David Strittmatter

You have to receive feedback – here’s how you get it

We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve. – Bill Gates

Dear friend,

What’s the best way to grow as a person?

Since I started working as a consultant, I’ve been learning at a pace I could’ve not imagined.

There’s this saying: “1 year in consulting is like 2-3 years in industry”. From my own experience and the conversations with friends, I assume that’s due to the differences in feedback culture.

For most companies, it’s just not a thing to regularly sit down together, look each other in the eyes, and tell each other what the other person does well and what could be improved.

In the companies that do regular feedback, it’s a once-in-a-quarter thing or part of the semi-yearly performance appraisal.

Value of feedback

In most management consulting companies, every 2-3 weeks formal feedback sessions are standard. Immediate and informal feedback is done daily. This has 3 benefits:

  1. Feedback enables deliberate practice. Without knowing what you do well and what you can improve, you cannot focus your efforts. It’s like mindless repetitions of a full song even though it’s just 2 minor parts of the song that you don’t master yet.
  2. How you perceive yourself and your work can be significantly different from how your peers, subordinates, or boss do. It comes down to nuances, but they can make a major difference in your professional career. For instance, listening well is a skill. Without the feedback that your listening skills suck, you will never become a better listener.
  3. Guidance from more experienced co-workers is invaluable. They already went through similar challenges like you and made mistakes you will most likely do, too. Asking them for feedback will allow you to “leapfrog” steps in your professional development.

How to feedback

Receiving quality feedback takes work. It’s not that you become employed and receive the amount of coaching, mentoring, and guidance you could potentially obtain. Even if you work in consulting or other jobs where there’s a strong feedback culture, you cannot expect to obtain ideal feedback.

You have to put in the effort.

First, you have to ask for feedback. If you feel awkward about it, just ask your manager, peer, client, customer, intern, etc. for a 20 min coffee chat. During this coffee chat, you ask them how they think about your work, what they like, what they dislike. I do this with my interns, clients, project managers, and peers.

Second, identify an area where you want to improve. For example, a skill I want to further improve is “storylining”, i.e., structuring meetings and content convincingly, concisely, and easy to grasp. So, I ask the people I’m working with and who can assess my storylining skills to focus on my work.

At the end of the feedback conversation, I ask the other person whether we could do another feedback session in 2-4 weeks. Usually, the answer is yes. So, I request them to focus on this area of improvement. This makes it easier for them, too.

Third, you should also have feedback for them; be prepared that they ask you for it. When I provide someone with feedback, I do it strength-based.

Strength-based feedback implies focussing on the strength of the other person. I take time to elaborate on what the other person does well. I frame my feedback neutrally and state observations, e.g., I saw that you prepared yesterday’s meeting well so that it was super smooth and we received what you needed for your analysis timely and completely.

I prepare at least 3 observations to exemplify their strengths and provide them with 1 observation of what could be improved. That leaves the other person feeling confident, competent, and motivated, while, simultaneously, having 1 thing to work on.

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