Did you know that Jeff Bezos still reads emails from Amazon customers?
Reading customer emails gives Jeff anecdotal feedback about how Amazon can improve. Entrepreneurs like him are always seeking input from their customers to grow their business.
When I started to view myself as the CEO of my career, it helped me accelerate my career growth. In your job, your managers, clients, and the company you work for are your customers.
Feedback is a fantastic way to learn exactly where your company wants you to grow. Research (here, here, or here) that I read in the book, “Thanks For The Feedback,” has shown that employees that ask for feedback, especially negative feedback:
- Are perceived to be more competent and get higher performance evaluations.
- Have a higher work satisfaction
- Adapt to new roles better
Asking for feedback has helped me:
- Get better technically. For example, a client once gave me the feedback on my presentation skills. He said I jump into the slides as if everyone in the room has been working full time on the project. Which is never the case. I need to give more background about the project, reiterate the objectives, and take the listeners through the presentation.
- Improve strategically. For example, one manager told me that I need to defer to some of the experts in the room during the meeting, while another said that I need to assert my expertise more. Completely opposite feedback but made me understand that it is a trade-off.
- Be noticed as a top performer within my company and with my clients. After every feedback meeting, I would get some version of, “Varun, I appreciate you asking for feedback. It shows you are proactive about getting better.”
So how can you get feedback? You have to seek it out.
“Receiving feedback is a skill. In any exchange between giver and receiver, it is the receiver who is in-charge. The receiver decides what they are going to let in, what sense they are going to make of it, and whether and how they choose to change.” Shelia Heen, the co-author of “Thanks For Feedback,”
We are in-charge of asking for and taking action on the feedback. Based on the techniques that I have learned and by applying them, the best way to get constructive feedback involves three things:
- A face-to-face conversation or phone call with the feedback giver. No emails.
- A specific technique to ask for feedback.
Set up a meeting
The reason you want a phone call or meeting and not an email exchange is because emails are monologues and not a conversation.
The easiest way to have a conversation is to set up a meeting with the person you want to talk to. If the person is at a different location, then you set a phone call. Here’s a simple script you can use to ask for a meeting (in an email on in-person):
Hello <insert name>, I am trying to be a better performer at work and want to know how I can improve. Since I value your opinion highly, would it be okay if I set up a 15-minute meeting with you to discuss this?
Once they say yes, look at their calendars and set up a 15-minute session with them. In the body of the calendar invite (or in a separate email), you can write down your questions for them so that they have time to think about it.
How to ask for feedback with the “one-thing” technique
Here are two screenshots of the meetings I set. Check the question I ask in the body of the invite.
These are examples of what not to ask.
You don’t want to ask, “Do you have any feedback for me?” When seeking feedback, it is important to ask a specific question because vague questions give you vague answers.
Now I use a technique I have learned from Sheila Heen.
“What’s the one thing you see me doing (or failing to do) that will <insert a specific area or result>.”
Sheila Heen says that it is important to ask for the one thing you can do. That way you are assuming that there is one thing you improve on. It also lets the giver know that you are serious about getting better and open to honest feedback.
So examples of the questions can be:
- What’s the one thing I can do to improve my presentation skills?
- What’s the one thing you see me doing during meetings that you think I should improve on?
- What’s the one thing I can change to add more value to my role as a simulation engineer?
Close the loop
Closing-the-loop is a technique I learned from my mentor Ramit. He helps people start an online business at Growthlab. He says that when an expert or a VIP gives you advice, don’t just disappear with it. Circle back and share how you have used their advice.
You can do the same with the person that gave you feedback. After some time, share with them what you are doing to take their advice and how it is helping you grow.
Customers are “divinely discontent.”
Jeff Bezos says that customers are “divinely discontent.” They always want more.
It is the same with your career and your customers as well and continuing to ask for feedback will help you to accelerate your growth, get a better performance review, and improve your job satisfaction. All of which are critical to getting paid well or being picked by the company for a leadership position.
Have you asked for feedback? How did it go?