Seek continuous feedback to make progress in your career

How often do your boss and other colleagues give you feedback about your performance at work? If you are like most people, then you probably answered “rarely” or “not often enough”. In the Middle East, we live and work in cultures where we are not very direct and where we often avoid difficult conversations and conflict.

Feedback is other people sharing what they observe and experience when working with you. Most employees are given feedback during the annual performance evaluation discussion with their boss. Such a formal once-a-year event is the only feedback some people ever receive. To be successful this is not enough. If you really want to excel you need to continually know where you are doing well and where you could do better. Starting this month, tell your boss and trusted colleagues that you would really appreciate their honest and candid insights and observations about your performance.

Recognise that when you have asked someone for feedback, you are asking the other person to share what they honestly feel and think. Sometimes the truth hurts, but without hearing truths how can you improve in your work? Develop a bit of a thick skin and do not rush to react.

Seek feedback on a spontaneous basis

After you have completed a particular task or piece of work, ask colleagues for their thoughts about how you performed. The best feedback is the instantaneous kind, where it is given as soon as something has happened. Examples might include someone appraising:

• A presentation you have just completed

• A sales pitch you have just finished

• A meeting that you chaired

Such immediate feedback is good for two reasons. It will be fresh in the minds of those asked to give you a performance review, and fresh in your mind too.

You may find that people are not used to being asked to give such spontaneous feedback, particularly in this part of the world. At first they may be hesitant to open up for fear of sounding too critical and negative. Encourage them to speak up, asking them to be as frank and as honest as possible.

Seek feedforward

You cannot change the past, but you can change what happens in the future. Feedback describes what has already happened and there is a danger that it can sound very critical and negative. As an alternative, you could seek suggestions for how you can be successful in the future. Such suggestions have been called “feedforward”, so try having what I call a feedforward conversation. In such conversations, think of areas in which you wish to do better and improve in. It could relate to any of your skills and behaviours. It might be you wishing to be a better listener, public speaker, able to deal with stress or prioritise your work. Share your aim or goal with a colleague or small group of colleagues, asking them for suggestions about how you might achieve this goal.

I prefer giving colleagues feedforward rather than feedback for a number of reasons:

• It is more motivating to help people to be right than to show them that they were wrong

• You can give helpful feedforward without needing to know the person, or their background and history

• It is always positive as opposed to feedback, which can be quite upsetting

Putting it all together

Being able to give and to receive feedback – and feedforward – are essential skills needed by everyone in the workplace. Without feedback we risk working blindly, without ever truly understanding how well we are doing and how we might improve our performance at work.

Nearly every large organisation in the world has an annual performance evaluation process in which your boss, and perhaps others, will analyse your performance. Hopefully you now realise that relying upon feedback given only once a year is not effective. You will not learn enough to enable you to excel in all areas of your work. Seek feedback and feedforward all the time, whenever you have undertaken a task about which you would like to understand how well you did, and how you could have done it better. And always give thanks to anyone analysing how you did, remembering that it takes effort on their part.

Nigel Cumberland is leadership and executive coach, trainer and author in Dubai, who has written books that include 100 Things Successful People Do: Little Exercises for Successful Living, and is a founder of The Silk Road Partnership.

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