Feedback is something that early career employees want most from their workplace. Not just reassurance that they are doing ok, but meaningful, constructive feedback that increases their awareness of the impact and value of their work and helps them to understand what they need to do/learn in order to develop and take the next step in their career.
But sometimes the feedback that you get feels unhelpful or insufficient. So what can you, as a new employee, do about this?
The quality of the feedback you receive is often a direct reflection of the feedback that you ask for. So if you want better feedback, you should start by asking better questions. Here are 6 tips to help you do that….
- Get specific
General, vague questions (‘how am I going?’, ‘can you give me some feedback?’) will usually get you general, vague feedback. Try to frame your request for feedback around specific skills or a specific piece of work instead. Although you might want feedback on lots of areas, try to pick just one or two to focus on in each feedback request.
- Aim for open-ended questions
An open-ended question is one that can’t be answered by a simple “yes” or “no”. So rather than ‘did this piece of work meet your expectations?’ you could try something like ‘how did this piece of work meet your expectations?’ or ‘what could I have done to exceed your expectations?’.
- Link your feedback request to your development goals
Managers generally want to help you. And if you can be clear on what you’re trying to achieve then that helps them to direct their feedback accordingly. For example, ‘I’ve been trying to improve the clarity and simplicity of my written communication over the last few weeks, how have you seen my writing change recently? What could I do to further improve in this area?’. Knowing that this is a focus area for you will also raise their awareness and make it easier for them to keep a look out for further feedback opportunities to support your development.
- Use comparisons/ratings
Getting feedback against a rating scale or agreed standard helps to get more objective, specific feedback. You may receive a ‘rating’ as part of a formal performance evaluation and this can be helpful for framing your feedback request – ‘In my last performance review, you rated my performance as ‘good’, what would you have needed to see me do (or not do) in order to have rated me ‘excellent?’. Even if you don’t have a formal rating, framing a question around a scale can be helpful. For example, ‘On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the effectiveness of my written communication?’. Say they respond with a 6, you could then follow up with a question like ‘what would I be doing differently if you were rating me an 8?’ If there are established standards for your classification level, these can also be used to provide feedback. Say you are a level 4 employee currently, you could ask ‘what would you expect to see if I was doing this work at a level 5?’ or ‘what skills do I need to develop further in order to be successful in gaining a promotion to a level 5?’.
- Avoid ‘why’ questions
Although ‘why’ questions can definitely lead to deep reflection and exploration, they can also sound critical and provoke defensiveness. It’s really important when seeking feedback that you convey curiosity and a desire to learn rather than demanding a justification from your supervisor for the feedback that they’ve given. Try reframing your ‘why’ questions using ‘how’ or ‘what’ instead. You could also preface your feedback request with a statement like ‘I’m curious about…’ or ‘Can you help me to understand….’.
- Don’t forget your strengths
The early-career employees I coach are often so focused on their development and improvement that they only seek feedback on the things that they could improve or skills that they are lacking. But don’t forget to seek feedback on the things that you doing well too. This isn’t just about giving you an ego-boost. Our own strengths can be hard for us to see (we often assume that everyone can do the things that we can do, especially those things that feel relatively easy). Knowing your strengths allows you to leverage them to become even more impactful and productive in your current role. And when applying for future roles you should emphasise your strengths to differentiate yourself from other candidates. To get feedback on those strengths you could ask ‘Where did I exceed your expectations?’, ‘What are the strengths that I bring to this role?’, ‘What do you consider to be my greatest achievements in this role?’.
I hope that these tips and example questions support you in having more productive feedback conversations with your manager. And I’d love to hear any other powerful questions that you’ve found useful for eliciting feedback too!