How to receive feedback when in a senior position

As CEOs or managers, you can benefit from constructive feedback. Everyone has areas in which they need to improve, and listening to others can impart valuable information, even if it’s only regarding how others perceive them.

Top leaders — those performing in the 83rd percentile — ask for feedback the most frequently. Upward feedback incorporates feedback from employees in managerial reviews; it gives critical information regarding your relationship with employees. There is no doubt that feedback from employees and colleagues are helpful, but this doesn’t stop the fact that CEOs and managers often receive less feedback and have greater difficulty accepting that feedback.

Major sources of feedback for those in a senior position

Subordinates, colleagues, the board of directors, and even internal measurement systems can all be sources of feedback for you. But all of these sources of feedback are not the same. It’s important to understand how these sources can be best used and how they may sometimes be skewed either negatively or positively.

  • Subordinates. Subordinates are some of the most familiar with your performance because they work directly with you. That being said, they may conflate your performance with management as a whole. Some of their complaints may directly relate to their work rather than relating to your personal leadership style.
  • Colleagues. Colleagues have a significant amount of interactions with an individual but may not be truly objective. In order to continue a solid working relationship, colleagues may be hesitant to offer negative feedback, even if they are assured it would be confidential.
  • Board of directors. A board of directors see the results of your managerial style and can only give you feedback on your chosen business strategies. Because they aren’t privy to day-to-day operations, they may not be able to give accurate criticisms. When an organisation is doing poorly, they may see this reflecting upon you.
  • Internal measurement. Internal measurements such as those provided by enterprise resource planning solutions can give direct information regarding your productivity and success but may not be otherwise accurate, especially in relation to soft skills.

You need to use all these avenues of feedback to create a complete picture of your performance. This is why it becomes important to court feedback from multiple sources as it’s the only way to obtain a full and complete picture of both yourself and the current managerial environment.

Scheduling one-on-one meetings

One-on-one meetings are often the most effective way to get detailed feedback from employees and other colleagues. Though they may at first be hesitant to share any reservations, once they begin talking, you can then explore the issues in detail. Positive feedback also helps, as it can become easier to identify an employee’s or colleague’s values and what matters most to them about their working environment.

For employees, a one-on-one meeting gives them the chance to air out any of their concerns. In many cases, employee concerns can stem from a lack of transparency; they may not understand why processes are in place or the decision-making process behind these processes, as it has never been explained to them. Employees are also heavily involved in the day-to-day processes of an organisation and may see issues that are simply invisible from a CEO or management perspective.

For colleagues, a one-on-one meeting will often reveal how working better together would look like. There may be issues that are not apparent to you as your colleague may operate in a slightly different space and have an emphasis on different aspects of the business. Together, you and your colleagues can find solutions that benefit the business as a whole.

Getting anonymous feedback

Understandably, much of the challenge related to one-on-one meetings involves a hesitance to give direct criticism. Employees are often fearful of their jobs while colleagues may be worried that they will create a combative working environment. Some may not have any work-related concerns but may simply feel that it’s overly stressful or impolite.

Anonymous feedback can resolve some of these issues. Through anonymous surveying tools — such as Survey Monkey or Google Forms — employees and colleagues can evaluate individuals without having to attach their name. In an ideal scenario, this gives them more room to be honest and direct.

However, it’s also not without some issues. In close working environments, it can be impossible to give anonymous feedback without implying who gave it. Because of that, the feedback may be vague enough that it isn’t useful. At the other end of the spectrum, anonymous feedback can embolden certain members to give unnecessarily harsh feedback. Though this feedback may still have a core of truth, it’s important not to take it to heart.

Finding the right approach

Often both types of feedback can be necessary to create a well-balanced picture of your own performance as a leader. But you need to take some time to educate employees regarding the type of feedback that you’re looking to acquire. An emphasis should be on providing constructive feedback; rather than simply stating things that you’re doing right or wrong, employees should focus on how they would like things to be and whyThis gives you actionable information to work with.

Some structure to feedback can be desirable — such as asking employees to give you feedback on specific areas of your leadership: communication, decision-making, efficiency, and interpersonal skills. Employees are more likely to give useful feedback if they’re aware of the areas that you are seeking to improve and the type of feedback you desire.

Additionally, it can be important to separate yourself from the rest of the business and its management. Be specific about needing feedback regarding yourself and your own performance, rather than management as a whole. Otherwise, it can be too easy for both colleagues and employees to conflate you with the business itself and its processes.

When in doubt, ask direct questions, such as the following:

  • How can I better support you and facilitate your work?
  • Is there anything that I am doing that disrupts your work?
  • Have you received enough feedback regarding your work and your position?
  • Are you being given the opportunities to use and develop your skills?

If there are certain areas in which you want to improve, you can also ask your employee to keep an eye out for them. Some examples include the following:

  • Am I appropriately delegating work?
  • Do you ever feel as though I am micromanaging?
  • Are there tasks I give that you feel are unachievable?

Taking steps towards improvement

Whether or not you believe that the feedback was valid or useful, it’s important to acknowledge that it’s been received, understood, and — above all — valued. Whether feedback is negative or positive (and whether you believe it’s accurate or inaccurate), the process of giving feedback is something that you should encourage or reward.

Of course, once you’ve acquired that feedback, you need to process it into action. Feedback has to be assessed — both individually and as a whole. If there are areas that are frequently coming up, such as a lack of communication, then these are issues that you need to work on. If there are issues that are only coming up with a single employee, you may need to assess your professional relationship and whether the feedback may be valid or may be an idiosyncrasy of the individual.

Ultimately, collecting feedback not only gives you the opportunity to grow as a professional, but it also improves an employee’s relationship with the business as a whole. Through meetings with both employees and colleagues, you can develop relationships that are built on trust and work towards making them more functional and efficient. Remember: negative feedback doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing something wrong; it could mean you’re doing something that isn’t effective for that particular individual.

Collecting feedback doesn’t always mean engaging with employees and colleagues, either. You can also get input and advice regarding your feedback from others who are experienced within your field. Mentorship and peer-to-peer exchange is an excellent way to get more insight into your performance as an individual. Contact TEC today to join a highly qualified, experienced, and professional network of leaders across the globe.