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Why Feedback Should Be Spot On

Feedback
Career Path

17 December, 2020

Mei Lazell
Mei Lazell

Engineering Manager at Coinbase

Mei Lazell, Engineering Manager at Coinbase, reveals what makes feedback effective and how spot-on feedback should serve the long-term career goals.

Problem

I would often witness people receiving some constructive feedback for the first time during the promotion review. Not only that they wouldn’t be accustomed to receiving feedback but they would be also fairly surprised by its content. As a consequence, that kind of feedback would have a detrimental effect on both their motivation and morale.

If a person would have received feedback earlier, they would have time to improve and feedback would serve its purpose. Unfortunately, many people would have to wait for a performance review to receive feedback from their managers or peers. A golden opportunity to deliver on-spot feedback and course-correct someone is thus missed. Moreover, after a long time, feedback on the long-forgotten matter should most often come as a surprise and will have questionable benefits.

Actions taken

People are commonly uncomfortable about feedback because it is something not only unpleasant (if the feedback is negative) but because it happens only on specifically designated occasions. If feedback would become more embedded in our daily routines, people could be more relaxed about and appreciative of it. Therefore I encourage people on my team to go out and frequently seek feedback from their peers, other stakeholders, etc. I want them to establish a healthy routine and meet with people from whom they could seek feedback at least monthly.

I don’t want people on my team to be surprised by the feedback they would receive in the performance review. Feedback delivered during the performance review should be something they are already aware of and are already working on to improve. Feedback should be an integral part of a person’s long-term career development. People are usually focused on the work at hand and they may work -- and excel -- at something without getting any closer to accomplishing their career development goals. Feedback is a unique opportunity to help with the development of career aspirations in the midst of the hectic, day-to-day schedule.

Tuning down on the negative part of the feedback and looking for the development opportunities of feedback is how I approach delivering feedback. Also, I try to separate feedback from the promotional cycle and make it look less like a judgment (if not evaluation) and more part of someone’s growth. Also, when everyone knows that feedback could be bidirectional at any given time it reinforces a sense of good intent and contributes to the creation of a healthy working environment. Healthy feedback is not about stating that something is wrong and should be fixed -- people would go beyond that to help an individual identify the opportunities to develop.

An additional benefit of timely feedback is mindset alignment. In general, feedback reflects how a person wants to work with you. As a result, there are two types of feedback: feedback that is facts-based (“This wasn’t completed in time”) and feedback derived from a person’s perception of things (I think that you were not articulated enough”). Both are legitimate and create an alignment in terms of how one wants to work with another person.

Lessons learned

  • Feedback should be put in service of helping people with their long-term career goals. Good feedback can help accelerate your reports’ careers.
  • My general understanding of feedback reflects the way I deliver it. I am always trying to showcase my good intent along with giving people enough time and a clear agenda to prepare. So, I treat feedback as a gift one person gives to another as it helps people grow in their careers.

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