The Power of Feedback by Joe Folkman“I’d like to give you a little feedback” sends shivers up the spine of many people. Sometimes prefaced by a cursory point or two on our strengths or what we did well, most of the feedback centers on what we’ve done wrong or on fixing our weaknesses. Rather than benefiting from the power of feedback, too many people have developed the fear of feedback.

Feedback fear, focusing on weaknesses, misunderstanding what drives profound improvement, and poor coaching skills are keys reasons performance management systems are a huge sore spot in many organizations. Managers often avoid giving performance feedback or doing appraisals because of their bad experiences with giving and receiving feedback. Since most 360 assessments (anonymous ratings from direct reports, peers, manager, and others) focus on weaknesses, some organizations have had such negative experiences with them that they’ve been banned.

Joe Folkman is a renowned expert in psychometrics or measuring psychological factors. He wrote his PhD dissertation on data he collected from 360 assessments. Since then he’s developed feedback and measurement tools around a growing database now compromised of over a half million assessments on almost 50,000 leaders. Long-time feedback, executive coaching, and leadership development clients include AT&T, General Motors, Boeing, ConocoPhillips, CIBC, General Mills, Wells Fargo, and many others.

In The Power of Feedback: 35 Principles for Turning Feedback from Others into Personal and Professional Change Joe draws from his extensive experience and focuses especially on the groundbreaking work he and Jack Zenger began in 2002 when they wrote The Extraordinary Leader: Turning Good Managers into Great Leaders and founded Zenger Folkman. Since The CLEMMER Group became strategic partners with ZF last spring we’ve had experiences with their Strengths-Based Leadership Development System that have profoundly shifted our approaches in helping leaders and organizations use feedback much more productively. The principles Joe outlines in The Power of Feedback provide a refreshing new approach to more positively using feedback as rocket fuel in moving leaders from good to great performance.

The Power of Feedback is based on solid research and filled with very practical and helpful advice for harnessing the power of feedback to become an extraordinary leader. Here are a few of the keys to using feedback in new and much more effective ways:

• Developing highly effective leadership is not the absence of weaknesses but the presence of a few profound strengths.
• A leader can significantly change perceptions of, and responses to, his or her leadership behaviors by asking for feedback, finding out what attributes are most important, and asking for help in developing his or her strengths in those areas from good to great.
• Leaders should consider weaker areas as lesser strengths to be given little attention unless there’s a skill deficiency that overshadows and blocks others from seeing his or her strengths. Then we do need to fix this fatal flaw before we can build strengths.
• Moving a leadership skill or competency from poor to good can be done through traditional development methods. But moving a strength from good to extraordinary can only be done by working on its companion skills. Joe was instrumental in developing cross-training maps for showing how to do that for every key leadership skill found in their research.
• Leaders need to focus on a key leadership strength that will give them the highest leverage for their position. Developing just one profound strength from good to great creates a 24-percentile increase in overall leadership effectiveness!
• To get the biggest benefit from feedback leaders should thank everyone, acknowledge the validity of their feedback, outline what he or she intends to focus on, enlist their help, and find ways to quickly and visibly show behavior changes.

Feedback, like fire, can burn and destroy or warm and energize. A strengths-based approach provides a powerful combustion chamber that’s proven to turbo-charge leadership performance. One of Zenger Folkman’s long term Clients is BARD Access Systems providing vascular devices to the healthcare industry. Vice President of Human Resources, Mary Settle, reflects on their journey to shifting the power of performance feedback:

” … their research caused us to rethink our performance management philosophy. We revamped our process to orient it more toward building employees’ strengths. The results have been remarkable … The biggest change has been in the energy people have for the performance management process. It is now something that most employees look forward to. How many companies can say that?”