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Developing Self Awareness from Internal Feedback

Self awareness is the heart of healthy leadership, and one of the most effective tools for cultivating self awareness is internal feedback from employees and fellow managers. These types of evaluations can be invaluable in providing a snapshot of how someone interacts with those they lead.

Let’s take a closer look at the role feedback plays for leaders and how to solicit regular, constructive feedback from both employees and peers in the organization.

Feedback Should be Reciprocal

We know that feedback is vital in a successful organization. A recent Zenger Folkman survey found that employees who received frequent feedback were three times more engaged than those who did not. That means longer retention, higher morale, and higher levels of productivity.

And this doesn’t just apply to positive feedback. As we’ve explored in several recent blog posts and videos, hard feedback is just as important, if not more so, in maintaining high levels of employee engagement.

Simply put, employees want to know how they’re doing in as direct and constructive a way as possible. But that same candor is often missing when it comes to employee feedback for managers. Upward feedback is lacking, and in some cases actively avoided in startups, whether due to the rapid speed of growth and management change, or because it’s not on anyone’s radar as a resource for management.

There are several reasons this type of feedback is missing. Employees may not feel comfortable giving it, concerned that true honesty and a lack of anonymity will come back to haunt them. Other times, employees are never asked for it. They might be eager and willing to critique their managers, but without a channel through which to provide such feedback, they never have a chance.

Even when done anonymously, feedback can be difficult to solicit, and harder still to act on. By building a healthy feedback culture and regularly asking for input from employees, peers and senior leaders, it’s possible to get a much better picture of one’s performance.

Feedback Should be Frequent

Upward feedback should be facilitated at the organizational level to start. As an example, Google uses a 13-question feedback survey twice a year, asking its employees to provide confidential feedback and open-ended responses about their managers. This feedback process is designed as a development tool, not a performance management metric. Managers are given the results of these surveys to help them become more self aware of the impact of their actions.

This type of reciprocal feedback can be immensely valuable for managers who often feel alone in their responsibilities, especially if performed more regularly than once or twice a year. Going beyond a formal feedback survey, frequent, informal check-ins can provide regular insights to help managers reflect and improve. Managers can ask for feedback during regular one-on-one meetings and provide an open form that any employee can submit when they have a question or concern – a digital suggestion box.

In a vacuum with only intermittent feedback during their own performance reviews, managers can become overconfident or unsure of their efforts. This type of 360-degree feedback helps address those concerns.

Internal Feedback Should be Acted On

To become more self aware, managers must act on the feedback they receive. This is a tricky balancing act, because there will be dozens of small suggestions, concerns, or worries in these responses, some of which are personal and others of which are indicative of larger trends. The goal of these surveys is not for managers to start second guessing their approach, but to be open-minded about things they might need to change.

Most importantly, they need to show people they are acting on that feedback, creating a healthier environment, and being a responsive, empathetic manager. People are less likely to provide feedback in the future if they see no changes when they provide it.

Building a Network You Trust

If managers remain concerned about the accuracy of their feedback, they can turn to a smaller circle of people they trust to provide direct insights and suggestions. This might include direct reports, fellow managers, or people in other departments who have thoughts on how they perform but don’t necessarily work with them on a daily basis.

If this proves difficult, an external coach can be a valuable resource for unfiltered insights. With these individuals leaders can make themselves more vulnerable, opening up to discussing topics with which employees would be uncomfortable. Leaders should make it clear how important this role is and how valuable the feedback is in helping them grow, and most importantly that honest, candid feedback is not only expected, but appreciated. Make it clear that they can’t hurt your feelings – the more direct the feedback, the more helpful they are.

The goal of feedback is to grow as a manager – to have greater self awareness and be more empathetic, motivated, and regulated so as to build a healthier environment for your team. Those who successfully do this benefit from a much more engaged, proactive, and honest workforce.

To learn more, download our Guide with Tips for Better, More Insightful One-on-Ones. In it, you’ll learn how to get more out of your conversations, make sure others feel heard, and express your opinions and suggestions in line with the needs of others.

Download Our Guide to Active Listening