January 7, 2007

Is That What You Have to Say?

Someone I know, a person recognized worldwide for their work recently applied for a teaching position at a community college. This is a person with a shelf full of awards...not the phony kind...the kind that if you work hard, you get once in a lifetime. The guy taught at universities, one of which was Harvard. He was told that he didn't have enough academic experience.

There had to be legitimate reasons he didn't get the gig. Reasons such as personality fit (or lack thereof), missing specific experience, over-qualification, or even that someone else was promised the job. But it was all left unsaid. This lack of true feedback doesn't just happen in recruiting, I've witnessed it also in sales and in mergers and acquisitions. After proposals, meetings and negotiation, clients don't provide feedback to losing bidders.

So why not give the true, timely feedback that adds value? An Rand in
The Fountainhead wrote - "It's extremely cruel to be honest." There is a school of thought that subscribes to the notion of shielding people with generic, non-relevant input. Sometimes a variation on this is to provide no feedback at all, via careful avoidance (not returning calls, emails etc...) The rationale is to allow people to save face...and not be cruel.

Perhaps this works within certain cultures and geographies. But I think that most business people want to know why the didn't get the sale, job, whatever, so they can change, improve and win the next time. I think its easier to provide real input, than engineer avoidance or invent non relevant feedback.

All feedback is a gift and costs nothing to provide. Here some things to keep in mind to ensure your feedback adds value:
  1. Start by emphasizing the positive - don't make this into a slam session;
  2. Be clear in what you say - state facts vs. opinions;
  3. Be specific - avoid generalizations;
  4. Be timely - do it now, when its fresh;
  5. Make it two way - ask for input back!

By the way - make sure you ask and get permission to provide feedback first. Getting the right insight can be empowering and the tipping point that delivers success.

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