I missed the block. The defensive end was my guy to block and I missed him, so our quarterback, Louis, ended up on his back. Again. I felt terrible—we were already struggling and now I’d made a mistake that cost us another 10 yards and Louis some undeserved bruises. Finally, I couldn’t hold it back any more, and in the huddle I told everyone that I’d missed the block and that it was my fault. At that point, Tony, our halfback stepped out of the huddle and pointed at the field and gave me some direct feedback, “Mickey, look where we are! Tell me again this is your fault!”
What he meant, of course, was that our inability to move the ball that night was not any one man’s fault—our failure was a team effort. His feedback was direct and honest, and aimed at helping me get over myself and get back to work. It’s a simple example, but it illustrates the point that high performing teams are honest with each other.
Leaders Demand Honest Feedback
Providing—and receiving—good feedback is vital to the performance of any team. Without honest and direct feedback no one gets any better, and everyone remains in their mediocrity believing whatever they want since there’s no voice outside to counter the voice inside. Leaders especially need to make certain we’re both giving and receiving honest feedback. It’s far too easy to “go along to get along” and never improve. High performance requires a good feedback system.
Everyone understands this need for good feedback, even if they don’t want to deliver it or hear it themselves. When we hire a golf instructor or take an art class or learn a musical instrument we ask the teacher/coach to push us to higher performance. In business it’s the same. Why else do we hire coaches and outside experts come into our companies? We hire them to tell us where we’re going wrong and what to do to fix it! Imagine how much more effective those coaches would be if we started from a culture of solid, honest self-assessment?
You’re Doing Fine!
Whenever I’m on the receiving end of feedback where I’m told I don’t need to change anything, I work hard to seek out something I’m doing wrong. I’m not perfect, and I make mistakes and have blind spots like anyone else. That sort of “you’re doing fine feedback” may feel good to deliver, but it doesn’t help anyone. Passing on the opportunity to critically examine my performance is just wasting time.
How Feedback is Done
OK, so now I’ve convinced you to give good feedback, let me show you how to do it right. A good feedback system should:
- Enable leaders and team members to work together to improve performance
- Guide professional and even personal development
- Build trust
That’s a tall order, but these six companies are already breaking new ground by building just such a system. Big companies like General Electric and Cargill demonstrate they understand these principles and their employees are responding. Even the US Air Force is re-vamping their feedback system in order to eliminate the “Firewall 5” ratings and let the real high performers rise to the top. Here’s the tactics to reaching those goals and leading your teams to high performance:
- Carefully explain your expectations and standards to your team well in advance
- Give feedback more than once a year, and at least at the mid-term
- Measure performance against those standards
- Spend time preparing for the feedback session—review records, emails, etc.
- Have concrete examples on how the ratee can improve
- Make suggestions for professional advancement and development
- Ask for feedback from your ratee—and listen!
- Be kind!
Give Good Feedback, Get High Performance
Champion athletes and CEOs have one thing in common: they seek and give good feedback. If you want your team to reach high levels of performance, then build a culture where honest feedback is a core value. An honest and consistent feedback system will improve performance because it reduces mistakes and miscommunication. Leaders who show a genuine interest in the professional and personal development of their teams generate good morale, and accomplished teams. All of that build trust—and leads to high performance.
Mickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.
Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.