Career Resources

Using Feedback

Feedback is an indispensable element for effective career management. It can be generated through self-assessment instruments, such as the Myers Briggs Type Indicator® used in ACHE’s Personality Type Assessment, or can be provided by colleagues through assessment instruments that provide quantitative data describing some aspect of our performance. For instance, ACHE offers the Benchmarks® 360-degree leadership assessment, which captures information from your boss, peers, and direct reports. Quantitative data presents measurements of your aptitude and achievement while qualitative results express a more opinion-based evaluation of quality. But no matter what form the feedback takes, its full value cannot be realized unless it is acted upon. Read on to find out how to give effective feedback and act on the feedback you receive.

Will feedback provide absolute answers to what I should do?

When receiving quantitative feedback one must first “come to terms” with the data before the numbers become useful information. Data are neutral and must be critically examined. You have to make decisions about data and what they mean. Ask yourself, “Do the results square with other feedback I’ve received?” If they don’t, maybe their validity or reliability needs to be examined. The situation and circumstances that exist when you collect quantitative feedback can influence results. One CEO whose feedback from direct reports came out only mediocre was surprisingly delighted. Why? His answer was, “I was brought into my job to turn this place around. It was painful and staff were hurting when they answered this. But look, they don’t think I’m terrible.”

I’m uncomfortable giving feedback. Is there a way to make the experience more positive?

Qualitative feedback can also be challenging to give and receive. Such feedback often occurs in face-to-face situations such as between a boss and subordinate or a mentor and protégé. Often the information being conveyed is based on perceptions of behavior. Perceptions are personalized and subject to different interpretations. To eliminate misunderstanding and skepticism, qualitative feedback should be specific and sincere and it should describe the personal impact of the behavior under discussion. Provide examples of behavior and acknowledge that the observations are perceptions, remaining open to the colleague’s reactions and requests for clarification.

In completing a self-assessment, one should avoid trying to produce outcomes that “validate” one’s ideal self. When rating others, executives should attempt to separate situational influences from the trait under consideration—such as leadership or personality. It is especially important for peers in highly structured cultures to avoid adhering to unwritten codes of solidarity, such as always rating a fellow executive at three or above on a five-point scale. Remember that the purpose of evaluation is to help the subject improve.

What if I receive negative reviews?

When receiving qualitative feedback, listen to the whole story without interrupting or interjecting objections. If the feedback has been general, seek specific examples and guidance for corrective action. Sometimes comments are unexpectedly critical. In these instances, anticipate an emotional surge and hold off on a comprehensive response until enough time passes for that energy to dissipate and cool reflection can occur. This is a forum for constructive input, not punitive attacks.

How should I use the feedback?

Capitalizing on feedback involves personal goal setting. Too often, getting the feedback is all that happens. To make change happen, we have to create space in our life for the effort to change and be persistent. We must give our goals a high priority on our time, attention, and energy.

A good goal is specific, measurable, and attainable. If you want to become proficient using graphics on a personal computer, specify that “I will learn to create a 10-minute presentation using PowerPoint or Presentation software.” The goal should also be relevant. There are many competing priorities in life; if you are going to change some aspect of your behavior, it should benefit your career and/or personal life. And finally, you should create a schedule with milestones. What is the one best first step? Write it down! Remember that establishing and realizing goals is another area of endeavor that is enhanced by involving others for support and encouragement. By making a public commitment, you increase the challenge and motivation to succeed.

Myers Briggs Type Indicator is a registered trademark of Consulting Psychologists Press, Inc. Benchmarks is a registered trademark of the Center for Creative Leadership.