Who wants some feedback?

shutterstock_227485012I began my career in advertising right out of school as a [very] green account executive. Like most recent grads, I started my career thinking that I knew way more than I actually did. While I had a graduate degree’s worth of book smarts, it turns out I had few of the real-life skills needed to be truly successful at my craft. Through the years I’ve had the pleasure of working with a number of very talented people, but working with junior staff always reminds me of where I started and those skills that I’ve honed over time. I often think about my first creative concept review…

The creative team had just presented a range of concepts in preparation for a client meeting that was a week away. Each of the senior account members provided their feedback and thoughts on the work. Meanwhile, I was sitting at the back of the room quietly, thinking I was only an audience to “the process” until my boss asked me, “Jonathon, what do you think?” I was caught off-guard and I responded in a mumbled way much as a child does when they try to explain why they’re secretly rummaging through the pantry before dinner.

I didn’t understand how my perspective would be valuable to the team and I certainly didn’t think that I could add anything to what the senior staff had already discussed. Further, I never expected the creative team to even consider my opinion. Fortunately, my trepidation was met with reassurance and encouragement from everyone in the room and I managed to stumble through a few half-coherent thoughts.

While I feel that agencies should foster an environment of constant feedback where everyone’s input is valued, on that day I realized that giving feedback is a learned skill. It is important for senior team members to help coach junior staff (and often clients) through the process to ensure appropriate and actionable feedback is given. Encourage participation, questions and challenges through supportive coaching.

As team members become more comfortable giving feedback and understand its value, the entire team is able to grow and achieve better results. As a learned skill, it is important for feedback givers to remember that comments and thoughts should be structured. To give the best feedback, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Know the objective of the feedback session – knowing the desired outcome of the meeting helps guide the type of feedback you should give. If you’re not told the objective at the beginning, then…

  2. Ask questions – knowing why a specific approach was taken will frame your feedback. If you don’t understand something, ask!

  3. Speak your mind – you are the only person with your unique perspective, so share it. Others should be empowered to challenge your position, but don’t hold back your opinion.

  4. Be honest but supportive – sugarcoating responses doesn’t help challenge people to be their best. That said, it doesn’t help anyone if you’re honesty is brutal (unless you just happen to be a jerk).

  5. Get beyond saying “I don’t like that” – be specific in your feedback, get to the “why” behind your opinion so the next round of changes are informed rather than arbitrary simply because “Jonathon just doesn’t like blue.”

Innovative and creative solutions to projects are the result of teams challenging each other, asking smart questions and giving useful feedback. I know that while there is always room to improve the variety of skills we call upon daily, I feel confident when giving feedback, and know that it is both needed and valued. This doesn’t change the fact that I might not like blue, but at least I can tell you why.


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