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The Importance of Feedback

This past year, many of us faced new communication challenges. Plunged under duress into the world of Zoom etiquette, increased demands on the project management software of unknown complexity, affirmations shared in the form of floating emojis, and the possibility of skipping pants completely until it was time to run some essential errand (out of instant espresso for early-quarantine whipped coffee?), we all had a lengthy break from traditional office communication.

Now, we trickle back into traditional workspaces. Water coolers are refilled and ready to hear the gossip, memos are itching to slide across desks, and your cubemate’s Pilot G2 is making eyes at you as your dollar store pen is doing that annoying thing again. How can we take what we had to learn last year and use it to move better in this space? This reentry is an opportunity to rework how you navigate professional communication. You have the opportunity to make a fresh start in your office. Shift your communication into a higher gear, while boosting your freshly-minted set of work-from-home digital communication skills and expectations.

For the purpose of this post, we’ll operate under the assumption that you, reader, have both superiors and subordinates in your workspace, who you have had to directly manage and be managed by throughout this oh-so-special year. You also have pondered what you would say to them if you had a chance to talk about their performance, or wondered how they view your work. Maybe you’ve actually had the chance to make that stressful zoom call for a quarterly review or exit interview! We’ll call these types of interactions feedback exchanges.

Reentry to the physical workplace is a great opportunity to introduce intentional feedback exchanges without making ripples or sparking gossip. If you as a team leader choose to take advantage of this and begin scheduling sessions, make sure you also build in time to ask directly for feedback from your subordinates - and be prepared to demonstrate that you listen. And to all you subordinates out there, asking to check in with your supervisor is a great way to demonstrate initiative, a growth mindset and commitment to your role. Even if you are back in a physical space, a quick email to your supervisor requesting a meeting opens a great conversation, even if your supervisor has a lot to say about how your performance can improve.

Most employees know their professional weaknesses - the actual ones, not the interview answer ones. I have worked with very few individuals who are completely ignorant of their professional shortcomings. These conversations can make the oblivious notice, and provide a space to problem solve for those who know what you’re both about to talk about. 

I have worked with even fewer individuals who had no room for further growth and were exceeding every goal. Feedback exchanges with successful team members can quickly become inspiring brainstorming sessions about what could be next, with enough support.

Whether an exchange is built on affirmation, encouragement, or constructive criticism, everyone should have the space to participate in an intentional feedback exchange with those in authority over them, and with those who they supervise.

When an issue comes up in session, feedback exchanges should not contribute into an authority dynamic; instead, collaborate with your colleagues to fix a problem. It is not boss versus employee or frontline worker against management - it is a team working against some interruption of productivity. Forget about buzzwordy management approaches or pay-to-play certifications to increase productivity, and instead spend your time uncovering the real sources of the issues as they pop up. It is far more work managing away a problem from a few links up the chain of command; instead, see if your teammate will invite you into the problem and try to develop a solution together using your different perspectives.

A collaborative frame comes with two benefits: 1. It completely eliminates the blame game aspect of problem solving, and 2. It makes the conversation much less personal and/or accusatory. Who is responsible becomes much less important than how we as a team can work together to overcome the issue using this approach. Long term, feedback exchange helps foster a workplace culture of commitment rather than compliance. The team is committed to getting results rather than compliant with a laundry list of best practices (hint: lists of best practices will become a committed employee’s best friend, especially when they have an avenue to share ideas about systems improvements!)

As with any insight from Change Often, agility is key. Following these steps will provide you with the information you need to overcome any obstacle your team may encounter. Your colleagues are your colleagues for a reason - enjoy what they bring to the table! 

If you want to learn more about feedback exchanges, or practice your ability to provide and understand feedback, Change Often can facilitate a fast-paced professional development seminar at your workplace! We’ve been implementing these training sessions virtually and in-person - fill out a contact card at the bottom of this page if you’re interested in booking a session!