Feedback: a purposeful act of appreciation

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I started writing this post a fair few weeks ago in response to Helen’s (aka. @WildFigSolns) call for people to share their thoughts on why feedback doesn’t happen more often. But other things got in the way and in the interim a whole host of wonderful posts have been shared which you can find at the hashtag #feedbackcarnival. As a result I’ve happily scrapped my draft as other bloggers have much more eloquently captured what I was thinking.

For me, feedback is maligned because of how it’s been formalised in so many organisations. When it’s done at best once or twice a year and intimately linked to performance appraisal rather than valued as a living, breathing dialogue then feedback is robbed of much of its potential.

It’s become a thing to fear, or worse be bored by (feedback sandwich anyone?!). As Steve Roesler has commented “The term “feedback” has morphed into “Here’s what you need to correct” instead of “Here’s how I think we’re doing.” It’s become a statement of performance rather than a discussion.

But, done well, feedback can be a dynamo to drive our team’s sense of value, it can propel learning and develop our strengths, it’s so simple but the lack of it is one of most cited reasons for leaving a job.

Simon Sinek has written about leaders creating a ‘circle of safety’ in their teams and this sense of safety has to be built to encourage people to give each other feedback, positive and developmental. Inside that circle we can encourage people to practice daily acts of feedback and to view them as not random acts of meanness or criticism, but as purposeful acts of appreciation for each other’s work. Even negative feedback shows that we care for each other and each other’s work, I care enough about what you do to talk about it with you. Not all feedback will, or should be glowing, but it should all come with a big helping of kindness and understanding.

When we’re willing to hear feedback ourselves, offer it constructively to others and then sit with it and work through the feelings provoked we can start to make headway. Great feedback provides us with:

  • A sense of belonging – being part of a team that cares enough to share
  • A purpose – understanding why & how our individual contributions make a difference to our colleagues
  • Aspirational goals – something to strive for, fuelling our desire to do things better, improve and develop for the future
  • Trust in each other – good feedback builds trust and strengthens our circle of safety: I start to trust you to let me know where I can be better but also to support me if I take a misstep, and to appreciate & value my contributions.

You know what, you don’t build that deep conversation from once or twice a year reviews. It has to be woven into everyday practice so… Feedback would happen more often if we stopped labelling it appraisal, or review or feedback and just had purposeful conversations with each other. Nothing earth shattering there, just a concerted effort to speak up and to listen, to share and to care, every day.

 

Praise you

“We’ve come a long, long way together, through the hard times and the good, I have to celebrate you baby, I have to praise you like I should.” FatBoy Slim ‘Praise You’

I didn’t intend to write this post just yet but then I realised last night that 18 years ago today I stepped through the doors of my current organisation with no idea that I’d still be here so many years down the road. I joined a month before the Blair government took power in 1997 and here we are just before another election day, just 18 years later. 18 years, I have decided is a mighty long time.

This also means I have been in this job for exactly the same amount of time I knew my Dad before he passed away. Which is a weird coincidence. Or to think of it another way, I’ve worked in one place for the same amount of time it took me to grow from a baby to a young woman. And although I’d worked in other places before I joined my current organisation, I really learnt my craft here and so much more. The last eighteen years has been like growing up too, whether in terms of confidence, skills or just learning how to be alongside people at work, it’s been one long learning curve.

We talk a lot about our volatile and uncertain world which is often depicted by a constant flow of workers and organisational change, structure after restructure. And true I’ve experienced some of this. Along the way some people stay, others move upstream, downstream or along the bank. No decision is less valid, we all have our paths to take. But to my grandparent’s generation this state of flux would be strange. Then it was normal to stay in a single organisation for most of your working life and to move around rarely. 

Times have changed. Long service awards have fallen by the wayside, yet I still remember my grandad receiving his long service carriage clock with such pride from the haulage company he’d worked with for many years. If we take media reports at face value, we’re all now working portfolio careers, or happily being self-employed flitting from one coffee house wi-fi spot to another. Somehow it’s become uncool to be a long serving employee. On occasion, I’ve caught myself colluding in this negativity, wrinkling my nose and shying away from putting a number on the years I have worked for my organisation.

Nowadays it can feel like long service is something to be frowned at, not celebrated. I’m not arguing that we should simply celebrate the number of years passed, but instead that we recognise the vast investment of time, emotion, skills and labour that that length of service represents both from the employee and their organisation. And also the knowledge that comes with that, not facts and figures but an understanding of the organisational currents, ebbs and flows.

A colleague joked last week that 18 years means I’ve served more time than most whole life tariff prisoners do but I don’t see it like that. For me, it’s been a place of adventure and exploration not a space of constriction. Just like a gnarly bit of root that juts out into the river as the flow gushes over and around it, my eighteen years in this particular flow have helped shape who I am, both at work and out of it. And I hope my presence has gently altered that flow over time too. I’ve changed and so has the organisation, we’ve moulded each other.

I’ve laughed and cried with colleagues and learnt huge amounts from the opportunities I’ve had to stretch my wings and experience new challenges and adventures. What I’ve learnt most of all is that being in one place doesn’t necessarily mean stagnation but that the longer you stay the more you have to challenge yourself not to slip into tired routines, old dialogues or set piece reactions. I’ve probably learnt more about myself in the last five years than I did in the preceding decade by pushing myself out of my comfort zone and into new places.

And now this particular learning curve is drawing to a close for me, I’ll be leaving my current job in the summer to start on a new journey, I hope I’ll carry all those lessons & experiences with me as I move into a new chapter. It’s an adventure which would never have been possible without the preceding years. 

So I think it’s time for a little praise for the long serving employee and the companies & organisations that provide opportunities for those people to grow and develop. Every person I have worked alongside over the last eighteen years has prepared me for this next step and for that, in the words of Fatboy Slim, I have to praise you like I should.

 


Postscript: my brother read this blog and Facebooked me from the prow of the RFA ship he is currently serving on. He reminded me that Grandad’s carriage clock now sits on his mantelpiece and that after 34 years with the RFA he still keeps fresh because of all the change and innovation that goes on around him. Big brothers they always have to go one better!!