on February 1st, 2019

Dear Colleagues

It is always hard to know genuinely how well or badly you are doing in your job when you try and get honest opinions from those around you. Especially if you are leading a team. The last thing on their mind is for a team member to give you an honest appraisal of how you are doing. In case it damages their position or irritates you. Thus you will often hear that you are tracking extraordinarily well and are the epitomy of success. Often this is very far from the truth.

Thus a few strategies are sketched out below to get some good hard honest feedback on how you are performing. Often extraordinarily painful but ….one can’t hide from the brutal truth. And once you have key information about deficiencies (and indeed, great things you do or have done); you can work on improving on these problems. Actionable solid feedback should be regular to show you how you are developing (either badly or well).

Jennifer Porter quotes from research which indicates that you need three elements to boost your performance:

  • Clear objectives
  • Feedback on how you are shaping up – both good and bad points
  • A real ability and drive to achieve these goals (often the biggest challenge of all)

A few points on getting great feedback:

Maintain a Professional and Safe Environment for Everyone

Ensure that good quality feedback (not gossip or malicious back stabbing) can be passed on without fear or favour. As someone who is receiving the feedback – listen carefully and don’t interrupt when people are giving you the data.

Educate people in how to pass on feedback

Feedback should be useful and actionable. Not flim-flam, anecdotal and irrelevant fluff. Your team can be coached in how to pass on helpful feedback and to pass on hard truths in a professional clinical manner to benefit you and improve the performance of the team. Ask specific questions which come up with useful information:’Do I listen enough to what people say?’;’Do I encourage young engineers in their work?’;’Do I criticize others very negatively with no encouraging words?’.

Ensure that you get both positive and negative feedback

It is unlikely that you will only have positive or negative feedback issues. Mostly, it will be a mix of both attributes. Some managers brutally say when requesting feedback: ‘Give it to me with both barrels – all the worse attributes.’ However, often there are some hugely positive personality traits that should be mentioned as well.

Focus on the trait or attribute rather than the person

Deal with the issue rather than the person when listening to someone list what they believe needs to be improved. This will help you deal with the irritation or anger that may well up in you when you believe you have received unfair criticism. Even if supremely upset by the feedback, ensure you let the person know that you are grateful for her honesty.

Reflect on the feedback, deal with it and maintain the improvements

It is now vital to consider the feedback and work out ways to fix the problems. Sometimes the feedback isn’t fair; but generally there is always an ounce of truth in the commentary – thus requiring action. Write down what the feedback was and ensure you remind yourself every day what you have done to fix it. Confirm with yourself on a daily basis that you have changed and then after a few months, review it with the person who made the original comment and check.

Remember it is always painfully hard to make adjustments to one’s habits and personality traits. However, in acting on fair commentary you will be an improved team member or leader. This process of identifying flaws and fixing them is a key element of being a leader.

Thanks to Jennifer Porter  of the Harvard Business Review for some thoughtful commentary.

Ken Blanchard makes the point: Feedback is the breakfast of champions.

Yours in engineering learning


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