Sharon was preparing to ask her direct report how she was doing as a leader. 

Like most leaders, she had never formally asked someone for feedback about her performance and was a little nervous about how to proceed.

Sharon remembered that the last time her boss asked her for feedback, the conversation caught her off guard and she wasn’t sure what to say. She did not want to make the same mistake.

She asked a Lean HR expert, like me, for feedback advice and they provided her with the following tips: 

1. The best feedback needs the right questions

Asking questions the right way will solicit the best feedback. “Give me examples of where I can improve” may seem negative and make a person reluctant to answer. People may struggle to provide feedback that could potentially hurt someone’s feelings. Instead, ask, “what are three things I can do better in my leadership role?” The right question will result in the most meaningful and helpful feedback.  Positive language invites others to contribute to your growth and success.

2. Send topics ahead of time

Some individuals prefer to fully prepare for meetings. Consider whether some of the people you are asking to participate would prefer to have the questions ahead of time so they can provide thoughtful answers. In addition to the questions, you may want to explain the purpose of asking for feedback as a way to grow and improve. 

3. Ask clarifying questions 

Consider having backup questions you might use if the first question doesn’t yield an answer. Prepare some follow-up questions or details in case the person needs prompting. For example, if your original question is, “are the expectations clear for your role?” Some follow up questions may be: “Are the metrics or goals clear?”, “Are the priorities for your time clear?”, “Are you clear on what it means to be a successful team member?” These additional subpoints help prompt a response when a team member has difficulty answering the original question.

4. Protect the conversation

Be aware that it’s normal to feel defensive or hurt when discussing areas of improvement. Prepare yourself to feel those feelings and not react immediately to maintain positivity. Feedback conversations need to remain a listening exercise. Refrain from explaining or defending your actions as this will typically stop the flow of feedback.

5. Sit with the feedback

People usually need 24 hours or more to fully take in and process information about topics that have been in their blind spot. Some feedback may be surprising. Allow some time to pass before deciding whether the feedback is useful.  

6. What to do When You’re Unsure About Feedback 

If you get feedback that leaves you wondering whether a certain behavior is a pattern, consider asking other people for feedback on that topic. You always have the choice to evaluate the feedback and use it only if you find it to be valid. Sometimes it could be situational-specific and addressing it may not be helpful. 

7. Your goal is to identify a few areas for improvement

Be careful not to get overwhelmed with too many changes. Almost always, there are two to three areas within the feedback that highlight your greatest growth opportunities. In your follow-up conversations, you can verify the key themes and how you’ve prioritized them. 

8. Be sure to get back to those who provided their feedback 

Getting feedback both helps you grow and improves your relationship with your team. By coming back to the person who provided your feedback with what you learned and plan to do going forward, you show your respect and appreciation for their time and attention. Your commitment to growth makes people more willing to help in the future. 

9. Set the expectation about the next steps

Sometimes you may want to simply reflect on the feedback or gather additional feedback before planning or making any changes. When your conversation begins, set the expectation that you’ll get back to them after you’ve had a chance to absorb the information. 

10. There’s no such thing as too much support

Growing and developing takes courage and readiness to try new things. One way to bolster your courage is to ask others for help. Whether it’s an accountability partner or someone to suggest areas of improvement, you’ll find getting support from others is often critical to success. After all, don’t you like it when others ask for your help? 

Performance feedback is essential to our professional and personal growth. It allows us to identify areas in which we need to improve and set expectations for the future. However, it can be difficult to know how to ask for feedback or what to do with it when we receive it. 

In this post, we’ve outlined a process for getting and using performance feedback effectively.  Everyone has things they are good at and other things they aren’t. We can use feedback to gain a better sense of what people see in us that we may not see ourselves. More importantly, we can use that information to improve and build better relationships along the way. 

What are ways that you get performance feedback? Let me know in the comments! And if you need help implementing any of these tips, don’t hesitate to reach out.

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