The Value of Asking For Feedback at Work — And How To Make it Common Practice

During her tenure as CEO of Advanced Cardiovascular Systems, Ginger Graham created “feedback relationships” between frontline employees and each member of her executive team. Ginger’s feedback partner was Kevin, who worked on the company’s shipping dock. Every month, Ginger would meet with Kevin and seek his feedback on the company as well as how she was showing up as a leader. 

This practice of asking for regular feedback wasn’t always easy. During these sessions, Ginger learned that she rarely appeared available to employees. She had a hectic travel schedule and, even when she was in the office, few employees felt she was accessible as a resource. They didn’t feel they had a leader they could easily connect with. 

When Ginger learned that many felt she was often removed from day-to-day activities, she didn’t balk. Instead, she added weekly walkarounds to her schedule and made an active effort to eat lunch in the cafeteria rather than her office. Both of these adjustments to her normal routine allowed employees to connect with her more organically. As the gap between employees and management closed, engagement levels started soaring. 

This experience was so meaningful to Ginger that she would later feature some of what she learned from Kevin’s feedback in an article entitled “If You Want Honesty, Break Some Rules,” published in the Harvard Business Review. In the article, she explains how she, along with other executives, engaged in feedback-seeking sessions and leveraged the insights they gained to close the gap between management and employees.

Finding the time to ask for feedback at work isn’t always easy or comfortable — but it’s essential for sustained business success. So how can leaders create a workplace culture in which feedback is considered a healthy, normal part of business operations? Keep reading to learn how.


Why Seeking Feedback In the Workplace Matters 

It’s hard for frontline employees and leaders alike to evolve when they don’t know where they need to improve. 

Take the example of an employee who always sits quietly in team meetings. In this particular employee’s mind, he’s demonstrating diligence by listening intently and absorbing critical details. But his supervisors feel differently. Behind closed doors, they discuss his “lack of ambition” and the fact that he never “brings anything to the table.” Instead of providing coaching, the supervisors reduced his responsibilities. Instead of asking for feedback, the employee became disengaged and less productive. It’s a lose-lose for all parties. 

This simple example demonstrates what statistics prove — employees at every level excel when they receive constructive feedback. According to Harvard Business Review, 92% of respondents surveyed agreed that corrective feedback, if delivered appropriately, is effective at improving performance. 

If the employee in the above situation had asked why he wasn’t receiving development opportunities, he would have discovered that his existing behavior didn’t align with what leaders expected of him. These insights would have empowered him to own his path to improvement. 

How to Ask for Feedback At Work 

Despite Harvard Business Review’s findings that a majority of employees understand the value of feedback, the Partners In Leadership Culture Advantage Index reveals that a mere 32% of employees believe that individuals within their organization ask for feedback when it may be hard to receive. 

What’s more, approximately 49% of those surveyed said that colleagues get defensive when they receive constructive feedback. Why is this the case? Because asking for feedback at work isn’t easy, and the responses can be hard for lower-level employees and C-suite executives alike to hear. 

Here are a few tips for breaking down the barriers to feedback in the workplace: 

  • Avoid Binary Yes/No Questions: Yes/no questions rarely serve any real value. Rather than asking, “Are my behaviors and actions in line with organizational goals?” Try, “How do my actions and behaviors reflect our organizational goals? In which ways do they diverge?” This framework allows the individual answering to craft a more detailed and insightful response and provide you with tangible examples. 
  • Communicate Consistently: Asking for feedback at work doesn’t need to be reserved for the formal performance review process. Weekly or biweekly meetings create a safe space in which leaders and employees alike can comfortably discuss areas of concern as well as strengths that help ensure everyone is on the same page at all times. 
  • Lead by Example: Creating a feedback-centric culture requires cultivating positive experiences. When an employee asks for feedback at work and is affirmed for this action, others in the workforce follow suit. Leaders can share high-level stories of positive feedback sessions and their outcomes, like the opening example of Sharon, among senior and junior staff to show how feedback benefits everyone involved. 
  • Respond Appropriately: It’s easy to play the blame game when confronted with constructive criticism. For example, a mid-level manager who is told they miss too many team meetings may pin the problem on their hectic travel schedule. Rather than leading defensively, this manager owns the problem and takes personal accountability for finding ways to be more involved. In doing so, they are demonstrating that they are receptive to constructive feedback. 

Sustaining a Feedback-Driven Workplace Culture 

When employees and leaders view feedback as empowering, rather than something to be feared, they remove hurdles that once stood in the way of meeting their top results. Asking open-ended questions, participating in regular feedback sessions, leading by example, and responding openly to constructive feedback all help create a culture where feedback can flourish. 

*Names have been changed to protect individual’s identity. 

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