Recently I wrote about some great opportunities to ask for feedback. Hopefully reading that post gave you some ideas for upcoming opportunities you will have to ask for feedback. I don’t want to discourage you, but asking for feedback is only the first step in getting it. You can’t just put a survey out there and wait for the magic to happen. It’s unfortunate, but despite the increasing focus on feedback in organizations, some people are still uncomfortable giving it.
This adds a small challenge, but don’t let it stop you from asking for feedback. You own your development, right? Well you also own your feedback. The good news is there are some steps you can take to not only increase the likelihood of getting feedback, but to make it more meaningful and ultimately help you develop your skills.
4 Steps to Take When Asking for Feedback
1. Let people know it’s coming.
Also known as the “heads up.” As you know, everyone is overloaded. Too much work, too many communications, and it doesn’t help when spam filters incorrectly capture emails. It’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. If you’re asking for feedback in a survey, be helpful and let the person know it’s coming. Provide key details such as who the sender will be, the time-frame in which it will arrive, and approximately how long it will take to complete the survey. You should also make it clear why you’re asking for feedback and what you intend to do with it. If there’s something specific you’re looking for feedback on, communicate that as well. Providing this information up front will enable responders to give you feedback that is more relevant and useful to you in your development. It also gives them some time to think about it in advance.
2. Ask at the right time and avoid inconvenient times.
Just because we advocate asking for feedback doesn’t mean any time is the right time to do so. It’s important to know when not to ask for feedback. Don’t ask your peer for feedback right after a stressful meeting or project. Don’t ask for feedback from people who will be unavailable during the relevant timeframe because they’ll be at a conference, on vacation, or in the midst of crunch time work. If you practice the previous recommendation of giving people a heads up that a request for feedback is coming, that’s your opportunity to learn of any timing issues and adjust accordingly.
There’s one specific point related to this topic that warrants its own paragraph. Leaders, don’t ask your direct reports for feedback right before comp review! Their concerns will be heightened during this time no matter how much you try to convince them otherwise. Think about how you would feel if you were asked to do the same.
3. Ask people that have observed you often enough to provide insightful feedback.
I’ve seen some clients struggle to get feedback because they asked for it from people who barely knew them. The person you sat next to in a meeting last month and shared a handout with has not worked with you if that was your only interaction. The employee that reported to you for one month then moved on to another role reporting to someone else did not report to you long enough to form a valid perception of your leadership skills. Make sure the people you ask for feedback have had sufficient interaction with you to form a valid perspective of your behavior. The exception to this rule would be if the feedback you are seeking is limited to the interaction you had with that person. For example, if you’re asking for feedback on how well you delivered a presentation or facilitated a meeting, it would be appropriate to include those people. Just be sure to do it immediately after the interaction while the memory is fresh in their minds.
4. Follow up with people after you get the feedback.
If you’re striving to get more frequent feedback, chances are there will be some people you’ll need to ask on a regular basis. Increase the likelihood of receiving continuous feedback from others by sharing the outcome with them. You don’t need to be specific and share personal data. All you need to do is elaborate a bit on what you said when you gave a heads up. “In general, the feedback from you [my direct reports] indicated I need to be more specific in communicating expectations. So I’ll be working on that in the future.” Providing this kind of follow up lets people know you took their feedback seriously and are doing something with it.
What are your techniques for increasing participation when asking for feedback? Tell us in the comments!