Professional feedback is important data

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Many companies are on the heels of evaluation season right now, and some of us might find ourselves wondering whether all the work we put into giving feedback is really worth it. We put time into setting meaningful goals, checking progress, and then evaluating our teams and ourselves at the end of the year. As we look ahead to another year of goals and activities, it’s a good time to think about the role feedback plays in what we do.

Data and analytics are at the core of the research and publishing ecosystem, so I think of feedback as a type of personal data I can use to fuel my own development. Feedback, both positive and negative, has been crucial to my ability to grow within this field. Of course, negative feedback is only useful if it comes with an approach for course correction; this is what turns negative feedback into constructive feedback.

Here are some things I’ve learned about feedback as data that can drive professional and personal growth.

1. If your manager is giving you feedback of any kind, then that person cares about your development. A manager who isn’t engaged and invested in your career will not take the time and attention to give you feedback. In particular, if someone gives you constructive feedback, it’s a way of communicating a faith and belief that you are worth the effort. Giving negative feedback is difficult, and typically doesn’t come naturally, so if someone takes the time to do this in a constructive and detailed way, it means that person believes you can take onboard the feedback and make improvements. You can take two types of data from this situation: the actual feedback is one, and the other is a confirmation that your manager believes you can be successful.

2. If you are only receiving positive feedback, then you’re not getting the full story. Many of us have filled out surveys or written reviews after a hotel stay or online purchase. Have you ever found that you write a glowing review about an overall positive experience, even if everything wasn’t perfect? The glowing review is probably still well deserved, but you might be leaving out key data that could help that service provider improve. We all have things we can work on. So if you aren’t receiving any constructive feedback from your manager, ask for it. That person probably has something useful to say, but might be understandably distracted by the numerous amazing things you do.

3. It’s okay not to be perfect. As a business, we are focusing on customer behavioural data because we want to know both what our customers want, and where they encounter frustrations and obstacles. It’s great to hear positive things, and we can do our best to identify creative ways to do things better – but there’s tremendous value in obtaining truly reflective data on how a really good offering can become great. The same is true for personal development. It’s not easy to hear negative or constructive things about yourself, but not knowing about your weaknesses doesn’t make them untrue; it just means you don’t have the opportunity to work on them.

4. Positive feedback is as important as constructive feedback. I’ve said a lot about constructive feedback, but encouragement and praise are just as important (and more so in some cases). If we only have data on what we’re doing wrong, then we have no way of knowing which things are working, what we should continue, and what features or qualities should be extended for even further reach. Similarly, if you’ve personally worked hard and done well, you should receive acknowledgement for that. It can be easy as managers and colleagues to lose sight of giving positive feedback, because when people are performing well, they tend to need less attention and direction.

5. You are never done growing. If you think about the colleague whom you consider to be the smartest, most experienced, and most successful, you might imagine that he or she has reached the height of learning and growth. We all need feedback and guidance, and that’s a unifying factor for all of us, from the newest employee to the CEO and from the newest product to the flagship product. Of course, our expectations and the nature of the feedback we receive change as time goes on, but feedback is a constant.

 As individuals we should be hungry for feedback in the same way that our businesses are hungry for user and behavioural data. Putting a focus on feedback is beneficial for career development, relationship building, and personal growth. If we are able to take in the feedback, analyse it, and evolve what we do, then it becomes an incredibly powerful tool.

Meredith Adinolfi is director of production at Cell Press