"Feedback as Investment” Enables Results and Relationships


We know the relationships between people giving and getting feedback matter a lot. The relationship impacts how the intent behind the feedback is read and the tone in which it is offered. We also know that people with the best relationships invest in those relationships. Too many manager-subordinate or peer-colleague relationships are suboptimal because people don’t put the work in. When spoken authentically and with care, whether positive or critical, feedback helps people know what they need from each other. Feedback is a “marble in the jar,” to borrow Brené Brown’s phrase (Brené Brown's Anatomy of Trust). These small moments build trust over time.

By simply letting the gift metaphor go, and talking about “feedback as an investment,” we can change thinking and inspire desired leader behaviors. It clarifies what the leaders’ job is and isn’t. Investing is not to make anyone perfect or to over-focus on flaws (“no perfect deals, no perfect people”); it is to generate more value. The intention is to get results and to build a relationship, not just delivering a well-packaged message. This idea also supports a more emotionally intelligent way of prepping feedback – not just prepping the message, but thinking how it will be received and whether it will get the desired result. In sum, the leaders’ job is to engage human capital assets to deliver more than incremental gains, to see people through the challenges to higher returns, not just to gift them with pearls of wisdom along the way. 

In addition, this mindset can slow our brains down to challenge implicit biases. To the extent that we might too quickly judge someone as not-quite-right or lacking, an investor mindset slows our brains down and makes us also remember that “She really is great about this sort of thing” or “I do see him doing that really well in another context.”

Last, if you want to be a mentor or ally or sponsor, this kind of thinking serves you. Who are you investing in? How diverse are the people you are developing as a leader? Invest wisely and be a force for good.

Catherine Flavin