Someone invited me to provide feedback for a process that I used. What would you do in this scenario if you were in my shoes?

It is tempting to provide feedback, because we all want to be helpful and this is something I have done many, many times before.

However, before moving to the feedback, it is important to understand the context.

Sometimes, such feedback is unwanted and can harm us or harm others.

In professional settings, this is rare, but still I can see people with huge egos’ who expect to be surrounded by “Yes” people. And this is also a characteristic of a toxic culture.

In personal settings, it can be tricky to navigate such questions and I will explain that a little bit later.

I believe that no matter if we speak about personal or professional relationships, they still have a lot of similarities. Obviously, there are a lot of differences as well.

However, we tend to separate business from private life, but the common thing is working with people. So, we expect our voice to be heard by other professionals, but this might not be the case.

Have you noticed some of your friends, or maybe you personally, could be extremely disassociated from the company you worked for and to consider that everything goes from bad to worse? One of the reasons  is simply the organization’s mismatched messages. It might ask you for feedback and never implement it. This leads to resentment and a feeling of things being unfair to us, just because whenever your manager or HR asks you about our opinion, they rarely and almost never act upon it.

Feedback is just another opportunity to change and adapt, and not everyone wants to hear it, even if they ask for it.

Before I continue, let me share with you, my background.

My career began when I graduated with a master’s degree from a technical university and working for a big German company. This background positioned me as a very technical person, and I delivered very complex solutions. I upgraded my skills and moved to leadership positions in many non-profit organizations for over 10 years. I had also taken leadership positions as a team lead and project manager, hiring people, and so on. On top of that, I have successfully completed my second master’s degree in psychology. Those are the reasons I believe give me a good understanding of this topic.

Can we separate personal feedback vs feedback in a professional setting?

I will briefly describe both below.

The partner “change” trap

Let’s talk about the age-old question, can you change someone?

And it is funny how people don’t want to change, and I have seen over and over again situations where partners argue because they thought the other one will magically change over time.

The reality is different. In relationships, partners rarely want to change. It is the responsibility of the pair or how you define the relationship these days to work hard and evolve over time.

However, questions like “What would you improve in me?” or “Do I look fat?” are asked with the only purpose of assuring your partner that you still see them as attractive just the way they are.

I have never seen a situation where constructive feedback worked when a partner approached you and asked. Usually, those are conversations you need to have together and see how you can grow as partners and how to align your goals.

In the moment of being asked such question, please restrain yourself from answering in a way that could make your partner feel insecure, unloved, or uncared for.

If you want to provide feedback, better plan such conversations on your terms and make sure you take good care of your partner before trying to be vulnerable with them and ask them to change.

Summary: When we talk about personal relationships, any feedback that could lead to change needs to be planned and communicated openly where all the parties decide how to shape themselves and the relationship. It is an extremely delicate conversation, where you must ensure you don’t let the other person feel unloved or insecure.

The corporate “change” trap

What corporates sell us is the idea that companies change all the time. There are many methodologies, like Agile, that deal with constant change requirements, and so on.

However, if you have done Scrum long enough, you would see that some things that can really benefit the team are outside of your control. Examples are slow build environment, low infrastructure, lack of time to work on technical debt and so on.

Asking people about feedback without even knowing you can deliver on it is more hurtful than not asking for it. What you are doing is creating a culture of disengaged people, and this is the worst kind of culture to be part of.

This is related more to the senior managers, but also to the HRs. Please, whenever ask for feedback to change, ensure you will follow it and provide adequate measures.

What, in my opinion, is the process of asking for feedback which could lead to change?

There are three main questions you need to ask yourself before creating a survey or assembling a town hall and asking for feedback.

The first thing to assess is, is it even possible?

I have worked for many big corporations and small teams, distributed, and co-located. I have seen and still see my fair share of surveys design to ask for feedback. And they all have one thing in common, there was no action after those surveys. I have seen an organization which received for 3 years in a role the same feedback, and nothing really changed. This is not actually true. At some point, the HRs needed to go to each employee desk to remind people to fill in the survey.

Managers needed to send reminders and so on. Do you know why people didn’t fill it? There are many reasons, but for some, the main thing was the belief those activities are pointless. And when you reinforce such culture, over time, it is hard to convince anyone that survey and feedback activities really matter to this organization.

You don’t want to be in such a situation; therefore, it is important to know what you are asking and to take full responsibility to shift the change and communicate it very clearly.

Another example from my professional life was when I mentored a project manager. His boss wanted him to introduce Scrum to a very small team where the requirements and the roadmap were clear. The team was very senior, and they knew what they wanted to do. There was not a real reason to do it and just adding this methodology would not benefit the team, also that project manager was not very good in Scrum and was not able to coach the team. Such decisions could lead to a disastrous outcome.

Therefore, please assess first if the change is really needed, and if you think it is. To do that, ask only the necessary questions that could provide you with enough information to create a change that will bring a positive outcome. Otherwise, you might create a bad culture and foster a distrust in the decisions taken by the management.

The second thing to assess is, is it even relevant?

When someone asks for feedback, how relevant it is for you. I have been part of a public speaking organization and I have received a lot of feedback. Once I become more experienced, I noticed that different people would provide me with the totally opposite feedback. I received once I am doing too many movements, another time not enough movements and so on.

Experienced people will provide me with one kind of feedback, unexperienced another.

And it is very important to distinguish between what feedback is relevant for the organization to change and what not. Let’s take, for example, career portals for big organizations. They are surprisingly dull and lack a human-centric approach. I checked some of those systems recently and I was shocked how bad the entire process really is. Repetitive steps, asking for the same information a few times and when I asked a headhunter, he mentioned that he don’t look at the other fields, but only at the attached CV. So why do you really want that information in the first place?

I have 2 masters’ degrees; do I really need to fill what year I graduated? Isn’t it better to just have a box, what is your highest level of education and in what field?

But can I even provide such feedback? Think about it, the company is forced to use that job portal, that internal tracking system, ERP and so on.

I have seen that feedback, like improving the process, is rarely acted upon. Do you want to be labeled as difficult or do you want to be the person who solves problems? Choose your battles wisely when you are in a corporation and maybe mentioned when asked about specific problem, but don’t be the person who tries to solve everything. Remember that in professional settings, we still work with humans, and we still maintain professional relationships.

For the job portal, when I was hiring people, I rarely thought about what interface they see and for many organizations, they lack empathy about external people that are not part of their organization.

After reading all the above, you might think that feedback and change is impossible. However, this is not the case. I would like to share as well that sometimes there are wins. I received a buy in from a company that I worked for to update the job description template for all positions with information I had provided. I am sure I never received credit for this, but I am just happy to be able to contribute.

The third thing is, do you really want to do it?

The last thing to consider is do you want to invest your time and energy in pushing for this feedback, creating the change, listening to your employees. This is also applicable for the employee; do you really want to invest this extra time in gathering the support and the buy-in.

For many organizations, such employees are like rare diamonds, and everyone wants to have them. Until they realize that such leaders expect from them to take actions. Not only sending surveys but doing something with the information.

Because, let’s face it, I assume we all have far better things to do with our time.

My advice is to find things you are passionate about and provide feedback for those things.

One personal example, during Covid I spend some time with the Lead QA for the COVID signing website, my government Covid created, because they didn’t cover important use case, and I felt that they must change it because it was confusing for me and other people. I spent some time debugging the JS and the website logic to find out exactly where the issue was. Then I needed to find exactly who developed it and send them my findings, then they asked to have a call and walk them through the issue and so on. It took a lot of my time and energy to show where the issue was and to be resolved. For me personally, such a change is worth it, and even if it didn’t happen, I knew it was outside of my control and there was a big chance of failing. But because I set clear and very low expectations, I was perfectly fine with any outcome.

How should you apply what you just learned?

No matter if you are a manager or an employee, when asking for feedback, be prepared to act upon it, otherwise you might disappoint the people you rely on this feedback on and lose their trust.

Go through the checklist by asking yourself those 3 questions:

  1. Is it even possible to implement the feedback and make a change?
  2. is it even relevant for me to provide that feedback or for the other person to ask me?
  3. Do I really want to do it?

And once you have three “yes” then go and ask for the feedback or go and provide that feedback to your colleague or manager.

And this is how we can create a culture in organizations that supports change, because at the end of the day we all work with people and even if we want to think that professional relationships are different then personal one, it is not always the case.

Useful resources

You can also check the course on handling change on Pluralsight:

Another interesting resource is the feedback sandwitch technique: The Gift of feedback

And, how to escape some frameworks for giving feedback: What is wrong with the Sandwich Feedback technique

Aleks Vladimriov is a Senior Software Developer, recognized Project Manager and Soft-skilled trainer and a coach.

Aleks Vladimirov

Solution Engineering Manager at Thales | Senior IT Professional | Startup Mentor and Product Manager

Aleks is experienced Product Manager with an engineer background and over 10 years of experience as a software developer. He works with different governments and is responsible for negotiation features and requirements, understanding the customers’ needs and supporting the senior management with regular reports and analysis. He held various positions starting as a software developer, moving to a team leader and software architect.

He strives in waterfall and agile environment alike. He is certified Scrum Master and Prince2 Practitioner and he knows how to design business processes and help teams optimize their work.
During his tenure, he had to wear many hats, prioritizing business requirements, delegating work and mentoring team members, creating mockups with Balsamiq, providing MS Project plan to the senior management.

He had worked in many international teams, located in the same city or distributed in different countries and continents. He had been a team leader of cross functional international team of 8 people.

In his current position, he is very much client focused. He has excellent presentation skills.
He delivers training sessions on presentation skills and leadership and he had helped hundred of people to improve their presentation skills.

He is also interested in creating more positive changes in the workplace by using entrepreneurship skills.
He had won startup competition where his team had validated and develop a business idea from scratch.

In his free time, he writes in his blog about effective product development.

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