Wisdom//

How the Best Leaders Get Truly Honest Feedback From Employees

Here's why you should insist that feedback is given no more than 72 hours after the event that prompted it.

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Shutterstock

The purpose of giving feedback to someone is to help that person improve.

To ask for feedback for yourself, then, is to ask for help in that same kind of self-improvement.

We can all improve at something, which means we can all benefit from feedback. But as the leader of a company or team, asking employees, friends, and colleagues for feedback serves an additional purpose: Its a way of walking the walk and ensuring the feedback processes you build into your company’s operations are still useful.

The best way to make feedback useful? Insist that it’s given no more than 72 hours after the event that prompted it.

Here’s why.

Giving timely feedback provides context–which helps people understand how to apply it going forward.

The idea of real-time feedback is used at successful companies all over the world, including Ray Dalio’s Bridgewater Associates. In his book Principles, Dalio encouraged one of his employees to send him feedback after a relatively poor speech he gave to a potential client. The feedback was sent on the same day:

“Ray — you deserve a D- for your performance today …You rambled for 50 minutes …It was obvious to all of us that you did not prepare at all because there is no way you could have been that disorganized at the outset if you had prepared. We told you this prospect has been identified as a must-win …Today was really bad …We can’t let this happen again.”

At a typical company, sending an email that critical of your boss would be career suicide. But Dalio’s appreciation for radical and immediate candor regardless of rank is one reason Bridgewater Associates remains the most successful hedge funds in the world.

It’s petty to ask employees to save grievances or feedback for check-ins or review meetings, especially when those occur weeks or months after the fact. Moreover, it’s ineffective.

That’s why I’ve made a habit of asking my employees to rate me in real time, too.

Everybody possesses weakness. Personally, I know I move too quickly — especially when writing. In fact, one of the most consistent things I hear in the feedback I receive involves my written communication habits.

Often, the emails and Slack messages I send are too brief or confusing, which means people aren’t getting a clear message. To make matters worse, people tend to assume they should know what I’m talking about, so they make a guess or ask colleagues for their interpretation.

Knowing this, a few months back, I asked my employees to start responding to the emails I send out with immediate and honest feedback, along with a rating of one to 10. One meant the email was rushed and confusing, and 10 meant the opposite.

At the beginning, I got my fair share of twos and threes. I heard things like: Bob, I have no idea what you are talking about here, or, Bob, it would be really helpful if you could give an example of what you are looking for when you say X.

After a while, I was able to identify when I was writing something rushed and confusing and make changes to my approach. In addition to helping you improve, asking for this kind of feedback as the leader of a company sends an important message.

It lets your employees know that you’re not above reproach and highlights the fact that everyone has weaknesses and areas in which they can improve. It shows them that direct feedback is important for every player on the team–even the CEO.

Soon after I started asking my team to rate me in real time, I noticed my employees were getting more comfortable speaking up and asserting their opinions. Suddenly, everyone seemed more willing to both give and receive constructive feedback, and our productivity improved.

Encouraging real-time feedback culture goes a long way in instilling trust.

It also ensures your employees feel comfortable taking calculated risks. That’s important: When people aren’t willing to speak up and say what’s on their minds, it encourages groupthink–which is the opposition of innovation.

Results are what really matter. That means getting to the right answer, not always having the right answer.

As Dalio wrote in his book Principles: “Truth–more precisely, an accurate understanding of reality–is the essential foundation for producing good outcomes.” If you’ve been preaching feedback in your company, maybe its time to start from the top.

Originally published on Inc.

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