Using targeted feedback to grow and progress

Sunday, 12 May 2013

'If you don't design your own life plan, chances are you'll fall into someone else's plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.'
Jim Rohn

If you ain't working to your plan, You're working to someone else's

I'd been frustrated by reviews and feedback for a while – I’d didn’t feel it gave me the information I needed to get where I wanted or tell me if I had got competent at the skills and behaviours I needed for my next step.
I believed that if you ask better questions, you get better answers; so I started working out how to ask those better questions, and then what to do with those answers. This article is about what I came up with, incase you find it useful as well.

Right, I know what feedback is, but what do you mean by targeted?

  • Focusing on the thing you want to improve: be it 
role, behaviour or skill; whilst avoiding getting just a collection of opinions of your work.
  • Focusing on the people that can help you the most. Not just asking everyone.
  • Keeping the focus on being about you and your next steps

Keep your eye on the Journey – choose your own tools

Before we start; I don’t want you to get too obsessed by preparation. There is a journey and some simple tools that might help. Don’t get trapped by the planning, do what you need, lightweight and quick, then get out there and measure and act.

Stage 1: Who do you want to be?

The first stage is to get a view of what you’ve done and where you are going. We are going to use that information to assemble some questions.

Looking forward and looking back

It’s not as ornery as it sounds: take a few file cards, (you’ve probably got some lying around) and note what you‘ve been doing this year, plus who you’ve been working with and talking to. Who’s been in the room when you’ve being doing your thing?
Turning around, write down where are you hoping to do next, where you want to grow, and look at the list of names you’ve been working with – who might best advise you about yourself and is aware of what you do.

Some people really know where they are going already and just need to map it out. Others may need to step back and take some time to think about where they are going and who they want to be. If this is you, don't restrict your destiny to a fixed role or a single person, take some time to think of your destination before you build the road map. Don't lock yourself in, think in broad brush strokes.

Tool 1, below, can help you build up a simple roadmap. You may need to have a clear definition of a role or goal to help guide your next steps - see tool 2 below.

Building Your Questions

This step is the hard work: your job is to put together a list of questions. Ask yourself: ‘What do I need to know to make the progress I want with my goal?’
  They may not be questions that you’ll ask every person on your list, in fact it would be better if they weren’t – as the more targeted the better.

Thinking about your steps towards the future, what do you need to start, what will help with the long term? Build a bank of questions and refine.


Tool 1: Future Ratios: Sketching out the future 

A lightweight way I’ve used to look ahead is to plan forward using a doubling ratio: for example: What do I want to be doing: in 6 months, a year, 2 years. Two years too far away? Try: 3 months, 6 months, and 1 year.
I draw these out on a card or paper and then try to fill in each of the three areas, working to stay high level.

Read a more detailed future planning tool here: Planning your future (from Boxes and Arrows)



Tool 2: Build a definition of what you want to do

When I want to develop but I don’t know enough about what I want to be I look for definitions of what the role is – its valuable to know what good looks like if you want to be good. Some things are obvious, some more subtle.

If you’ve not got this yet, then it might be worth spending time having a think what the role is, or exploring it a little with a mentor or chatting to some practitioners. Don’t get too hung up though, you could write your questions to help focus on discovering what the role is for you, to play to your strengths - running a cycle with ‘I want a clear idea of my progression’ as your goal - but remember that's just input to your intuition.


Stage 2: Who are you now?

Step out of your comfort zone

Looking at the notes you’ve developed on your past work and your future plans, it should be becoming clear who could answer your questions for you. Take a good look at the list and challenge yourself: Don’t just ask people you are comfortable with, be sure that you step outside your comfort zone and ask the people that could be the holding the essential information you need.

Engage and question face to face

Arrange times and place when your conversation partners have the time to talk, and space to think.  Though you are leading the conversation and you don’t want it to go off track, give them time to take you through their answer. Be sure its a conversation, not an interview. Having a narrative behind the questions might help keep you both focused.

Its important that they know the context of the questions you are asking – who you want to be – so be sure to start with this. This knowledge makes them an equal in the conversation, giving potential to exploration of areas unknown to you.

Oh, if its not obvious, listen. You may want to make a note or two, but if it gets in the way of the conversation, give yourself some time to write afterwards.

Hearing the things you don’t want to hear

Receiving powerful honest feedback is hard, particularly when it’s something that you don’t want to hear, but need to.  There are articles and whole books written about that, on its own, please take a look.  Rule Number One is to accept with good grace, to ask for clarification so you can understand, and consider it later. Remember that the most important thing here is data collection to help you grow.

Tool 3: Surviving difficult conversations


One method I like when considering a difficult conversation is to consider three points of view playing out: (1) what you are hearing with your bias and needs, (2) what they a saying with theirs. And finally, (3) what an independent observer might see.

You can read some more about this here: How Come Some People Are Just So Bloody Difficult…?

Stage 3: Getting to who you want to be

Talking heed of the feedback

It’s time for a bit more thinking: Do you recognize the feedback? Can you sift through the facts, valid and invalid assumptions to find patterns?  Can you admit your faults as well as celebrate your strengths and successes?   To get the nub of the matter, using the '3 Points of View' above, at a different scale can be useful. How do these extrinsic points of view compare to your internal view? It’s also worth considering if you’ve any bias towards favoring internal or external forces. Pay attention to both what you hear and what you feel.

Build a plan

You can now look forward and work out your next steps. If you need an aid, look back to the Future Ratios and draw out a new plan – where do you want to be, when? Using the information that you now have: what do you need to do to get there? Keep it based on achievements you want to make, not things must happen – you want to be able to integrate this plan in a world that you don’t have full control of.
From your reflection, you might need to bounce back around to get more data - different people, different questions. That’s cool: that’s your action and your learning

You can’t be better that you try to be. So who are you trying to be?

With your plan, start looking for opportunities to put it into action where you are. Talk to the people doing the work you’d like to do to move the plan along – is there some work they can share or delegate to you? What can you do to get the experiences and skills you need to take that next leap?

Tool 4: SMART Goals

Consider SMART goals as an aid to building up a picture of how you want to develop



Advanced Tip: Growing and tuning your inner review

A lot of this article is about talking to your colleagues, gathering feedback, and processing that into actions.  However once you’ve thought about what you want to be and what you need to know, you may be able to reflect on past performances and begin an evaluation of your strengths, gaps and growth areas before having conversations.

Everyone has an inner voice that can put words to an assessment of their performance. In addition we can develop skills to measure success internally from memories of events and conversations

Some people tend to the over-critical, others too forgiving.  To manage your voice, try putting ego and value judgments aside for a while and see if you can assess how you feel you currently measure up against your questions. These initial reflections may help guide you, as you may have never asked yourself these questions or thought about your goals in this way before.

Summing up

As a whole, this process forms a cycle of personal development and has its roots in the GROW model. From planning and the capturing of information to action, it invites iteration by returning to the beginnings of the cycle with a review and gathering feedback on your new behaviours and skills.

Do it small-and-often or use it to take a giant leap forward it can help you focus on progressing to where and who you want be.  Good luck!



'Don't wish it were easier, wish you were better.'

Jim Rohn

Thanks to Jen Smith, Liz Douglass, Davina Sirisena & Rachel Laycock for read-throughs and thoughts. All mistakes are writer's own.

1 comment :

Unknown said...

Great article Dan!