March 19, 2021

Look Alive: You are Getting Feedback All the Time

I know I talk about feedback often. If I talk about it too much, let me know. I’d love the feedback.

I was with a group of C-suite leaders the other day, and they all were talking about how little feedback they receive. They reported that they wanted more, that they’d tried many things to garner more, and that it just wasn’t working.

When we spoke about this, I first asked these leaders how much genuine, authentic feedback (this could be “positive” or “negative”) they give. Some said plenty. One, when pressed, said he often elides the tough feedback and instead offers feedback he views as less harsh. That’s a great realization. I’ve written before that if you want to get more authentic feedback, you need to give more authentic feedback.

We talked about unconscious commitments to not actually receiving feedback — all the behaviors leaders might be engaging in that communicate a lack of interest in getting real feedback. For every personality type, there are ways we do this. I’ll save that for another day.

Today, the next morning, it hit me: we are getting feedback all the time. We just don’t think of it as “feedback.”

This thought was sparked by my associate Paul Warner’s comment to this group that we want feedback to seem surgical (I thought of that old game “Operation”) and context-appropriate (in a setting called a “feedback session”). We want a scalpel, he said, but often feedback comes in the form of a drunken partygoer holding a broken bottle. Ok, this image is a little violent for me, but it made the point. Feedback is sloppy. Feedback is very (if not most) often not context appropriate.

So I thought about various ways we get feedback, all of which I’ve heard from leaders in the last week alone:

  • 60-70% of our employees have video turned off for our Zoom all-hands meetings
  • Participation on our employee NPS survey is low
  • Some of my sales reps are not hitting their numbers/complying with Salesforce data entry requirements/satisfied with their performance increase for the year
  • Our customers aren’t embracing our new app features
  • My highest performer left the company
  • I’m hearing that one of my team members is unhappy only from another of my team members

This is all feedback, served up in the daily events occurring all around you. You may not know what the signals mean from the perspective of others, but you can surely interrogate more deeply what information these instances offer you. Whether someone tells you something or you make inferences, it’s all story anyway, so do the work.

There are also plenty of “positive” feedback signals too:

  • There is so much laughter in our team meetings, we can struggle to get down to business
  • A team member from another team asked me to offer her some mentorship
  • Our customers keep sending our sales team new referrals
  • Our users share more tagged love on Twitter than we can respond to

There are so many more examples of passive feedback. Take a moment this weekend and make a list of all the informal feedback — positive and negative — you’ve received. Tell me what you think of on Twitter.

Then, notice if you’ve been paying attention to the ad hoc signals that are positive, but turning away from the ones that feel negative. Become a feedback detective, and see what you learn before your next Glassdoor review or your next NPS survey.

Have fun! Really. Make it fun.

📷 by Shawn Rossi

Sue Heilbronner

Sue Heilbronner is an executive coach, Conscious Leadership facilitator, and catalyst for change.

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