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The feedback crisis: what elite athletes can teach business leaders

  • Written by Melissa Hamilton

High performance coaching is founded on consistent, regular, meaningful feedback. Whether we’re talking about professional athletes or the corporate world, leadership is a privilege and great leaders should be like high performance coaches.

But have you received meaningful performance feedback lately? Are you seeking it or are you scared about what might hear if you do?

We are living in a performance feedback crisis. It was hard to get good feedback prior to the pandemic - I recently asked 50+ leaders how they knew they were doing a good job and time and time again I heard the same response. 85% of leaders shared, “I am still here, so I must be!”

But just because your leader hasn’t given you any feedback does not mean you are doing a good job. Your performance might just be passable enough that you are not on their radar. You could be brilliant (but then you might get the odd “good job” coming your way). Or your performance could be really crap and your leader cannot work out how to bring the subject up.

The pandemic and the great resignation, or the great shift to a new employer is making it even harder to get good feedback because the perception is that any critique – no matter how healthy – could result in an employee looking for a new job.

This short term desire to retain talent by avoiding sometimes challenging conversations comes with a long-term cost – regular, constructive feedback is a tool to support professional development and enhance corporate performance. A coach can’t sit on the sidelines and defer the quarter-time chat because they don’t want to upset their players. Players will plateau and even stagnate if they don’t know where they need to improve. It’s no different for you and your company leaders.

In our feedback crisis, performance feedback is rare, vague & useless.

As leaders, upskilling yourself on how to give meaningful, motivating feedback should be your top priority.

As team members, the onus should be on us to go and seek good feedback and be willing to implement the changes that will lead to long term performance.

Here are my five top tips on how to ask for meaningful feedback, based on my own experience and the conversations I have had with other leaders.

  1. Be clear on the scope of your request. Do you see me as capable of achieving a promotion into this role and by when? What three skills do you see as my core strengths to build on? I spent a lot of time on that business case. Did it meet or exceed your expectations?

  2. Don’t accept vague feedback. Too often, I hear executives saying, “My manager told me that I need to improve my executive presence”. Ask them, What exactly do you mean? Talk more? Talk less? Make more eye contact? Build better relationships? Be better prepared? Ask for specifics so you can do something about it.

  3. Don’t be scared of what you might hear. Good feedback is a gift. You cannot change something if you don’t know it is a challenge. It is just data. Collect it. Gather more if you need to. Validate it.

  4. Choose what you take on board. Good feedback is a chance to consider, reflect & absorb. You ultimately choose what you want to take on board. (Make sure you are listening) 

  5. Do something with it. When you have processed it, take action. The only way to actually improve is to consciously decide to. Then close the loop. Ask for more regular meetings.

High performance athletes know that the only way to improve is to ask for the feedback. Daily.

Let’s be like high performance athletes.

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