When speaking with young leaders in our Transformational Leadership Program, or meeting with young leaders at firm retreats, one consistent complaint we hear is that people don’t get enough feedback on the work they’re doing and consequentially, on their individual development. We’re talking a lot these days about improving feedback mechanisms, how firms need to deliver feedback more often and in smaller chunks, and that the traditional feedback model is under pressure to change. But today we’ll talk about feedback from a different angle, and that’s what YOU can do to change the amount of feedback you’re getting.
“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
― Leo Tolstoy
We believe you can make a difference today in the amount of feedback you receive by making some changes in your approach, which we’ll talk about in a moment. But first, it is important to change our mindset about why you aren’t getting feedback. We’re going to do this by generating positive interpretations, or ways of viewing the feeling that you aren’t receiving feedback.
It seems very likely that you aren’t getting enough feedback because your leaders are busy and are not finding the time. Another possibility is that they don’t know how to deliver feedback with the firm’s current mechanisms and need to be shown a new way that will be more meaningful and easily absorbed by you. Your leaders might also be uncomfortable with telling you the things you aren’t doing well, a natural human tendency, or afraid of creating a negative impact with their feedback, like an upset reaction or even worse, turnover in their team.
These are real challenges and you can see how it might be challenging to provide the kind of feedback you are seeking. At the end of our interpretations exercise, we still don’t know for sure why you’re not getting the feedback you seek, but at least you can start to see the difficulties and where you could individually make some changes to improve the feedback you’re getting on a regular basis.
Here are five things you can start doing immediately to encourage those around you to provide you with more feedback. These are actions you can take, or ways you can change your behavior, to generate an impact:
- Ask for feedback on how you’re doing. You’ll benefit from specific feedback (rather than the general “everything is fine”) so be sure you’re being precise in your request. You can prepare using our Keep, Stop, Start framework and generate a few ideas in each category.
So for instance, if you just completed audit fieldwork, think about two things that went well that you should Keep doing, two things that didn’t go so well or were ineffective that you should Stop doing, and two things that would make the audit go more smoothly next year that you should Start doing. Once you’ve generated these ideas, send them in advance to the manager on the audit saying something like “I’m interested in making the XYZ audit run more smoothly next year and would like your feedback. Here are a few things I think could improve. Could you review them and then we can discuss your thoughts for 10-15 minutes?”
You might be thinking that creating an assessment of the audit fieldwork sounds like a lot of work and yes, generating and providing feedback is hard work. Make it easier for those around you by doing some of the thinking and planning for them before you ask for feedback.
- Request more ownership from your supervisor, or the managers of your jobs. Think ahead about what responsibility you took the previous year and what new things you could take on this year. Once you’ve thought it through, pick an opportune time to talk to the person in charge of that job or internal function and let them know you are ready to take on more.
Sometimes those around us you might wonder whether you are ready to take on more, so to make it more palatable, break the tasks down into smaller pieces. For example, if you’re interested in taking leadership in the client accounting department in the future, start with asking if you can prepare the agenda and be the facilitator for the next three departmental meetings. Once you have demonstrated success in that area, perhaps you ask to own scheduling new work as it’s sold, or to be on the committee that selects a new bill paying service. Pilot small improvements and successes with your leaders and demonstrate that you are ready to take on more ownership and responsibility. You’ll also gain valuable developmental opportunities in the process.
- Be creative about ways in which you can get the feedback you need. I once worked with a partner who controlled a large book of business and was incredibly busy. The managers working on his jobs would complain about not getting work back in a timely manner, or not having all the relevant information they needed to accurately complete the work. One of those managers quietly started scheduling 30 minutes a week on the partner’s calendar. She would use those meetings to clear up questions she had, check in on review she needed, ask for prioritization when appropriate, and generally “check-in” on what he knew about upcoming client work that she didn’t. It was an innovative, solutions-oriented approach that didn’t involve a whole lot of change from the partner but had a big impact on her success.
We call these type of meetings “huddles” and recommend you start asking for this kind of time at the end of projects, before kicking off a new job, or when you’re stuck. Share that a huddle involves no more than 15 minutes and can even be conducted standing up. Show your leaders how easy feedback can be and we think you’ll start getting more of it.
- Before going to “get help” from a colleague or supervisor, generate possible solutions to the problem yourself. Create three ideas of how to solve the problem and choose your preferred solution. Then go to the person and say “I’ve run into this issue on the ABC tax return and think I know a solution, but I’d like your feedback.” Together you can discuss your generated solutions and see if your direction and approach is sound.
By taking the time to do the thinking yourself, you take advantage of a developmental opportunity that is right in front of you. And you show others how eager you are to try new things and seize opportunities to improve.
- All feedback won’t be positive, so one thing to consider is who you are being in the face of constructive criticism. Are you comfortable when you hear something that needs to be improved, or do you argue “your side”? Examine how you’re doing with receiving feedback and whether you’re taking responsibility for the feedback or wanting to make the other person “wrong” for it. See if that’s what holding others back from giving it to you.
I struggle with receiving negative feedback and can be sensitive about hearing the things I’m not doing well. Lately I’ve been asking my brain to withhold judgment for a while. I’ll receive the feedback and then sit with it for a few hours, giving myself time to process the information. Sitting without judgment allows me to “catch up” to where the other person might be coming from, without immediately generating all the reasons the feedback provider is wrong. The good news is that it’s getting easier to take negative feedback. Lately I’m finding my feedback processing time is shorter, and at times I can even feel good about receiving constructive criticism immediately.
Think about who you are being with negative feedback and see if there’s some adjustment required to be an open recipient of the feedback, both positive and negative, you need to improve and grow in your role and career.
It’s empowering to realize that there are simple changes you can make to improve the amount and quality of feedback and personal development you receive. Stop focusing on the lack of feedback coming from your leaders and try these five ideas to kick-start feedback within your team. We hope you’ll pick one and start today!