Does ‘Feedback’ Make You Cringe? How to Revamp Your Feedback Loop

When you hear the word ‘feedback’ do you imagine criticism or praise? How about your team? This matters.

What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘ feedback’? Do you picture a situation of criticism or praise? Most people probably immediately got nervous and thought about a situation where you were going to give or receive improvement feedback vs. recognition feedback.

While there may be many reasons that we assume ‘feedback’ will be negative, this reaction can create a dangerous dynamic in our teams. It can limit innovation, curtail curiosity, and inhibit our growth. If every time we say ‘feedback’, our team is thinking “Oh no, I am in trouble”, we shutdown our feedback loop. This matters. Feedback is one of your greatest tools as a leader, and one of our greatest sparks for innovation.

Framing Feedback

As a leader, how do you reframe feedback? Can you reframe feedback or is that just wishful thinking? If you do not have a feedback loop, how do you create an effective feedback process within your team?

The best answer is that you take the time to make feedback important. Shifting our perspective takes time. Saying feedback is important is not enough. We have all heard the saying “put your money where your mouth is” or the “proof is in the pudding”.

We have all watched as a company mantra is “launched” and it seems front and center for a few weeks, but soon fades to the background making us all wonder why we invested so much time into it. This is most people’s experience with feedback.

A leader will say feedback is important, start with some positive feedback, and soon the feedback stops except in cases of our annual review. Or a leader will ask for feedback, but not realize that they also shut down brainstorming and feedback questions during team meetings. So how do we make feedback important?

Prioritizing Feedback

As leaders we are all busy, but there are easy ways to build feedback into our team processes. This feedback will empower you to maintain team alignment, learn better support mechanisms for your team, and uncover innovative ways to improve your proccesses.

Step 1: Setting Goals

The first step to providing feedback is all being clear on what success looks like. If we do not all share the same definition of success, how will we be able to provide coaching or recognition?

Setting goals for the team and the individual not only gives you a shared definition of success, but gives you a feedback tool during each of your check-ins. It allows your team member to highlight areas in which they are doing well and areas where they may need more support. This feedback will empower you to best direct your support. Similarly, by reviewing progress against goals, it allows you to offer recognition for achieving milestones as well as offer coaching throughout the year on their progress. Nothing is worse than sitting down for a year-end review and not knowing what to expect from your manager’s feedback. Through regular check-ins you can reduce this stress and stay aligned throughout the year. These check-ins also allow you to build feedback on your shared approach. If you and your team are tracking your goals, but not exceeding objectives, a strong feedback loop gives you the structure to revisit your processes, question your approach, brainstorm new ideas, and continuously iterate and improve together.

To make this most effective, you and your team can create SMART Goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Based)[1], for each individual and the team. We do this to be sure that we are all aligned on what success looks like. We need a shared destination, AND a roadmap of how and when we get there together.

Your role as a leader is not to simply assign goals, but to support your team member throughout the journey. Feedback is your tool to both accelerate actions that should be reinforced and help the team change course when you are not on a course for success.

Step 2: Follow Through on Team and Individual Feedback

Make sure to set a regular cadence to informally and formally provide feedback to your team. Each person’s individual goals become a tool to kick off a quick check-in each week. This can help keep you informed on individiual progress and understand where you may be able to add more support.

You can also have a more in-depth monthly review of individual goals and team goals to assess if any priorities need to change. For the team you can add time for open discussion to allow team members to troubleshoot challenges together, assess ideas, and prioritize solutions. You can even expand this feedback loop, by bringing in customer feedback. Maybe you have NPS surveys, feedback from the customer support team or sales metrics that can help guide your continuous improvement and innovation cycle.

Lastly, for individual and team goals, schedule a full review once or twice per year to be sure individual and team goals remain aligned with your strategy and company priorities. This formal process will most likely be aligned with your organization’s annual review process, but you can meet with HR to organize timing and process.

Step 3: Optimizing your Feedback Cadence

You may ask ‘Why should I have weekly and monthly check-ins if we have an annual review process?’ The reason we recommend this it helps build a real-time feedback loop. This will help ensure that we agree to what we are working on and how we are measured. How many of us have sat down for an annual review and realized that one or two of the goals are out of date, and were deprioritized months ago? How do you provide relevant feedback to your team member or receive relevant feedback from your leader if your goals are out of date?

This cadence does not need to be cumbersome. In fact, the more often you provide relevant, real-time feedback and take action on feedback from your team and customers, the more engrained it becomes in your process. Soon it will not feel like an extra step, but rather just another part of your team’s approach. Ultimately, feedback will help you build a shared vision with your team, allowing you to offer exceptional value to your customers, which in turn will help to accelerate your innovation and growth.

[1] “SMART Goals, it is generally agreed, were first written down by George T. Doran, a consultant and former Director of Corporate Planning for Washington Water Power Company. In November 1981 he published a paper titled “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives”. Reference Project SMART.  

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