A graduate course required a case study to be submitted every week. A grade was given, no comments were provided, and no discussion occurred in the classroom. Over the duration of the course, little noticeable improvement occurred in quality of the cases submitted or grade received. In another course, the instructor read sample comments from each case after the first submittal. Numerous comments appeared on the cases handed back to the students each week. Both the quality of submittals and grades received made remarkable improvement during the course.
This lesson made an indelible impact on me about the power of feedback. Every project manager (and manager of project managers) has this tool in their toolkit: if they decide to use it. Career development occurs when people get feedback on what they do well as well as receive suggestions for how to do things better. This tool is so powerful that it can even dwarf or minimize the need to point out what people do wrong. By reinforcing strengths, weaknesses fall by the wayside.
High performing teams are ones who regularly submit their work to each other in order to improve it. They are less competitive and more collaborative. No one is expected to get the work right the first time and on their own. Excellent results come from peer reviews, driven by a shared value of accountability for the success of the team, project, or organization.
Unfortunately, many people feel compelled to correct the failings of others. Instead, there is greater potential to excel and achieve greater results when people invoke the feedback tool to reinforce positive efforts.
Why do people play games for hours or work so hard for a competitive event? Because they get a score. This feedback is a motivating factor. Why not use the same approach in project management?
Given that most professionals have some discretionary control over what they work on or where they spend their time and that they probably have multiple projects to work on, how can project managers get stakeholders to give top priority to their projects? This question has multiple answers, and, in practice, most people are well served by asking the question every day throughout their careers and in finding unique answers for each individual they need to work with.
While there is no one right answer, a best practice answer is to provide more feedback. In an environment where feedback is scarce, a person stands out who regularly and promptly provides constructive responses. Early feedback that corrects the use of a repetitive methodology is always welcomed because it saves on rework. Suggestions to revise the order of material presented are wonderful because these represent easy corrections that immensely improve value. A person who takes the time to provide this feedback may be treasured as a rare commodity.
Other feedback may be comments on a report or paper, questions that prompt additional forms of inquiry, statements about what works well or invokes interest and could be expanded, pointing out areas of work that are unclear, and enthusiastic support for a course of action. Hardly anyone appreciates a leader whose “lights are on but nobody answers the doorbell.” Instead, make it a high priority to respond to every inquiry, share what thinking processes are going on, develop and use consistent criteria for decision-making, communicate all news whether good or bad, provide reflective answers to questions, tame anxiety responses and provide space for others to come through, and generally become known for quality responses. Appreciate the ebb and flow of team dynamics: using discretion about when to push and when to let a natural energy drive the process. These steps demonstrate that the leader is paying attention to the people responsible for success.
The case for feedback hinges on establishing shared values and putting them into practice. The results will be extraordinary. Early in each project, take the time to emphasize the importance of each person’s contribution. Make explicit commitments to be accountable for overall success and to extract the optimum contribution from each other. Demonstrate these values profusely every day, both by soliciting feedback from and providing it to others.
Here’s to a goal of providing more feedback! Randy Englund www.englundpmc.com.