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Jim Ice, EdD -
We all dread it - that performance review. So
much career success or failure appears to be based on this single
discussion. Will we get a raise this year? Will we get that
promotion we feel we have earned? Will our boss recognize the
contributions we have made this past year?
Employees and managers alike consistently report that the
performance review is one of the most difficult aspects of their
work life. "Performance feedback" has gotten a bad reputation as a
high-pressure, high-consequence single discussion that's often tied
to disappointment and frustration.
Ironically, high performers perceive targeted performance
feedback as key to their career development. They understand that
gathering and applying feedback enhances their reputation and
advances their skills and careers. So let's explore how you too can
leverage targeted feedback as a critical tool in helping you meet
your career aspirations.
The first stepping in using feedback for success is to take
personal control of all feedback related to your performance. You
must realize that this is not only your accountability, but your
right. Never leave the gathering and delivering of performance
feedback entirely to your manager - as is often the case in the
typical performance management processes. Create a plan for
gathering feedback from your manager. Taking control of the
feedback process allows you to own the output and decide how you
will use it.
You are the individual most invested in this feedback, so own
it. Just as you should never give complete control of your money to
your accountant, so too should you never give the accountability
for your career to someone else. When you assume responsibility for
gathering performance feedback on yourself, you can ensure a focus
on your needs and opportunities to advance your
Know your Goals
To get the most value out of feedback, you must first clearly
articulate what you are trying to accomplish. Feedback is intended
to help you focus, chart and correct your course. But if the
destination is unclear, feedback at best is general information
that may or may not help you move toward your desired
Consider your career goals in two buckets: outcomes and
performance. Too often employees focus solely on career outcomes,
such as being promoted within a year, elevating to a manager or
moving into sales - versus the more important element of building
performance capabilities and closing performance gaps.
It is shocking how many employees believe that time is the
deciding factor that signals to leadership that you are ready for
the next step. "I have been here 18 months, so I deserve a raise,"
or "I have been here longer than John, so I deserve the promotion."
Time is a measure of how long you've had the opportunity to build
your capabilities and demonstrate your value. It is your
performance over this time period, however, that is the measure
your manager will use to determine your value as an employee. As
you articulate your desired career outcomes, carefully consider the
skills you want to leverage - and then develop a plan for how you
want to build then apply your unique capabilities. Start with your
desired long-term career outcomes. Next, consider your current and
desired performance capabilities. Then determine how you will grow
toward these aspirational goals in your current and desired next
role. Start five years out and work backwards to today.
Identify the Critical Few
Once you have taken ownership for your own feedback, articulated
your desired career outcomes, and considered the capabilities it
will require to achieve these goals, you are ready to identify
whose feedback will help you get there. This is a very important
step in using feedback as a career tool, because who you ask will
often dictate the type of feedback you will receive. The
objective is to identify just enough people and perspectives to
help, but not so many as to water down the value of what you
receive. Here are a few things to consider when selecting someone
to give you feedback:
- Will they be (brutally) honest and out for your best
- Do they have a direct observation of your performance?
- Do they know and represent the outcome or capabilities on which
you seek feedback?
- Will their insight provide you with a different perspective
(than your own)?
- Can you leverage this feedback process to build an important
This is hard work. It is easy to seek out those with whom we
share a lot in common, but much tougher to approach those whose
perspective and input will benefit you most. One obvious choice is
your direct manager. They not only share an accountability for your
performance, they also hold the insight into what comes next for
you and how you can best prepare. They may not have the expertise
on the performance areas for which you seek feedback, but your
inquiry demonstrates your interest in personal growth and
willingness to listen. Ask for their feedback off-cycle to the
performance review so that their feedback at review time never
takes you by surprise.
Another great individual to gather performance feedback from is
your "skip level" manager, your boss's boss, since he or she will
have insight into other roles across the department and company.
Project team members, peers, and other departmental leaders are
also great sources for performance feedback. If you are a manager,
be sure to include some direct reports as well. Additionally,
individuals who do not work within your company are a great source
of performance and career feedback. Consider asking key customers,
suppliers, or other industry professionals with whom you have
worked and respect. The objective is to gather data on the
perceptions that others have about your performance from those most
equipped to evaluate your performance.
Ask Targeted Questions
So what questions do you ask to gather useful information? It
depends on your target outcomes and goals, but a great place to
start is to ask about their experiences in working with you. This
could include asking for feedback on a task you completed for them,
their perception of your abilities based on time working together,
or an evaluation of how well they feel you have collaborated with
Here are three simple questions that are at the root of almost
any feedback request:
- What should I stop doing?
- What should I continue to do?
- What should I start doing?
While you can add more detail to these questions to explore
specific situations, behaviors and outcomes, these core questions
will provide you with valuable insight and perspective on your
One additional and very critical point to consider is our human
tendency to focus most on our weaknesses when soliciting feedback.
While it is important to know where we miss the mark, it is more
important to understand the areas where others perceive us as
Research presented from the Gallup organization, an
international polling and consulting company, indicates that
leveraging our strengths is what can lead to long-term career
success. While it is enticing to want to focus on how to fill our
performance or skill gaps, it is more important to get a clear
understanding of our strengths so that we can leverage them in
making both personal and career decisions - the reason we are
gathering this feedback in the first place. The truth is,
although we can improve in areas where we are weak, these areas
rarely become strengths. Build techniques to help you address your
weaknesses (such as partnering with others with that skill) but
focus most of your energy on understanding and developing your
success. Remember, while we may desire to address each gap -
this takes significant time and energy. There are some gaps
that must be filled to successfully execute your current or desired
role. However, it is our strengths that differentiate us.
So, acknowledge and address weaknesses, but invest in and
leverage your strengths for career success!
Have Courage to Listen
The last and perhaps hardest step in collecting performance
feedback is to have the personal courage to listen. Feedback is a
gift. When humbly accepted, it helps us improve and grow.
However, it is so easy to discount, justify and dismiss feedback
that makes us feel uncomfortable, sad or angry. These emotional
reactions are our mind's way of protecting itself from ridicule and
embarrassment. Ironically, these same emotional reactions provide
us with an important clue to what is actually true. If the feedback
hurts, consider it carefully; it most likely is true. Some
statistics report that our average speaking speed is 125 words per
minute. However, our ability to process what others are saying is
around 400 words per minute. Therefore, when collecting performance
feedback, it is very easy to get ahead of the speaker, to be
assuming, justifying or discounting the feedback before it's
delivered. It takes courage and patience to focus and actively
listen to another's insights and
However, not all feedback will be true and entirely accurate
since some people may have a limited or biased view of your
performance. Your accountability is simple - to carefully consider
what is said and its implications for your personal career
development and, of course, to thank the individual for their
input. Ultimately, each individual decides what to do with the
feedback they receive. Listen carefully before you consider
It takes courage to ask for feedback. It takes even more courage
to actively listen to feedback. And it takes even greater courage
to take action based on the feedback you receive. But it's that
courage that leads to career success.
Learn more about getting your career moving. Visit Carlow
University's College of Professional Studies at www.carlow.edu/professionalstudies.
About the Author: Ice serves as the Dean of the College of Professional
Studies at Carlow University. For more than 30 years, he's served
as an advisor to global business leaders on issues of talent
strategy, workforce alignment, strategic planning, employee
engagement, change leadership, building learning organizations and
equipping leaders for success.
Contact: Jim Ice, EdD