Research has shown that the ability to regularly seek feedback is one of the most significant indicators of success. Constructive feedback helps by providing direction, can inspire and motivate and overall increase performance–whether at work or in life.
However, seeking feedback can be uncomfortable. And unsolicited feedback, especially when negative, can feel like an attack. It can feel humbling, if not humiliating. These are some of the reasons feedback is often feared.
Alternatively, when people actively seek feedback, the opposite is the case. Owning our flaws by demonstrating a pattern of openness to feedback removes the emotion from a situation. Doing so shifts our attitude from one that is defensive to a desire to grow and improve. I cannot think of a single time when someone asked me for feedback that I lost any respect or trust in them. Quite the opposite, actually.
This all applies to organizations. It feels good to focus on the positive, and there is a place for that, especially in regards to the organization’s culture. However, while successes can and should be celebrated, they don’t drive improvement.
A while ago, as a school superintendent, I found myself boasting about our significant number of students who open-enrolled (students from other districts that chose ours) to our district. Our outgoing numbers were much lower, but still measured in a few dozen. As part of our long-range planning, we decided to make a shift. Rather than use our incoming students as a point of pride, we set out to ask the students who left and their families what drove them to make that decision.
By deliberately asking what wasn’t working for some students and families, we were able to make a number of small changes to our policies and procedures. This led to some of those students returning and a reduction in the number that chose to leave each year. And the changes, as it happened, benefited everyone, not just those who were leaving.
Whether individually or as an organization, I can see no down sides to asking others for feedback. It is empowering for stakeholders, builds trust and drives improvement.