If you want to improve your performance (and in turn your personal brand) it’s crucial to become accustomed to asking for feedback. There is no better way. Whilst no one likes to be criticised, it’s time to bite the bullet and do it. Incidentally, perceiving feedback as criticism is a bad start anyway, that’s not what it is. Once you start to view feedback as a TOOL for self improvement you can let go of the fear and make it work for you. Approaching it in the right way is the key to making the most of what it can give you.
Why are you asking? What is your goal?
Start by asking what you want out if it. The main reason to be asking is because you want to improve, to become more effective and potentially get to the next level in your career. Having the right frame of mind is vital, you will likely hear things that you don’t want to. So leave your feelings at the door for this process. It can be incredibly difficult for people to give critical feedback so bear this in mind. You should be asking for feedback more than once, so reacting badly to constructive criticism can make it more difficult for them to be honest next time. Encourage honesty and keep an open mind.
Ultimately asking for feedback should be linked to the question “Where do I see myself in a year’s time?”. You might WANT that promotion but you NEED to be better at what you do; and effective feedback is the route to improvement.
Identify who you should ask
The first thing to note is that you shouldn’t be asking everybody. Asking everyone for feedback may be interpreted as a lack of confidence that you don’t want on display. Choose wisely. When choosing who to ask you want someone who:
- Has seen you work close up
- You respect and respects you
This can be a colleague or team member, a manager or even a client. Be mindful of your relationship with them. There is often no point asking your best friend in the office and probably best not asking your office nemesis if you have one!
The other category of person to consider asking is someone more senior to you that you’d like to raise your visibility with. Think about it. You’re asking for feedback to grow and improve. This is an opportunity to demonstrate ambition, get advice, and shine a light on who you are and what you’re about. Best case it can lead to a mentor or sponsor relationship. At the very least it shows you’re serious about your performance and career. One of my clients asked seniors as part of preparation for a promotion opportunity. One of them said this was the best thing they’d ever seen anyone to do to prepare.
Prepare your questions
Take some time to prepare for what you want to ask. Not only will this help you get the right sort of feedback but it will also show the person that you are serious about self improvement and you value their time. Consider e-mailing the questions beforehand as this will give the person time to really think about what they want to tell you. Keep the list short (around 3-5 questions) and be as specific as you can. “What can I do to improve my clarity of communication?” is a lot better than “How can I improve?” It is important to vary your questions as much as you can so you aren’t concentrating on one area of improvement. Don’t be afraid to ask or examples when you get constructive criticism.
Questions should usually be future-focused and aim to elicit specifics. Learning you need to be more visible is not as helpful as “you could raise your profile with the leadership team by presenting at the next board meeting”. It can also be useful to ask questions to understand others’ perception of you and what you do. Good questions may include:
- What experience do you think I need to get to x level
- How would you describe my brand? Where do you see me adding the most value?
- I want to achieve x…what are your top 3 pieces of advice to get me there?
Ask for feedback the right way
The best option is face to face because it helps the person give context (which is one of the reasons I’m not a fan of a 360 assessment). Face to face isn’t the only way. Being hungry for feedback means you should be encouraging comments on your work via documents/projects you are working on regularly. Being known as the person in the office who isn’t afraid to get feedback makes your personal brand stronger so encourage it. You could also ask for feedback via survey (like surveymonkey) – although less personal you can get some great pointers this way. Picking the right time to ask for feedback is just as important. Priming people before a presentation that you you will be asking for comments is a good way of getting immediate advice that can help, and the timeliness is proven to have a bigger impact on your brain.
There are of course formal management reviews and it’s up to you to make sure that you are getting what you need from these. Even if the process in your company isn’t strong, you can take control by asking the right questions about your performance. What you really want to do is create a culture around yourself where you are consistently asking for advice and feedback (without overdoing it of course, the focus is growth rather than neediness!)
Feedback is about FUTURE improvement. Not about the mistakes of the past. It is important to follow up with whoever is giving you the feedback. The biggest waste of time is getting valuable advice and doing nothing with it. Act upon the feedback you get. Make the changes you need to improve processes with all stakeholders involved. And when you have made those changes, go back to those who have contributed input, and tell them what you have done. You will be letting them know that you have valued their advice and they will be ready to help next time. This also supports building strong relationships so is a win-win!
Feedback is the single best way of improving your performance and personal brand. It is a vital part of having a growth mindset. So take a deep breath and ask for it.
“In a growth mindset, challenges are exciting rather than threatening. So rather than thinking, oh, I’m going to reveal my weaknesses, you say, wow, here’s a chance to grow.”