Specificity and Proactivity for Feedback

Specificity and Proactivity for Feedback

At this time of the year, for the last few years, a similar phenomenon happens: calendars begin to get filled with check-in meetings about progress of Key Results Areas projects. Junior Partners want a chance to show their Senior Partners the projects before performance reviews. Senior Partners want to ensure the work is on track and at the desired level of quality. Both have been checking in regularly over the last few months, but often not in as much detail as either really wants.

I know we’re all longing to get better and improve the quality of our work. So I suggest a simple tweak from both sides to make sure these discussions or message exchanges become more productive. This recommendation can also be used with peers in the company - there’s no need to restrict it to your direct Senior/Junior Partner.

Throughout our workflows, I imagine most of us feel more confident about certain projects/actions/tasks than others. Perhaps between writing a proposal or lesson plan, organizing an event, or constructing a recruitment or learning path, one or two of those activities jumps out to us as ones that we are most comfortable completing. Even within each activity/task, there are probably certain steps or actions we feel more or less confident about: planning, executing, formatting, communicating the results, etc.

Take advantage of this to ask directly for feedback and guidance on the step or segment that you felt your could have improved! If you never hear another person’s view on that section/segment of your work, you’re out likely going to be just as unsure about your work there months later.

Get specific.

Re-phrase more general questions such as: “Can I get your thoughts on this?” or “Can I please have some feedback on my work?” to something that doesn’t let a Senior Partner or a peer wriggle away without providing you with actionable guidance. You can replace the above two with more specific requests that are still open ended, such as, “When working on this report, I wasn’t sure about the formatting, to be honest. Could you please provide some feedback for me? Did the formatting of the table, margins, colors, and fonts matched your expectations? Also, do you have any more general feedback for me on this outside the areas I mentioned?” Another example: “As I was completing this Voice of Customer summary for you, I noticed I wasn’t sure how detailed you wanted each interaction. Did my level of detail reach the standard you were hoping for? Additionally, if you have any other more general feedback I’d love to hear it!” From my perspective, this results in three important outcomes:

  1. Focuses the lens of improvement more directly on potential challenge areas
  2. Demonstrates to the Feedback Giver that you’ve thought more deeply about the issue at hand
  3. Saves everyone time

Let’s unpack each of these one by one.

1. Focuses the lens of improvement more directly on potential challenge areas. As the person who has just completed a task or project, as mentioned above, you are more likely than anyone to know where you had the greatest challenge. Why not take the opportunity to get tailored feedback on that area? Or even if not the weakest area for you personally, the area where you most desire to improve. By providing context around the feedback you’re asking for, you help shape the type of feedback you receive.

2. Demonstrates to the feedback giver that you’ve thought more deeply about the issue at hand. The quality of the question is often a reflection of how deeply someone has thought about the problem. Imagine a environmental scientist receiving these two questions as a conference: “What would you do to solve climate change?” And “Of the following five methods: A, B, C, D, E, which do you think is the most effective at solving climate change and why? Is there another method I left out you would also add into this list?” The scientist would likely respect the second question asker more and want to engage more deeply because it demonstrates greater thought that went into the question. The question doesn’t necessarily have to be much longer, either. “What methods would you use to solve climate change?” and “How would you reduce methane emissions and fossil fuel usage?” are nearly the same length.

3. Saves everyone time. When the question comes, “Can I have some feedback on this?” the resulting response is likely to be as general as the question: either dancing around the issue or speaking at a cursory level. Even in the case where you as the requester of feedback drill down one level further after 30 seconds, you’ve just spent time listening to something that was sub-optimally valuable for you to hear and thus didn’t respect your own time or that of the feedback giver.

Another immediately actionable tool is to ask directly for feedback with a lag time, so as to give the other person time to think of comprehensive and thoughtful replies. During a one-on-one meeting, team meeting, or project status meeting, a simple request with a time lag can do a long way. It sounds like this: “I really want to improve the quality of my work and also my teamwork with the team. Next week during or after our XYZ meeting, can I please ask that you provide two or three actionable pieces of feedback for me to take into consideration over the following month?” It’s non-threatening because you’re not putting someone on the spot. This question also increases the likelihood you’re going to receive feedback because your interlocutor is in all likelihood going to reply, “Yeah, sure. Thanks for asking!” They’ve just made a small commitment to help you and so they’re likely to keep that commitment. Also, it demonstrates a curiosity and willingness to improve. The final bonus is that the more frequently positive and constructive feedback is shared across the table, the less painful or awkward it becomes every time.

Specificity and proactivity make it easy to receive actionable feedback.