As a manager, its important to provide timely, actionable feedback for associates (or employees, if you will), so they can learn and grow. Since we don’t spend every hour of the day sitting next to each associate in their workspace, in addition to our own direct observation, we have to rely heavily on input from others for performance feedback—this could include feedback from team leads, Scrum Masters, project leadership and stakeholders, and other managers.
As an additional input for assessing the performance of associates on my team, I will request feedback at least twice per year via an anonymous survey. I ask the associate to provide me with the list of people to include in the request, and I will ensure that important roles are covered, such as their direct team, leads, and project roles. The survey I send is pretty simple:
- What do you like about working with <associate>, or what are they doing well?; and
- What could <associate> be doing better?
I use a free SurveyMonkey account, and all the feedback is anonymous.
I think the team appreciates the process—their team members, and anyone else with whom they work provides anonymous and direct feedback, and the associate and I review it together privately. Since the whole team has the same experience with their managers, they know that the feedback shared is discussed, and taken seriously as an improvement opportunity.
I share the exact feedback I receive with each associate, and we talk about what they think. This is a great input into development and career planning, as well as an overall performance and coaching discussion. I use the same process myself, when I request feedback from my team on how I’m doing as their manager, and from my peers on how I am as a member of the leadership team.
In conversations with other managers about my process, I find there are different opinions on how to share the feedback that was sent for each associate. We should either share the highlights and summarize what feedback was received, making sure to validate and review any overly critical feedback that was shared; or to share exactly what was submitted, verbatim and unfiltered, with the associate. I think that the former approach suggests that the associates on our teams aren’t professionally mature enough to hear the feedback—that they will want to point fingers, uncover who said what, or will discount the feedback; which may overshadow the overall intent of the process. I can only say that the associates on my team have been happy to read the unfiltered comments from their team members—both positive and critical, and view it as important personal insight into their work performance, for both their hard and soft skills.
Requesting critical feedback for your associates
In my company’s culture, critical feedback is very hard to pull out of folks (Midwest anyone?). I’ve actually had more than one associate say something to the effect of, “This positive feedback is great, but how do I know what to change so I can get better?” When personally requesting feedback for a team member, I’ve even heard of one manager going so far as to tell an associate: “You can’t leave this room until you can think of something they can improve” in order to get at least one thing to share.
I’ve tweaked the question I ask in the survey a few times, and now I have something that’s getting more constructive results for each associate:
What could <associate> do better? How could he improve? Sharing critical, but constructive feedback, is important so we can learn and grow.
How to use critical feedback
I’ve written about how to use critical feedback for your own professional development—how to hear it, reflect on it, and discuss it with peers to learn more about it. As a manager, one question I’ve received from associates while describing the survey feedback process, is about how the responses will be included in their annual performance review. I think this is entirely valid for two reasons: We seem to request feedback around annual performance assessment time; and if we are going to ask for critical feedback, we want to ensure that it can be used constructively, not to punish the associate. As associates, we want our manager writing our performance reviews with verified input collected from various sources, summarized and themed for strengths and opportunities; not just allowing our peers to write it for us, through some anonymous survey.
I’ve thought about this extensively, and I feel that the direct survey feedback should be shared with the associate and used for a timely and honest two-way discussion, highlighting areas of achievement, as well as opportunity. Anonymous survey feedback is powerful and unfiltered information, from an unverified source—we should use it as a way to start a conversation about how the associate approach and work is perceived by others, rather than using every criticism included in the feedback as some direct proof of the associate’s shortcomings and mistakes.
Yes, some of the themes that show up in the survey results may also present in the associate’s annual performance review; but that will be taken in context, and distilled with, my own observations over the course of the year, in addition to direct feedback discussions with team leads and others, as well as reviewing the associate’s work. As a manger, it is important for me to provide an honest review of how the associate contributed during the year, and anonymous survey feedback alone won’t allow me to do that.
Feedback request template
Here is a template you can use to request performance feedback for yourself or others. You can use a tool like SurveyMonkey to send a survey, or send an email to which the team can reply (this might fill up your inbox, and don’t forget to turn off the Reply to All feature in your email application). Feel free to modify it any way that works well and share your feedback on my process in the comments!
Thank you for taking the time to provide specific, timely, and actionable feedback for <associate>. As his manager, I value this feedback, and we will discuss it together. Your responses are anonymous, and this survey will close in one week. You can only submit the survey once.
- What does <associate> do well? What do you appreciate about working with him?
- What could <associate> do better? How could he improve? Sharing critical, but constructive feedback, is important so we can learn and grow.
- Any other comments?
For associates in leadership positions on my team, I include an additional question:
- Please provide feedback on <associate’s> leadership and communication skills.
The email from the manager
Feedback request for <associate>
Please take a moment to provide feedback for <associate>. Click the link below to fill out a short, 3-question survey. The feedback you share will help <associate> highlight what he is doing well, and focus on areas of opportunity. As his manager, I value this feedback, and <associate> and I will discuss it together. Your responses are anonymous, and the survey closes in one week. Feel free to reach out to me any time. Thanks! <Link to survey>
The email from the associate
We’ve found that an associate will receive more responses by sending an email ahead of the survey to ask for feedback, and to remind the team of what they contributed to the project. I think it shows that as an associate, this feedback is important to you, and provides a clear call to action for team members who might not otherwise have responsed.
I’m requesting your feedback
In a few days, you will receive a feedback request from my manager. Please take a moment to share your feedback for me—both positive and constructive. I want to get better at what I do, and I value the comments you share. This is a great time to request feedback from the team, since we just finished the <Initiate> phase on the <Super Special> project. I played the <Requirements Lead> role and contributed to <work products, deliverables, and milestones>. Again, thank you for your constructive feedback, and I will use your comments to help with my career development. Thanks!
We all think feedback is important for helping us learn and grow in our careers; and sometimes it can be scary to hear criticisms, or scary to think how the feedback might be used against us. As managers, if we communicate the process and the intent, and we are consistent in having honest coaching discussions with associates, the results will be better each time. We will receive better feedback through surveys because our team members understand how the positive and constructive criticisms will be included in the conversation, and associates will become more open to personal improvement opportunities and their professional development. Furthermore, if we as managers use the same survey process for requesting feedback on our own performance, it helps build a trusting, continuous improvement culture in our workplace.