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Does Feedback Do More Harm Than Good?

By Jeffrey Shields posted 12-01-2020 09:58 AM


CEO Notebook |

Our performance management processes could look less at the past and more towards the future, while inspiring more action and improvement.

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Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE
NBOA President and CEO

In this year of disruption, each week I feel as though every process in our organization needs to be reviewed, reengineered or reinvented entirely. I’m sure you can relate. In a world where so many things are different and nothing seems normal, the ordinary or routine can provide a sense of stability.

This week, the NBOA staff will participate in mid-year check-ins as part of our routine performance management process. Over the years, we have developed and iterated a process that focuses on individual annual goals, areas of improvement, a learning plan, and the core competencies we deem essential for success in alignment with both our mission and culture. These include member service, project management, financial management, teamwork and supervision. In addition, we recently added  diversity, equity and inclusion as a core competency to demonstrate staff efforts to foster, promote and support an inclusive workplace.

I anticipated this process would provide the familiarity and routine that I was seeking to balance the chaos we have all experienced of late. That was until I read the recent Harvard Business Review article “Stop Asking for Feedback.” It turned my view of supervision and performance management on its head.

Author Amantha Imber is critical of feedback because it is backward looking and inhibits our ability to focus on the future. She suggests giving advice is more supportive and promotes action toward improvement. At the basis of her argument is a Harvard Business School study that showed supervisors offering feedback provided vague comments and general praise, while advice-givers provided 56% more ways to improve in general and 34% more ways to improve in specific areas. Author Daniel Pink, a former NBOA Annual Meeting keynote speaker, summed it up on Twitter: “Don't always ask for feedback. It's backward-looking and often not very actionable. Instead, ask for advice. It's future-focused and actionable.”

For those seeking advice that will help them advance their professional performance and careers, Imber suggests the following:

  • Be specific about the type of feedback you are requesting. You could ask, for example, “I’ve tried (a) and (b), but I haven’t been able to meet my goal. How would you go about doing this?”
  • Show them the way and be future oriented. Instead of asking, “How do you think it went today?” you could ask, “What could I do better next time?”
  • If the person giving or providing feedback is vague, give them a nudge. You might ask, “What specifically did I do well?” or “What is one thing I could do better next time?”
  • And finally, and perhaps most importantly, ask the right person or people. The author suggests that when you ask too many people for advice, those individuals get the impression that their opinion is less important to you or that you won’t act upon it.
Feedback may have to be added to the list of items in our performance management vernacular — and ways of going about our everyday business — that have changed forever.

As for me, I’m electing to solicit advice from my direct reports, summarize it for the NBOA Board of Directors’ executive committee and incorporate it into my performance goals for the coming year.

Feedback may have to be added to the list of items in our performance management vernacular — and ways of going about our everyday business — that have changed forever. As with so many other areas of operations this year, we have an opportunity to simplify our processes and most importantly, improve them to support our staff so they can deliver their best on behalf of the faculty, students and families at the heart of our communities.

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Follow NBOA President and CEO Jeff Shields @shieldsNBOA.
From Net Assets NOW, December 1, 2020. Read past issues of CEO Notebook.

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