Based on 3 years of close observation at IDEO and Hulu; and with perspective from my friends at other companies like Rypple, Facebook, Pixar, Mozilla, and Lucas Film; I have distilled these simple rules of good feedback.
1. Ask, don’t tell. Feedback works best when it is delivered to someone who asks for it. Being invited reduces the social risk of the giver being viewed as too critical or harsh. And reduces the challenge of finding the right time to deliver it. Asking for feedback is like putting out a welcome mat that signals you are open to input from others.
2. Focus on the work not the person. People are complex and very difficult (and resistant!) to label with statements like “high performer” or “lags peers.” Add in specifics about a work product/outcome and the context surrounding it, and it’s much more valuable.
3. Cast a wide net. Successful people manage a broad and diverse set of perspectives to discover patterns and develop insights about their own behavior. If you ask a small set of people who know you well, you will probably get a biased and less trustworthy answer.
4. Don’t believe the first answer. Even with an invitation, remember that good feedback requires the giver to think deeply, and work a bit to provide something useful. Press the first response, with further invitations like, “Can you tell me more about that?” or similar open ended probes. If you receive generic responses like, “fine” or “I love working with you” don’t be satisfied.
5. Synthesize and iterate. Once you gather broad and diverse perspective, look at the set of opinions and find patterns across the set. Then share the whole set with a close advisor and discuss it together. It may prompt you to ask a more targeted question to get more actionable or focused feedback.
6. Tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. This works both ways for the giver and the receiver. You are simply wasting time if you don’t share your whole perspective as a giver or disclose that you know there are areas to explore as a receiver. Being open and honest is what divides successful players from posers and wannabes.
Remember the whole point of feedback is personal growth, higher performance, and living a more fulfilling life! Have fun with it.