Giving Feedback Effectively
Updated: Jun 18, 2019
As an advisor's business grows, typically so does their team. One topic I see advisors struggle with is how they can provide the feedback they believe is necessary to enable a high performance team without being critical and without having the opposite effect than their intent - effectively demotivating rather than motivating their team.
The struggle is real. With countless articles on the topic, experts have come out on both sides of the spectrum. Many top companies embrace frequent, direct feedback channels like the "radical transparency" approach at top hedge fund Bridgewater or the infamously "candid" culture at Netflix. Other equally credible sources, like The Harvard Business Review, have come out and said that not only is feedback inherently and systematically biased (at best), but that "focusing people on their shortcoming doesn't enable learning; it impairs it." https://hbr.org/2019/03/the-feedback-fallacy This isn't to say that there isn't a place for feedback, but that done right, it can be incredibly powerful and done wrong, it can be fatal to the work relationship.
After working in a number of high performance cultures (Goldman Sachs and Bain, to name just two), having worked with dozens of successful advisors (including several Top 20 teams) and having built a team of our own over the last decade, I have seen this play out first hand and have gathered what I feel are some universal truths about feedback that are worth sharing.
1. Have a Shared Vision
Successful teams typically have a leader with clear objectives and a vision about how to get there that can be clearly articulated by their team. If Forum is the goal and creating unsolicited referrals by having a standout client experience is the path to get there, each team member should be able to see, articulate and act to do their part in that mission.
Knowing the vision of each of your team members (their motivations not just their outcomes) is also critical to ensuring that the future path you see for them is one that is inspiring for them as well. If the future with your firm is not compelling TO THEM, they will eventually look elsewhere. A team member motivated by leadership opportunities and the ability to contribute will require a different future opportunity than a team member whose top priority is predictability and stability.
2. Focus on Outcomes, Not Tactics
There is not one specific way to be successful and each example of success is often intrinsically linked with the individual and their particular style and strengths. Just as there are a variety of styles and approaches successful advisors can take, there are a multitude of ways team members can effectively support an advisor. It would seem obvious to say, for example, that to be a slam dunk champion, height would matter. Spud Webb, however, won the slam dunk championship in 1986 despite being one of the shortest players in NBA history at 5' 7"
Keeping feedback focused on the desired outcomes, rather than personal traits, work habits or tactics will prevent feedback feeling like criticism and enable growth and improvement based on each team members unique abilities.
Don't forget to celebrate successes when target outcomes are achieved and recognize the contributions that made it possible.
3. Highlight Each Team Member's Strengths, Regularly
Neuroscience-based studies have shown completely different areas of the brain are activated by brainstorming how to expand upon an existing strength versus discussing how to overcome a weakness, lacking or failure. The former allows growth and new neural connections, while the other triggers the primitive fight or flight centers in the brain. Harnessing the inherent talent of our team will come from recognizing their moments of excellence and encouraging and motivating
them to expand from those moments rather than pointing out errors or faults.
When you point out a situation that was handled well or improved an outcome, it enables the team member to not only repeat and strengthen that skill, but to iterate and see how they might apply that strength effectively in other areas as well.
4. Be Prepared to Give Feedback
Being ready to give feedback is a real thing. Giving feedback from a place of
criticism, judgement, frustration or fear will NEVER yield a productive outcome.
Brene Brown created what she calls the Engaged Feedback Checklist that is a
Highlights include the following:
- Being willing to listen for understanding, not just to respond
- Being willing to sit together with a shared problem
- Being able to hold them accountable without shaming, blaming or judging
- Being able to genuinely thank them for their efforts v. criticize their failings
- Being able to discuss the growth and opportunity you see before them
5. Know Your Team Members
Despite the universal best practices, everyone responds to messaging differently. Knowing the optimal level of care, compassion, collaboration and challenge to present with each team member is an art, not a science. But done correctly, an advisor can cultivate a team that will far exceed their greatest expectations, with everyone benefiting from the journey together.