Let me suggest a few examples from real life:
1. One of the Big 4 Consulting companies announced widely that they are not going to use their traditional performance reviews anymore, replacing it with ongoing feedback. They rolled out a software application which prescribed every employee to request "feedback" from a specific number of their peers or clients which was recorded in the HR-accessible system. Feedback was based on a rating system with a monthly average being generated. Their manager was responsible for reviewing the numbers and acting upon them, if averages were low. Employee compensation and promotions were directly dependent on the outcome.
2. A large corporation announced that they are not doing "performance reviews" anymore and everyone should engage in ongoing feedback. Besides this, they did nothing: no education, no framework, no suggestions on frequency and form of this feedback. In a year, employees started missing dreadful performance reviews, because there were too many surprises and no ability to use feedback (which was hardly ever provided and if provided, was rarely well-received) for their professional growth.
3. A medium-size company decided to build a culture of ongoing feedback. They provided multiple training sessions with the approach being: do not wait, always provide real-time feedback. As a result, the "feedback" became overwhelming. A long-term employee with limited out-of-company experience would lecture an experienced new joiner on conducting meetings in front of other participants of this meeting. A manager would call employees into his office after each meeting, presentation, client pitch (almost daily) and reprimand them for poor work. He would start this with a question: "Would you like my feedback?"and of course, no one could say "no", so he considered it a solicited feedback and was actually very proud for contributing to employee growth by being open and honest. I was one of those employees, and all of us were continuously discouraged and demotivated by his feedback, which frequently turned into simple finger pointing. One day I suggested to park this "feedback" and have a weekly feedback session instead. Unexpectedly, he was open to this and was genuinely surprised that his daily feedback was not welcome.
4. Another manager I knew used the term "feedback" as an excuse for keeping a running list of every employee's "errors", which he generously used to explain why they are not getting promoted or are being missed on annual bonuses. In this company's employee survey, the number one response to the "start/stop/continue" question in the "stop" section was "feedback". No one wanted this type of "feedback".
Chances are, you've worked for one of those or similar companies that misinterpret feedback and are unable to build the culture of open and positive feedback loops.
All of those (any many other similar) examples show how incorrect interpretation of feedback can be damaging. At the same time, establishing an ongoing feedback loop can be very beneficial. What are the characteristics of a feedback loop?
- feedback is a loop. It's ongoing and bi-directional. I worked for a manager once who gave me feedback (very positive) during an annual performance review session, and when I tried to share mine, told me that this is my "performance review", not his, so my feedback to him is not relevant. We were both in the very beginning of our careers, and I know that he grew into a fine manager, and I am a more confident person now and would question such a statement, but at that time, this feedback, though highly positive, damaged our trust. Always reciprocate the feedback.
- feedback is voluntary. Ask for feedback, use it as your vehicle to grow. Do not force your feedback on anyone.
- feedback is a one-on-one encounter. Do not provide your feedback in front of other people.
- feedback is a gift (if genuine and not done as an excuse to reduce your compensation or not to give an employee an expected promotion). The only response to someone's feedback is "thank you". Never be offended or hold it against the person. Appreciate it and use as an opportunity to improve.
- feedback is one person's opinion. Don't let it demotivate you or kill your self esteem. Validate feedback with others and use it as a learning point.
- feedback is positive. When you provide feedback, do not make it personal. Instead of saying, "you are not sensitive", say "when you told me that I did not make sense, I felt demotivated. It would help a lot of you said "this is how you can improve it" and provided examples."
- feedback does not have to address improvement opportunities only. Praise is also a form of feedback. If you are grateful to your colleague or think they did a great job, give them feedback. It is twice as important. Just be genuine and specific in either case.
- feedback should be solicited, explicitly or not. Make sure that the person that you are talking to is open to your feedback. For example, if someone is highly competitive and views you as their thread, partner with this person and share your values, rather than initiating a more formal feedback conversation.
- feedback should be done directly to the person and in a least formal environment. For tough feedback, consider selecting a venue outside of office. This would make this conversation less confrontational and will help to establish long-lasing relationships. Consider other person's personality type and your prior relationship in selecting the form and the venue for your feedback.
In sum, be mindful and use feedback as a gift and not a weapon!