Tag Archives: feedback

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.

How are you doing? How to ask for feedback

Listening to feedback can help develop your career. When you know what others think, you can make choices about what and how to improve, and learn and develop competencies that will improve your effectiveness.

Why Get Feedback?

I’d say nine out of ten people have a healthy self-perception. They’re good at things, and they know what they are. They’re bad at things, and they know what they are. The other one in ten fall in two buckets: thinking they’re awesome when they’re not, or thinking they’re terrible when they’re not.

Net, I believe that most people actually know what they’re good at, and what they’re bad at. It’s good to have your list: try writing down your top five strength and weaknesses as you see them. But do they matter? Does anyone realize that weakness? Is it preventing career progress? Are people talking about it? Are you worried about a flaw that no one cares about? Are you great at something that doesn’t matter?

To find out what matters, it’s important to know what others think. You’ll generally need to ask them – good managers will give you feedback at review time, the rest of the time you’ll need to ask. Most other people aren’t going to burst into talking about you. Asking them is a good career move: it shows you’re interested in learning and growing, that you care what others think, and you’re open to feedback. Set up a 1:1 meeting with a few people whose opinions you know you will value, you know can help you create an actionable list, and find out what they think.

Who do I ask?

Who could or should you ask? I’d definitely ask your manager – it’s their job to help you grow, be successful, and have impact. Their opinion also matters – you’re not going to get that key assignment or promotion without their help (there are no exceptions to that rule). I’d ask a couple of peers, and someone who’s junior to you too (which could be someone who reports to you). That’s five people – a good sample. If you want more, try an ex-boss, your boss’s boss (you may find out what the boss says to his boss about you), or someone you admire in another team but that you don’t work with daily.

Receiving Feedback

Never ask for feedback and argue with the giver that they are wrong. It doesn’t matter if they are – you asked for their opinion, which is a subjective view that makes sense in the movie that’s playing in their head. If you argue, you’ll look foolish, you won’t get any more feedback, and you’ve ruined the discussion as a career move. So, listen, write down what they say, say “thanks” frequently, and ask polite inquisitive questions that help you understand their perspective (don’t ask leading questions that show you don’t agree). Basically, don’t talk much.

You may have trouble getting people to be critical of you. It might take a few explicit questions to get them started, and you’ll need to show you’re thankful for the feedback if you want to get more. Try saying things like “I want to have more impact – and I know to do that I’m going to have to learn new skills. What skills do you think I need to develop?” or “If you were me, what’s the number one thing you’d work on changing?” or “What’s the biggest challenge you think I’d face at the next level or in your role?”. Keep your body language positive: no folding your arms, no furrowed brow, no looming over them and pacing around. They’ll be more comfortable in their territory – go to their office if you can. And be very genuine – people can spot a fake from a mile away.

Most of the time, this is going to turn out great. Most people want to help others. And most recipients of feedback know what they’re going to hear – since most recipients do have that healthy self-perception. So, hopefully, you’ll come away with a great list of positives and negatives, and hopefully they’ll be reinforced by the various people you speak to.

One last word of advice: don’t enter into this process lightly. If you ask for feedback, people are going to expect you to do something with it. You’ll score negative points if you ask for feedback and do nothing – people expect you to do something, and they expect to see some signs of life that show you’re making progress.

Next time, I’ll share some thoughts on how to use feedback to create a development plan.