Why Feedback Shouldn’t Look A Commencement Speech

Any day now, our social media feeds will be full of must-watch commencement videos. We will see business moguls, community and political leaders, and Hollywood stars all dispensing their heartfelt advice to the Class of 2023. The speeches will be uplifting and brimming with guidance on becoming a better citizen of the world and how to live purposeful lives.

As we sit in the packed arena, amid all the pomp and circumstance, we feel inspired and certain that we will take the speaker’s wise words to heart and integrate their lessons into our lives. However, shortly after, we will get up, push through the crowd back to our cars, and despite our best intentions, the words will be forgotten. The lessons that inspired us just minutes ago won’t even make it out of the parking lot. And therein lies the lesson.

Real learning- the kind that sticks with you- doesn’t happen in just one moment because of a single interaction or speech. Instead, we learn when the guidance is frequent, connected to a recent behavior or experience, and when there is an opportunity for honest dialogue.

But unfortunately, too often, we receive feedback from our managers just once or twice a year. And it’s just not enough.

If you want me to present more confidently in client meetings, then please ask to speak with me in the day or two after the meeting and help me understand the specific behaviors I should try to help me project more confidence next time.

If you are frustrated because I consistently miss deadlines, I want you to inform me how significantly this impacts you and others and firmly remind me that you expect me to meet the deadline unless I have given you advance notice about a problem.

If you are impressed with the level of detail I included in a quarterly report, then I need you to tell me how these details enhanced the team’s understanding of the financials and that I should continue to include this information in future reports.

Without your frequent feedback, I am operating in the dark— I don’t know what I’m doing well or where I need to course correct. However, with your feedback, I will be more productive and deliver better outcomes. It will also communicate your investment in my professional success, and knowing that will likely make me want to stick around.

Commencement speeches can be wonderful, but performance feedback should look nothing like a graduation speech. No pomp. No circumstance. Just direct, frequent, and meaningful conversations that let me know how I’m doing. And without question, that is what will help me grow and contribute far more than any commencement speech.

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