Most people don’t get enough actionable feedback on their work performance from managers, HR, or executives. Captain Feedback empowers you to improve at work by increasing the quantity and quality of micro feedback you get from colleagues.
But not just any feedback. You need actionable feedback — i.e. concrete steps that you can take to improve the next time you do something. Actionable feedback is gold, but it’s terribly underused, utterly underappreciated, and remarkably touchy. For the past 5 months, we’ve researched feedback at work through in-person interviews and learned a lot about the delicate social norms for feedback. Below I break down poor feedback into 5 problem areas from “feedback mismatch” to “sugar-coated feedback” and more. Read on!
“With sugar-coated feedback, you learn nothing.”
Our team designed Captain Feedback — a Slack bot — as a tool for people to learn how to improve at work, coach their colleagues, and build stronger, better teams based on trust. If your company or team is on Slack, give Captain Feedback a try!
Deficient feedback’s 5 problem areas include:
The feedback mismatch — As a knowledge worker, you want feedback on deliverables, presentations, and interactions — once a week or even more frequently. According to TriNet’s 2015 survey of 1,000 employees, “85 percent [of millenials] would feel more confident in their current position if they could have more frequent performance conversations with their manager.” But the fact is most companies have annual or biannual performance review cycles. We also expect managers to be coaches and very few managers know or have been trained on how to coach. Today’s worker faces a mismatch between the desired frequency and quality of feedback and the ability of their managers to provide it.
Sugar-coated feedback — You follow up with your manager after your big presentation and want to know how you did. Her responses often vary from, “I liked it,” to “great presentation.” When you press for more, “How could I improve?” you get “nothing major — it was great” or similar language. Your manager may be afraid of hurting your feelings or unsure of how to politically address any shortcomings. With sugar-coated feedback, you learn nothing.
“Most managers are not trained on how to give actionable feedback.”
Loose & non-committal feedback — You follow up with your manager after a deliverable and want to know what he thinks. Responses may vary from, “Not bad,” to “You could prepare a little more” to “Not what I was expecting.” When you press for more, asking “How could I improve?” you get “spend a little bit more time on it” or other equally non-committal statements. Your manager may not be prepared to answer the questions or doesn’t know how to offer constructive feedback that you can act on. This type of feedback leaves you feeling powerless to improve.
Delayed feedback — At your annual review with your manager, you receive detailed comments on your project from 3 months prior, the missteps that you made, and what you should have done differently. This doesn’t help you at all now but would have been helpful if the feedback was more timely.
Passive, untargeted feedback — Out of the blue, your manager pulls you in and tells you what she thinks is going well and what needs to be improved. She focuses improvement on areas that you actually think are your strengths, so now you are confused about what you are doing right and what you should be focusing on. You are frustrated and don’t know where to start.
The common themes with feedback are mismatched expectations, lack of structure, no concrete next steps, and poor timing. The feedback journey has a lot of room for slipups and most managers are not trained on how to give actionable feedback.
“the mere fact that you are asking is a strong indication that you are open to constructive feedback”
Captain Feedback empowers you to ask your colleagues for feedback on areas that are important to you. Your colleagues respond to a structured set of questions that extract actionable ways for you to change your behavior and improve at what you care about most. In short, Captain Feedback is designed to address each of the 5 problem areas outlined above:
The feedback shortage — With Captain Feedback, you control when, how frequently, and who you ask for feedback. If you want more, you can proactively increase the quantity by either asking more people or asking trusted colleagues for feedback more often. Captain Feedback improves the feedback dynamics in 3 ways. First, the responsibility for feedback shifts from your manager back to you and lowers the expectations for managers. Second, gone are the days where employees sit in a reactive mode waiting for feedback. You are now empowered to go out and get the feedback you want and that can help you grow. Third, you need to expand your thinking about who you can get feedback from — you can ask colleagues, other managers, or anyone who was present.
Sugar-coated feedback — You receive actionable feedback on areas for improvement thanks to Captain Feedback’s structure. Your request is made through our chatbot so your colleague is able to think before responding and there is less of a defensive reaction to spin comments so positively. Captain Feedback also first asks what you excelled at and then asks how you could improve next time, so your colleague will feel like they are less likely to offend you with constructive criticism. Last, the mere fact that you are asking is a strong indication that you are open to constructive feedback and looking to improve.
“Feedback is never given without being solicited.”
Loose feedback — Captain Feedback asks your colleagues for specific actions you should take to improve. The bot offers a feedback structure so your colleague doesn’t have the cognitive overhead of 1) having to balance their feedback to avoid offending or 2) have to create a structure for their feedback. There are less hoops to jump through and fewer fears to address, so they can focus on answering the questions. The request is also made through the chatbot, so your colleague can respond when it is convenient for them and not when they are distracted by other priorities.
Delayed feedback — While the impetus is on you to ask for timely feedback, Captain Feedback handles the follow up and your request will expire within 2 days. You are unlikely to ask for feedback about an event that occurred more than 24 hours previous and if you choose to, the quality of the feedback from your colleagues will rapidly diminish with time. Fresh feedback on recent events enables your colleagues to offer more color and makes their feedback more relevant and actionable for you. This is one reason why biannual performance reviews are so ineffective at helping employees improve.
“Could you profit more from the feedback you get? Are there ways you can create more learning experiences for yourself?” -Carol Dweck
Passive, untargeted feedback — With Captain Feedback, you won’t be the victim of ‘drive by criticism’ because you control what you get feedback on and who you get it from. I cannot stress how important this is. Over the course of user testing and research on feedback, we learned that people need to have an open mindset about receiving feedback in order to 1) avoid a detrimental impact on the relationship between the two people and 2) act on it and change their behavior. The person who wants feedback is always in the driver’s seat: you either ask for feedback or can choose to opt out. Feedback is never given without being solicited.
As Carol Dweck, Stanford Professor of Psychology and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, says: “Could you profit more from the feedback you get? Are there ways you can create more learning experiences for yourself?” With Captain Feedback, the answer is a definitive yes.
For individuals, Captain Feedback is a tool that can help you learn more about your performance faster. Think improvement in weeks, not years. For teams, Captain Feedback builds camaraderie by involving and engaging your colleagues in your personal growth and makes you feel vested in how your colleagues improve over time. It can also help you work better together.
Full disclosure — we are in the early stages of bot development. If you are a Slack user and are seeking professional development — we’d love you to try Captain Feedback and give us your thoughts!