Do you dare to ask for feedback?

Leaders are good at evaluating employees, but are we good enough at evaluating ourselves? Do YOU dare to ask for honest feedback? You should. Research shows that employees’ feedback is what counts. There is also a strong relationship between leaders who actively request feedback, and overall leadership effectiveness.

Feedback Word Cloud Concept in red caps with great terms such as results, positive, improve and more.

Before summer, I decided to use the last months of my maternity leave to do an evaluation of myself as a leader. You can read the beginning of this process in My leadership style must be upgraded! Self-evaluations are far from sufficient.

Forbes.com presented, in January 2015, a study showing that the top executives with the highest leadership effectiveness are those who ask most for feedback. This should be a wake-up call. As many as 83 % of those who actively seek feedback are those who score highest on leadership effectiveness. These top executives have cracked the code.

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Source: Forbes.com January 2015, Top Ranked Leaders Know This Secret: Ask For Feedback

A study from organizational researcher Karonline M. H. Kopperud, who has a PhD from BI, shows that leaders’ evaluation of their own leadership style has little direct influence on employees’ dedication. It is the employees’ assessment of the leader that counts.

Who do you ask?

Experience, level in the organization, role and personality affect peoples reaction to your leadership style. An experienced employee will consider different aspects than what a fresh graduate will do. To get the best picture, you should ask colleagues on different levels, different experiences and personality traits. This is often called 360-degrees evaluations. If this means involving many people, it can be split into phases over a period of time.

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When you ask for feedback from your employees, you should be aware that you might corner them. They could fear that the feedback they give will have consequences, or they could use the opportunity to “kiss your ass”. No matter their motive, they might be honest. This is why you should prioritize a trustworthy process that contributes to honesty.

My experience: I asked for feedback from approximately 15 people, from different levels in both Deloitte and the Norwegian Snowboarding Association. All the people I contacted are colleagues whom I know well, and several of them I know privately. I was hoping that this made them answer honestly. Hopefully, they understand that my intentions are good.

Which form of communication should you use?

You can choose one-to-one conversations, e-mails with specific and/or open-ended questions, group conversations, questionnaires or in-depth interview conducted by a third party. If it is too challenging to ask for direct feedback from individuals, you can for instance ask for help from the HR department. Perhaps they could be an intermediate part for anonymizing the feedback?

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A questionnaire with follow-up in-depth interviews can give the best whole picture, giving the most honest and complete answers. This process will take some time and resources. You will have to consider whether you want to prioritize quality or quantity, given the time and resources that you have available.

My experience: I have to admit that I did it the easy way, by sending an e-mail with the title “My chance to improve!”. The e-mail started with a personal introduction about my process, and I asked a few specific questions. I encouraged everyone to be completely honest, and I emphasized that suggesting improvement equals to giving me a “gift”.

These are the questions:

  • How do you like working with me?
  • How do I communicate?
  • Do you know what I stand for?
  • How would you compare me to people in similar roles?
  • How do I make you feel?
  • Specifically – what are my strong sides and where should I improve?
  • What do you think I am most afraid of?
  • When am I most confident?
  • Write down what is on the top of your mind, independent of these questions J
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I did not set a deadline, since I know that everyone is super busy. I hoped that those who wanted to give feedback took the time to do so!

Over the next three weeks, answers popped up in my inbox. Approximately 75 % of the people I asked answered, and both well-experienced and less experienced consultants replied. Everyone wrote comprehensive feedback. Everyone gave criticism and praise. The feedback was meaningful, with both familiar and new points! I have to admit that I started crying when I read some of the e-mails, thankfully because of the praise and not the criticism.

When should you do an evaluation of yourself as a leader?

I do not have a good answer for this question. In any case, it should not be right before salary negotiations or during challenging downsizing periods. I believe that it is important to work for a good feedback culture, making it a natural part of daily work. It could be a short conversation after an important meeting or a presentation, or as part of a yearly evaluation process. Again, it is important to create a framework that sustains trust and security.

My experience: My timing was maybe not the best. I chose a time where I had not been at work in ten months. It could be positive thing since everyone has me at a distance, but negative since we have not had a daily, close dialogue the last year. I also could not do this in any other way than with e-mail, but it is good for now.

How do you handle the feedback?

Business woman hands holding white card sign with Thank you for your feedback text message isolated on grey wall office background. Retro instagram style image

First, I think it is important to go through all the feedback thoroughly, preferably several times. It is also important to thank those who took their time to reply during their busy days. You should systematize the feedback and find recurring points. If there is something that you do not understand, you could just call them. Do not get on the defensive side, but ask open-ended questions and write down the answers. Remember that you have two ears, but only one mouth. Listen more than you speak.

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Make an overview of the most important feedback, both praise and criticism, and use them in your evaluation of yourself as a leader. There are several techniques for how to handle the feedback in a good way. These techniques are often called the “feedback staircase”. 

the same old thinking and disappointing results, closed loop or negative feedback mindset concept - a napkin doodle with a cup of coffee

So far, asking for feedback has been a good experience. Asking for feedback was a little bit frightening, but it still felt good to get some confirmations and some challenges. Leaders are often measured in numbers and results, but employee satisfaction is one of the most valuable ways we can be measured!

My encouragement to you: Ask for feedback, but be conscious! Bad processes can create conflicts. This is not beneficial for anybody.

Do you have any experiences? Feel free to share them with my readers and me!

Do you know anyone who needs some leadership inspiration? It would be nice if you share this on social media, and feel free to follow me on Facebook!

Thank you for your time!

Cecilia 🙂

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