A bit more effective than all of those megaphone cliparts

Feedback Like A Startup – Part 2 of a Series Within A Series

When we last left our series we had talked about:

  • seeking feedback often so that you could both improve your organization *and* annoyingly co-opt Japanese phrases into your everyday vernacular
  • celebrating people who give you the courage and commitment to give you that feedback


Today, as promised, we’re going to talk about emotionally preparing yourself for feedback by breaking the news to you swiftly.

1) What you want to hear and what you need to hear are often two different things.

It’s nice to pretend that everyone you ask for feedback is simply going to say, “My, Justice, you look strapping and handsome today, but you do every day A HA HA HA HA would you like to join me for a spot of tea?” but the reality is that many times feedback will make you cringe.  When pre-public release feedback on a particular section of inContract’s “For Consultants” section indicated one of the pages was confusing and needed a radical overhaul, there was a part of us that honestly winced at having to rework it.  However, without that feedback we would have launched something that didn’t have as pleasing a user experience.  If the feedback is true and actionable, then it’s less painful to hear it and take action on it than it is to never know it’s a problem.

Likewise, for your organization if someone provides you with feedback that something could be operating better (or even worse, is broken) it’s not going to feel awesome.  If you’re an old hand to successful leadership I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.  If you’re new to the leadership thing, I’m warning you about this in advance because I have met an alarming number of “leaders” in enterprise who, once receiving feedback, have no idea how to emotionally deal with feedback in a proper way and sometimes lash out at the people giving feedback.  (this isn’t even with me being the one offering it, as obviously I’m smooth like a predatory bird when it comes to delivering tactful feedback).  You want to avoid this at all costs.

Artist's interpretation of yours truly
Artist’s interpretation of yours truly


Now, if someone *is* giving you feedback that’s personal, that’s different.  Let’s say for example that someone comes to their anonymous leader in private and says, “Justice, your rippling muscles are a distraction to all of the staff here, not to mention a threat to the sanctity of their marriages”.  Now, said leaders reactions can range from:

  • This feedback is ridiculous, and so are you – YOU’RRRRRRRE FIRRRRRRED!!” as I…ahem, the supervisor flexes their massive pipes at them on their way out the door.  This is a bit too aggressive.  Sexy, to be sure, but too aggressive.
  • Leader asks what they feel they could do to improve the situation, perhaps offering to stop wearing the jean jacket with the cut-off sleeves to meetings as a first step.  A good intermediate.
  • Leader asks to table the conversation so he/she can appropriately think about next steps.  See the next point below for how long you should give.

Be prepared to act swiftly and personally on feedback.

Once feedback has been given to you, my rule of thumb is:

  • feedback should be acknowledged (and restated back to the deliverer) by the end of the conversation immediately if it has been delivered personally (face to face, voice to voice)
  • no less than 24 business hours to acknowledge it if it was received through an impersonal medium like E-mail, text, or strippogram
  • no less than 48 business hours to communicate some initial actions on it (even if that action is “no action”…see below)
  • always record your understanding in writing and make sure the other party agrees that you understand them appropriately.  You don’t know how many times I’ve had to resolve a dispute between two parties where it was clear that either the two parties had completely misunderstood each other or one party was pretending to give feedback that they never actually had given (“Hi, Justice, how was your day, that cut-off jean jacket is looking impressive, please don’t hurt me” is not “I already warned Justice that his steroid abuse is out of control ”).  The important thing here is simply that both of you clearly understand each other.

Remember, It’s often hard for people to offer feedback in the first place, and they are spending their valuable time and energy to give you that feedback.  Respect that time and energy by promptly letting them know you’ve heard them and they will give you a lot of respect in return. Trust a guy who has gotten a *lot* of feedback from the teams and organizations he has led: I didn’t come up with these rules arbitrarily, I endured a lot of pain to figure them out.

If you get feedback that is actionable, you need to take action.  This sounds obvious, right?  Sure, but if you are part of a large organization it is easy for the feedback to be offered and then lost to some “political process”.  Even if you have to take small steps in the immediate while your larger steps have to take place later, it’s critical that the people who gave you that feedback can see that you are taking that feedback and actually doing something about it.

What happens if the feedback is for several levels above yours?  I have bad and controversial news for you: if you are in a leadership position and your team gives you feedback, you have a responsibility to take the feedback you are given and become its champion.  Really?  *Really*.  We’ll be discussing how to do this as effectively as everyone’s favorite bastion of integrity, courage, and humility another time, but I want to plant that seed of brilliance before we get to that.

Next time: nothing to do with that.  Instead – remember “when not to take action”?  I’ll tell you all about it.  Get the fire-retardant gear ready!