Most folks aren’t terribly excited about receiving feedback at work. It’s generally negative, you might not agree with it, and it’s often too vague or shallow to be helpful.
Most folks aren’t terribly excited about giving feedback either. There’s a risk of being perceived as judgy, nitpicky, or impersonal. Or it may simply be hard to find great insights for someone else when you’re so busy getting your own work done. Folks often don’t look forward to these meetings, or get much out of them.
Consider a different type of feedback meeting: the bike fit. Cyclists LOVE them. They’re willing to pay hundreds of dollars for the feedback they get from a bike fit. They might put a bike fit on their Christmas list (I have), or even give a bike fit to another cyclist as a birthday present (a friend of mine has done this). When considering the differences between how people perceive one interaction versus the other, I can see a few strategies to improve our approach to feedback at work.
Flip the Script
Rather than asking a manager to schedule yearly feedback for each team member, I encourage you to flip the script, asking team members to serve as the “client” for feedback meetings. They should pick who will give them feedback, and when.
This ensures that people will be ready and willing to receive feedback, and that they will see the value in it. They’ll be in the position of control, and the meeting won’t be confused with an opportunity for a manager to display position power.
If you need to provide feedback to someone who isn’t aware that they need it, make that part of your everyday work. Give your suggestion as you see an opportunity, and as close to the behavior as possible. Don’t wait for a formal meeting.
Put the Receiver in Charge of the Agenda
When cyclists go in for a bike fit, they know what the agenda is going to be. Give your colleagues this same courtesy. It’s stressful to feel like a target, not knowing what might come at you in a feedback meeting. It’s difficult to prepare for that mentally.
Think about what the person getting feedback wants. It may be evaluation, coaching, or simply to know what they’re doing really well. They probably have a specific area they’d like to focus on. Let them be in charge of what type of feedback you give and what areas you cover.
Focus on Strengths
Cyclists love bike fits because they hope that they’ll ride faster, further, or more comfortably as a result. The feedback helps them get better at something they love doing. It’s not about their running gait, their freestyle stroke, or their backhand. The feedback focuses on helping them do what they love doing better. Give your colleagues this same opportunity.
It can be tempting to look for a colleague’s weakest qualities and focus on those, but this is probably not a great use of time. Those areas are likely weakest because they’re not a source of energy or enthusiasm for that person. Feedback in areas of weakness won’t likely lead to much change or much enthusiasm for a second feedback session.
So those are my tips to change feedback meetings from a stressful, solemn, largely ineffective ritual into an exciting time for learning and growth. People can LOVE feedback meetings and very much look forward to them if they feel that the information is actionable, focused on their areas of interest, and available to them when they’re hungry for it.