Leadership Series: The Value of Feedback

My friend Ken Blanchard, author of 60 books focusing on leadership, credits his long-time colleague Rick Tate with the famous quote, “Feedback is the Breakfast of Champions”. It refers to how important honest feedback to employees is to their performance. That advice and my own experience prompted me to include “Do you get feedback on the results you produce?” among the 7 Questions leaders should ask their direct reports (the Questions Method).

What’s different about the Questions Method approach is that we are asking the employee for their feedback in order for the leader to improve. The questions act as a checklist of the deliverables a supervisor should produce. So, in this case, the principle works in reverse. Feedback is indeed the breakfast of champions in that the leader becomes the champion as he or she receives and acts on the feedback. 

Ken also believes employees want their leaders to win and be successful. Another of my favorite Blanchard maxims is “nobody likes to work for a loser”. They will strive to help their leaders win and find success as long as they see hope of positive change. Employees’ commitment to their leader winning provides a wealth of often untapped resources for the leader’s growth and success. Feedback is one of the keys to tapping that resource.

So, in organizations in which using the Questions Method is not the norm, where do supervisors and leaders get that feedback and tap into their employees’ commitment? Organizations spend large sums of money each year trying to discover that information, trying to get the truth. They have their managers undergo 360 surveys to get feedback from bosses, peers and subordinates. They ask employees to complete the Gallup Employee Engagement Survey or others to learn the level of motivation and the health of the organizational culture. I liken these steps to asking your friends to evaluate your marriage. Wouldn’t work in your marriage and won’t in your other relationships. 

“Now wait a minute,” you might complain. “Don’t you offer those very services?” Yes, we do. The difference between what we work on with clients and what I see as the challenge with these instruments, in general, is how they are rolled out and the data put to use. The assessments are valuable in highlighting the gap between where you are and where you want to be.  And we certainly use the instruments to make that point, but then recommend tools and efforts, like the Questions Method, to close the gap. What is needed after the assessment is an action plan on how to move the needle. And almost without fail when we conduct these evaluations, there is no avoiding the need to work on the relationships between supervisors/managers and their employees to get the needle moving.

This is why I prefer, and recommend whenever the organizational climate allows, that you start with the actual conversation between supervisor and employee re. level of engagement, what they need for their development and how a supervisor can help.  That conversation has to take place to get improvement, whether it starts with a discussion or a survey instrument. My preference? Empower your supervisors to have that honest conversation to begin with rather than have an outside instrument be the employee’s voice.   Asking the questions directly as a leader is true engagement and it will strengthen their commitment to help you win.  Caveat? It has to arise through the building of open and honest relationships between supervisor and employee to see real, lasting success.

Employees have to be convinced that the leader wants to know the truth and that they won’t pay a price for delivering it. For some, that means overcoming years of bad experience with bosses, experience that has taught them that honesty is risky at best. When asking for feedback, as is the case with all communications, realize that those you ask will be reading your facial expression, tone and the sense of whether your words are coming from the heart. If this is a change from your norm, you will need to explain why the change. It can’t be just a new technique you are trying out. It really is a re-defining of your relationship. With feedback in hand, you will need to act on what is valuable and seek future feedback on whether the shifts you have made are working. Without this, future feedback will be scarce.

Those of you who have read Creating High Performers – 7 Questions to Ask Your Direct Reports know that I am not a fan of the annual evaluation for your source of feedback. Think about this, who best knows the truth regarding whether I am a good manager; my manager or my subordinates? I vote for the subordinates. They know how your actions influence them and others. The 7 Questions are designed to uncover the truth and get valuable, usable feedback about what both you and your direct reports must do to realize full potential. We have seen dramatic shifts in organizational culture when using them becomes the norm.

Let us hear how the Question Method is working for you or what questions you might have.  For more on Dann’s Questions Method, contact PGS or order a copy of Creating High Performers book here