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Feedback is a gift so use it well

360 degree feedback is not a new idea. Most of us have been part of a 360 process in our career at some point, either as a receiver or as a giver. The principle behind the process is always a good one, i.e constructive  feedback shines a light on our performance and helps us to improve and, yes,  when it is delivered well,  it can be helpful.

But what if we don’t receive helpful feedback? As we discussed in last week’s blog, many people find it difficult to give feedback and shy away from it. Even if they are courageous enough to initiate the conversation, there is no guarantee that the delivery will be done well.

Over many years of coaching leaders I have seen the impact of  feedback delivered well, and not so well. I’ve met people who treated feedback as some form of instruction and who tried to adopt everything that had been suggested in their feedback report. They struggled, often making matters worse, by losing their authenticity and vastly reducing their energy as they tried to be all things to all people and ended up not being true to themselves.

The arrival of on-line competency-based feedback has created more issues. The maze of competencies and choices that  the giver of feedback has to navigate through often means that the rating is inaccurate. Why does this happen? Because feedback is in the eye of the beholder. If the giver of feedback does not value a competency themselves, they will not be aware of  it and will fail to notice if someone is/is not displaying it. On the other hand, if the feedback giver values a competency, they will pay attention to it and rate it as important. The chance of someone meeting their inbuilt criteria for this competency is limited, resulting in feedback scores that vary from person to person (or a lot of mid-way scores).

The Altris Executive 360 approach cuts through this quagmire by giving the feedback giver the opportunity to give feedback without the boundaries of competencies or preconceived criteria. Our simple keep doing/stop doing/do more of approach, followed by some good old-fashioned digging by the facilitating coach, aims to surface issues, trends and the real feedback that the coachee needs to hear.

But we still face the problem of relative valuing by different people and of course that of perception. With relative valuing, people who are in creative and innovative roles will always ask for more innovation, for example, while risk averse people will often suggest that a little more process would be helpful.

And as for perception, we often have people suggesting reasons for the behaviour that they see. Often, if they see something they don’t like they will attribute a reason to it and couch their feedback that way. Of course, nobody knows the reasons for anyone else’s behaviour but people still like to make sense of something by the process of attribution.

Facing up to feedback: 3 tips

What does the receiver of feedback have to do to deal with the perceptions of others and the relative valuing of what is important?

Firstly, I would say that it doesn’t matter whether the feedback giver has got your motivation wrong, the fact that something was wrong in their mind means that you could have done something better. Work out what you can do, within your brand and your style, to improve the situation in future and the feedback will still be helpful.

Secondly, don’t write perception off. Perception affects your personal brand whether you agree with it or not. Only you can manage your brand and therefore the best way to deal with perception is by acting in a way that gives noone cause to look at you in any other way than the way you have defined in your brand.

Thirdly, accept that people are giving you feedback. They may value things differently from you but if three people mention the same thing it is highly likely that there is something  in your performance that you should pay attention to.

So how do you face up to feedback? Remember that it is just what it says: ‘feedback’ and that doesn’t make it right or wrong. It is a gift. Write it off at your peril but remember that you have to be the best version of you so work out what is behind the feedback and see what you can learn without losing your authenticity.


  1. Interesting –

    “If the giver of feedback does not value a competency themselves, they will not be aware of it and will fail to notice if someone is/is not displaying it”

    I imagine that lack of feedback against displayed competencies, then has an effect on the uptake of the feedback against competencies that may not have been displayed.

    Does this also support an argument for competencies to be in position descriptions (fostering feedback) – or is that too generic to be of much use?

    Comment by suzanne — March 4, 2015 at 10:52

  2. Yes you have got it right, if you don’t get feedback on an expected competency then you won’t raise your game in this area if you yourself don’t realise that its a weakness (we don’t know what we don’t know until we get feedback).
    Many organisations include competencies (or competency like statements) in their PD’s. As you suggest they have to be real and meaningful. If they don’t really relate to that role then they may not be helpful (many are for a tier or level within an organisation and do not reflect the differences between roles within a tier e.g. marketing manager and operations manager may be the same tier but need very different competencies). Where generic does work is in dealing with expected behaviour and unacceptable or even toxic behaviour and feedback can often be about that.
    Overall I think any employee needs a clear picture of whats expected, what ‘good’ looks like however its written down for them, don’t you? That way feedback has some meaning and context.

    Comment by Martin Fenwick — March 4, 2015 at 17:00

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