Feedback is information about the past or present that will influence the future. Without it, we’re left guessing about how to improve, or falsely confident about what’s actually working.
Olympians get it from professional coaches. Oscar-winning artists get it from directors. And everyone performing in public gets it from the crowd in the form of cheers, yawns or jeers.
Unfortunately, the more experience we gain in the agency world, the less likely we are to get real, authentic feedback. Our bosses may think we should get it on our own (fair enough) or maybe we don’t even have a boss (who coaches the coach then?) With a few exceptional moments, say a major pitch or a speech at an industry event, we don’t have many opportunities to enjoy the instant feedback of a live audience.
And sometimes, we just simply avoid it.
That’s a shame. Most of us, no, all of us, would benefit from real information about the past or present to influence our future. The performance of most, if not all, of us is directly relevant to a large network of people. We either help them succeed, or create obstacles that they must overcome in order to succeed on their own. Feedback would greatly help in both cases.
At Ketchum, we’re blessed with a thorough 360-degree feedback program that ensures everyone gets as much feedback as they like. But even in an organization committed to feedback, I have found that I wasn’t always getting the right information on the things that mattered most to the people who look to me for direction and/or leadership.
So I asked for feedback from my direct reports and those immediately connected to my core responsibilities. What I gained in return was helpful to me professionally and personally, as I learned three things that could be generally helpful to all of us in a more advanced career state:
1. Asking for feedback doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. I simply handed out cards and asked people to offer one piece of feedback on something they believe I should change, continue or start doing in order to be more effective in my job or relationship with them. Their feedback could be returned anonymously, but if they wanted me to follow up personally, I asked them to sign it. About half did.
2. It’s not all pleasant, but it’s all helpful. Many of the notes were encouraging, some were neutral or guarded, and a few were critical about my lack of proactivity in making personal contact with them (they’re based elsewhere in Europe). These stung a little, but I realized email isn’t enough to make people feel connected. I needed this information about my past and present reliance on email to influence my future, which now includes far more calls and visits.
3. To make it stick, make it public. I collected, collated and typed up the cards into a single list of comments, which I then provided to everyone who I asked to submit feedback. This confirmed I saw every note, offered some context from the wider group on what’s working and what could be improved, and hinted that I will take their comments seriously. I’m hopeful that making their feedback public suggests that it’s okay to be imperfect.
Easy, helpful and now a matter of public record, I hope this nudges our leadership team in Europe to try something similar at home.
And if you spot any areas in this post that could be improved, pleased share them here: All feedback is good feedback!