I am suggesting thoughtful, planned opportunities for the entire team to share with each and every member of the team (and/or partner, cross-functional team) what they would like to see ‘more of’ and ‘less of’ from each other.
    For example, I suggest integrating an informal process at the end of each staff meeting where each person can share ‘something to grow on’ and ‘something to glow on’ (maybe a bit corny, but it works!) with each of their teammates. Systemic and expected, it will become a regular part of the environment. The openness will breed openness with each other. The benefits will far exceed just the actions resulting from the feedback. Team dynamics will become more collaborative and open communication will foster honesty on a frequent and unsolicited basis. Issues are revealed and collective accountability builds within the team.
    Formal feedback processes and surveys are certainly necessary and appropriate at times; however, they cannot and do not replace ongoing, regular, systemic opportunities for giving/gaining feedback.
  3. Take and integrate what you learn.

    Great! So now we have ‘opened our kimonos’ and shared our thoughts, opinions, and desires. Good for us!

    So what? What now?

    The trick is to then take the feedback and integrate it into our daily routines – expediently, consciously, and thoughtfully. Without listening, hearing, and applying what we heard; whether it be to ourselves, our teams, or our business – feedback surveys will be just a simple waste of time, which does more harm than good on multiple fronts.

    When we do respond with action – publicly and overtly – we gain credibility, personally and collectively. Don’t you love it when you ask something from someone – and they respond? Of course! It is exactly the same thing here – exactly. You will gain respect from the folks who gave you this feedback. You will build trust. You will build loyalty with these constituents. You will validate their inputs/insights – by responding to them. And, you will ultimately improve!

You heard. You listened. You responded. The rewards will prove themselves in your career, in your business, and in your life.

It is a well regarded fact that the most ‘self aware’ individuals become the highest performers and contributors in the workplace and in life. Being aware is absolutely the key to growth; whether this awareness is within you, within your team, within your company or beyond.

We can gain this awareness through our own introspection by taking hard looks in the mirror. We can also gain perspective when this mirror is being held by others. Once you see… you can respond… and once you respond, you are well on your way to total alignment.

Total alignment within yourself and between teams, organizations, and extended alliances, will always result in higher performance.

So, yes, feedback really is a gift.