Regularly asking for and receiving candid performance evaluations is a developmental tool every employee should master.
Most workers dread performance reviews, which more often than not are tedious and nonproductive exercises. So imagine what jobs would be like if employees received a mini appraisal, say, every week. Or even daily. And for the real kicker, what if these employees liked the reviews so much they requested them?
If that sounds like the workplace from hell populated with gluttons for punishment, guess again. In reality, consistently asking for — and gracefully receiving — feedback is a powerful tool for not only career advancement, but greater job satisfaction and engagement, says Beth Wagner, a master facilitator at Fierce Inc., a leadership-development consulting firm (www.fierceinc.com).
During a webinar sponsored by the Human Capital Institute (www.hci.org), Wagner notes that regular and consistent feedback can be much more worthwhile to employees than annual reviews. But the shame of it is that while it’s both a valuable and critical leadership competency that every employee should master, it’s also highly underutilized — an under-the-radar solution to much of what ails organizations in terms of disengaged employees and high turnover rates.
In fact, one survey showed that companies encouraging regular employee feedback recorded 15 percent less turnover than companies where employees don’t receive regular feedback. Moreover, another study shows that the best leaders in business regularly ask for feedback, which clearly indicates it’s a valuable skill.
But if feedback is so important, why isn’t it used more often as an employee development tool? The truth of the matter is that asking for feedback is a frightening prospect for many employees, Wagner explains. After all, it’s only human nature to want to hear just good things — and an honest assessment of your performance very well could reveal you’re not the superstar you believe you are. Furthermore, providing candid feedback is also hard for many managers; more often than not, they’d rather steer clear of conflicts.
So what can Joe and Jane Employee do to get a seat on the feedback train? Wagner says the following five tips will jump-start the journey.
1. Start asking for it. Remember the old adage about ask and you shall receive? The same is true for feedback. Too many people wait for feedback to occur naturally; they figure if they’re doing something wrong, they’ll hear about it sooner or later. But as anyone can tell you who’s been sideswiped during a job review by unexpected performance criticism, that’s not always the case.
Keep in mind, however, that just asking for feedback is not enough. Or as Wagner put it, general questions — such as “How did I do?” — will typically lead to general answers. The key is to ask your supervisor about specific areas of your performance, such as what you can do to communicate more effectively with your team, for example. In addition, don’t ask for feedback from someone who you know is more likely to praise you than provide an honest assessment. The latter is much more likely to help you improve, no matter how much it might hurt initially, she says.
As for people who say they always ask for feedback, but never receive any, Wagner has her doubts. “I don’t believe that,” she says. “If you’re asking for feedback and not getting it, I’d be asking myself some harder questions … about why people won’t share tougher things with me.” Perhaps you need to build more trust — think about how the conversations you have play a role in discouraging honest feedback, she says.
2. Listen and learn. Asking for feedback leaves you vulnerable to hearing things that may not match your own perceptions. As such, it’s important to be prepared to hear some hard truths and not overreact; instead, be open to exploring those issues in more depth with the feedback provider.
While you do so, Wagner says it’s critical to remember that when people speak, they are generally confirming what they already know, but when they listen, they learn something new. So put on your listening hat and get ready to learn, she advises. That involves suspending any perceptions you have of yourself and keeping an open mind about what the feedback provider is trying to convey. Also think about what you could learn and what impact it might have on your performance or career, she adds.
3. Remain curious. This tip goes hand in hand with listen and learn. Too often, we’re quick to dismiss things that don’t fit our own perception. But instead of getting defensive, switch into what Wagner calls “curiosity mode.” Dig deeper into their perceptions of you and/or your performance. Ask the provider for information and examples that support his or her perception. It’s OK to express surprise at a provider’s comments, as long as you keep probing for supporting information. And if the feedback truly is shocking to you, it’s perfectly OK to ask the provider for some time to think about it and agree to talk in more detail later.
4. Be open-minded. It’s important not to jump into defense mode if you hear something you don’t agree with. While Wagner concedes that’s easier said than done, she notes that if you truly want feedback, it’s important to accept others’ perception of you. Moreover, people who respond well to feedback are looked upon favorably and generally have higher emotional intelligence, she notes.
The beauty of getting feedback is you have a choice about what to do with it. In fact, you don’t have to do anything at all in response to negative feedback, Wagner explains. “But you should understand that if you ask for feedback and do nothing, it’s often worse than not asking for feedback at all. … It looks like you’re not taking it seriously,” she says.
Since changing behaviors is hard, it’s also OK to work incrementally and make small changes over time, as opposed to trying to do everything the provider suggested all at once. “You also can decide to change only certain things, not everything the provider suggested,” she points out. “But either way, it’s important to let the provider know what you’re going to do.”
And if you’re not going to do anything at all, it helps to sit down with the provider and explain why. Why? It helps to build the relationship, Wagner says.
5. Say thank you. In a nutshell, Wagner believes that greater respect leads to greater results. And part of being respectful means repeating those two magic words that most of us learned as children: thank you. As noted before, it’s not always easy for managers to provide candid feedback. And by providing you with powerful feedback, the provider is taking a risk by assuming a partnership role in your success.
“You can take it or leave it (the feedback),” Wagner says. “But your job is to always remain grateful for whatever you get. That paves the way for more meaningful feedback because trust has been built.”