The Importance of Feedback for Reaching Career Goals (Yes, You’re Allowed to Ask)

 

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It’s scary to ask for feedback. As skilled as we may think we are at taking constructive criticism, nobody wants to hear that they aren’t living up to expectations (or feel like they don’t know how to improve).

But no matter how unpleasant it might be (and it doesn’t have to be unpleasant at all), if you’ve set career goals for yourself, seeking feedback will prove invaluable for staying on track to reach those goals.

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Once a Year is Not Enough

Most of us only hear substantial feedback in a yearly, hour-long performance review. Think about how much you do in a year—how much you grow, pivot your interests, make mistakes, etc… can you really wrap all that up in an hour?

The longer you go without feedback, the more vague it will become once you do sit down to receive it. 

This works against the grain of career advancement. The more specific your career goals are, the more you will benefit from personalized, real-time feedback.

This is a basic success habit you can’t afford to ignore. If you don’t maintain regular, open communication with your manager, she might not know how to frame her feedback in a way that feels useful to you when the time comes to check in.

Worse yet, you could have spent twelve whole months leading up to your performance review assuming you were moving in the right direction, only to find (when it’s already too late) that you’ve been missing the mark.

To minimize the risk of being blindsided (and to take the pressure off of your performance review), you need to normalize feedback as a part of your manager relationship. Here’s an easy starting point:

Share your career goals with your manager at least once per quarter, and ask simply if there are any points of improvement she sees that could help you move toward them.

This opener is guaranteed to bear constructive feedback, so there is no need to be shy about using it even more often than quarterly.

By communicating what you’re personally working on (especially in terms of clear, attainable SMART goals), you’re providing your manager with a framework to measure success. And the more you do this, the more useful and relevant her feedback will become for the real-time progress you’re making to advance your career.

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It Takes a Village

By asking for feedback, not only from your manager but from your colleagues as well, you’re inviting your team to hold you accountable for reaching your career goals.

Nobody makes it up the ladder alone, and you can only stand to benefit from the insights of the people around you. 

In fact, your colleagues may be able to offer ground-level insights that your higher-ups don’t get to see in the day-to-day: things like your approach to leadership or your communication skills that are best interpreted by the people on the receiving end.

Okay, but what if my goal involves competing against my peers for a promotion or project that’s up for grabs in my department?

Sure, you definitely don’t want to step on anyone’s toes by assuming they will hoist you up ahead of them for opportunities. But while the promotion might be the endgame for both you and your peer, getting there will mean something different to each of you.

Especially if you’ve set career goals with measurable benchmarks and a framework to keep you on track, you can enlist your peers to help you zero in on your progress toward the finer points of your plan without it sounding exclusively advantageous.

In fact, when you accompany the “ask” (feedback) with an offer, you foster a more community-minded workplace… something your manager will take note of and love.

For example, if your ASK is something like this…

“I have that presentation later today, and I’m trying to work on my public speaking skills. Would you mind connecting with me for five minutes afterward to talk about how it went?”

Your OFFER could sound something like this…

“I know you’re presenting later this week also, so I’m happy to do the same for you! Or just let me know if there’s anything you’re working on personally that I might be able to offer feedback on.”

You don’t need to tell your peer that you want to build up your public speaking skills to help improve your shot at the Partnerships Manager promotion, but the feedback she might provide, as well as the reputation you will build from offering the same, will inevitably get you one step closer to that goal.

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You Can Only See So Far Ahead

It can be hard (nearly impossible) to stay motivated when you’re working solo toward a goal.

Relying merely on your own, limited view of your progress feels a little like navigating in the dark, and if you do this for too long, you could very well find yourself further from your goal than when you started.

Checking in with your manager for a quarterly status update is a success habit that will give you an actionable roadmap with clear points to help keep you on track. 

After all, your manager is first in line to make the big decisions that will advance your career—promotions, raises, project opportunities, etc. If there is a gap between how you see your progress and how your manager interprets your performance, then it’s better to know as soon as possible, before that gap turns into a valley you’ll have to work hard to climb out of.

Plus, if you’re committed to your progress, your feedback is likely to be positive! Put the pressure on your daily growth, rather than the idea of the feedback itself, and you’re inevitably going to get more advice and confirmation than critique or criticism. This sort of feedback builds momentum, meaning you reach your career goals faster and more efficiently.

Remember: it’s often the mystery and anticipation that makes feedback so anxiety-provoking. The more you normalize feedback, the more clarity you will have about your image at your org, and the more confidence you will gain that you’re actually making meaningful progress to advance your career.

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By Asking, You’re Telling

No matter the goals you set for your career, having the confidence to actively seek feedback (when many are more than comfortable shying away until their performance review) is a praise-worthy quality that says volumes about your worth as a member of the org. Checking in regularly tells your manager that:

  1. You value and respect her point of view.

  2. You are practical about setting and achieving goals.

  3. You’re transparent about your areas of improvement, and

  4. You’re invested in continuous growth (personal and professional).

These are all highly-appealing qualities for decision-makers, as they can translate to success in pretty much any role you might hold within the org.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming asking for feedback will bring your weaknesses to the surface or purvey the notion that you’re not “self-motivated.”

Seeking feedback isn’t about laying out your flaws; it’s about consistently tailoring your growth to reach your personal goals and improve.

When this becomes a regular habit, the path to your success becomes clearer to everyone around you. Choosing to set SMART goals and advance your career was an independent, self-motivated decision; admitting you can’t always see how far you’ve progressed (because you’re so set on moving forward) is admirably human.

Bottom line: the more you ask for feedback, the more likely you are to nail your job and stay on track for achieving your goals, which means a better relationship with your manager, and, ultimately, more opportunities.

The possibility of hearing negative feedback is always going to be scary, but it will also only drive action and progress if you interpret it constructively. What’s more scary is hearing the same feedback in your performance review and finding you wasted a year’s worth of progress moving in the wrong direction. Consistent feedback builds real-time road signs on the map to scale your dreams.