Your action plan: using feedback to drive your career

I recently published this blog post on seeking career feedback. Once you’ve sought feedback, it’s time to make choices about what you’re going to do, share the plan with your manager, and gauge your progress as you work on it.

The negatives

If you’ve asked for feedback, listened, and recorded it, you’re ready to start creating an action plan. You now need to decide on the importance of each constructive piece of feedback. Here are some things to consider:

  • How many times did you hear it? The more times, the more important
  • Who did you hear it from? Worry more about your boss’s opinion than your peers’, and more about your peers’ than anyone else’s
  • When did they say it? The second thing is often the most important – people warm up with a gentle message, and often end later with low priority points
  • Is it a perception or a reality? Did you have an off-day, or an off-interaction that was out of character? Or is this a genuine flaw?
  • Do you think it is correct? Was it on your list?

I recommend finding the top five pieces of feedback, and sorting them from most- to least-important by considering the criteria above. You don’t want to work on too many things at once.

The positives

Don’t take positive feedback for granted. You can use the same techniques as you’ve used for the negatives to create your list of top strengths. Make sure you do this too: figure out your top five strengths.

Creating a Plan

You have a fundamental choice in creating a plan. You can decide to lean hard on your strengths and have them propel you further forward, or you can choose to work on the weaknesses so they don’t hold you back. The right thing to do is usually somewhere in between: focus on improving a couple of weaknesses at any one time, and work on using your strengths to their maximum potential.

One thing I’ve observed is that senior people are usually held back by their weaknesses. In part it’s the Peter Principle, and in part it’s the fact that everyone around them is pretty awesome, and flaws stand out. There’s definitely a point I often see where people get confused – they expect to advance  in their career because of the awesome competencies they have, and then suddenly they’re stuck because of their weaknesses. It often takes people a while to accept that a few things need to change, especially if they’ve never heard negative feedback before.

I’d recommend taking your top two or three negatives, and your top one or two strengths, and writing them down as the areas you want to focus on. Bonus points if you sort them into priority order. Now, you need an action plan. Next to each point, write key steps you’ll take to address that weakness, or showcase that strength. The more actionable, the better – it’s not that helpful to say “you’ll improve your public speaking”, it’s helpful to say “give three public talks in 2012, and seek actionable feedback immediately after each presentation”.  Try and use quantities, dates, names, situations, or other concrete points in creating the plan. Remember that taking action on weaknesses takes you out of your comfort zone – so the steps should feel hard, awkward, and uncertain.

Executing the plan

If you’ve got an actionable plan, I’d recommend reviewing it with your boss. At the very least, you’re going to look good for having taken career development seriously. You’ll probably also get great feedback on whether this is a good plan or not – and, again, your boss’s opinion matters.

Now you can go execute your plan. Good luck. Keep an eye on your progress: I’d recommend giving yourself a green, yellow, or red rating on each point every six weeks or so. Ask the people who gave you’re the feedback points whether they’re seeing a change – the door is open with them, and you should use it.

Of course, this is a process that never ends. You can complete the plan successfully, and there’ll be another plan ready to be created by starting over. Good luck, I hope you use feedback successfully in building your career.

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