The only way we can develop our potential is through experience. But experience is worthless if we are unable to learn from it. How does one learn from experience? Feedback.
Herein lies the problem: we all know that feedback exchange is a critical part of professional development, but we seldom do anything to prompt it.
There is an incentive problem around feedback exchange that we must overcome. The more passionate (read: headstrong) you are about a particular project, the LESS likely other people are to critique your efforts. Similarly, the more confident we are about our work, the LESS likely we are to seek feedback. And when we do get feedback, we are likely to discount it.
Whether you work with a team of two people or 20, you must facilitate feedback sharing. Here are three best practices to keep in mind as you do it:
1. Transcend the formal review process.
Large companies have many formalities around feedback exchange. Yet, the more formal (and bureaucratic) your system is, the less likely it is to make an impact. Experts say that, in a well-run team, there should be no surprises in a formal review meeting. If feedback is exchanged frequently, the annual review is more of a summary check-in and nothing more.
The best practice here is to create a culture that condones frequent feedback exchanges. After a meeting with your colleagues, invite them to share a few pointers with you privately. And then ask if you can do the same for them. When someone gives a presentation, ask them if they'd like a quick email with some constructive suggestions. Micro-efforts to exchange feedback will help your organization thrive over time.
2. Use the Start/Stop/Continue approach.
Many of the most productive teams I met while writing my book for small business leaders, Making Ideas Happen, discussed the benefits of a simple and actionable approach to feedback exchange.
One approach is to send an email to each person on your team – as well as key clients – requesting a few feedback points for each member of the team under the headings START, STOP, CONTINUE. Each recipient is expected to share a few things that each of his/her colleagues and clients should START, STOP, and CONTINUE doing.
People then return their lists to the team’s leader (except for the feedback on the leader, which would be redirected to someone else on the team). The quick points under each heading are then aggregated to identify the trends. One-off points are discarded and the common themes are shared in a quick meeting with each member of the team.
3. Ask creative questions.
When you are soliciting feedback from your team for a particular person, ask a few specific questions that lend insight into unrealized potential. At Behance, when we do a Start/Stop/Continue round of feedback, we also ask each participant to answer the following questions for their colleagues:
- What is Sam's most underutilized capability?
- If there was one thing that Sam could do to vastly improve Behance as a company, what would it be?
- What two skills should Sam seek to strengthen this year?
- What two skills should Sam teach others this year?
The answers to these questions are often much more valuable than traditional constructive feedback, and the insights gained are extremely helpful when discussing career aspirations and actionable ways to improve.
Keep in mind that feedback is also a form of compensation. For any bold effort or creative project, the feedback we gain in the process is what makes experience worthwhile.
***This article is based on research by Behance CEO Scott Belsky, whose new book, Making Ideas Happen, is a Wall Street Journal bestseller. Behance runs the Behance Creative Network, the 99% productivity think tank, the Action Method project management application, and the Creative Jobs List.