Udemy’s Vice President of Learning, Shelley Osborne, reveals the methods she uses to help others learn how to give and receive feedback.
Many of us are now living in the largest distributed workforce experiment ever, with millions of employees around the world becoming remote workers practically overnight. For organizations and teams fortunate enough to be able to work from home, constant communication and feedback has become increasingly critical.
As a leader at a company that prioritizes feedback, I’ve been focusing on the most effective ways for our remote workers to have difficult conversations, as well as helping leaders at other organizations think about approaching performance feedback and growth conversations.
The thing about feedback is that it can be scary, both for the giver and the receiver. But there’s no way around it, we have to commit to sharing constructive feedback if we truly care about helping someone improve.
This doesn’t happen by magic. To remove fear around feedback loops (and make them helpful, not hurtful), we need to develop an organizational capacity for psychological safety, and that’s rooted in the work of the learning and development (L&D) team within organizations. As L&D leaders, we are uniquely positioned to help people build up what I think of as “feedback muscle” so we’re conditioned not only to receive feedback well but we proactively seek it out. With proper training, everyone can get comfortable with two-way feedback cycles to the point where your culture celebrates feedback instead of fearing it.
Understanding Fixed vs. Growth Mindset
Absorbing feedback well is one of the most underappreciated and overlooked leadership skills. People think they’re better at it than they really are, or they avoid it altogether. But if someone can master the art of receiving honest feedback graciously, they will be unstoppable.
I love the work Stanford University professor Carol Dweck has done around the concept of “growth mindset,” which she defines as the belief that “your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts.” She writes, “In this mindset, the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development.”
Organizations can reap considerable benefits by nurturing a growth mindset in their people. According to the NeuroLeadership Institute, in cultures built on a growth mindset:
- Workers have 47% higher trust in their company
- Workers are 34% more likely to feel a sense of ownership and commitment to the company’s future
- Workers show 60% stronger agreement that their company supports risk-taking
The opposite is the fixed mindset, wherein your abilities and intelligence just are what they are, no matter how hard you work at them. They’re innate traits you can’t change.
You can understand why I espouse the growth mindset; we can all grow and improve. Feedback is the mechanism by which you can discover where those growth opportunities lie—but you’ve got to be open to it.
The late Carnegie Mellon professor and author of The Last Lecture, Randy Pausch’s words apply here. As he said, when people give you honest feedback, it means they care about you and believe in you. So, you should believe in yourself, too, i.e., you should cultivate a growth mindset.
What Does Good Feedback Look Like?
Constructive feedback isn’t about telling someone what they’re “bad at” and expecting them to “fix” it. The objective, along with driving business performance, is to maximize strengths and encourage people to become their best selves. Neither is honest feedback the same as a performance review. Learning, feedback, and reflection should coexist and happen continuously, not according to a company-mandated schedule.
It’s normal to fear hurting someone else’s feelings, especially when you’re going to have to continue working with them every day. On the flip side, you may have encountered someone who had no problem being constantly critical while overlooking the good work people were doing.
Think about your opportunity to become a feedback hero for someone else, give them priceless insights that will stick with them over time and help propel them forward in their lives and careers.
In a work culture that celebrates personal growth and supports individuals in achieving their goals, people should feel safe sharing honest, constructive feelings with colleagues. They should also have time and space to think about feedback they’ve received and what they can do to improve.
How do you prefer to give and receive feedback? What about your direct reports, your manager, and your peers? It won’t come as a surprise that most people want constructive feedback delivered in private, but preferences aren’t as consistent around how they want affirming feedback. If you don’t know the answers, just ask.
To learn more about feedback and how it fits into your larger learning strategy and culture of learning, check out The Upskilling Imperative: 5 Ways to Make Learning Core to the Way We Work and Shelley Osborne at theupskillingimperative.com.