When and/or how do I ask for feedback at work?
August 5, 2008 7:35 PM   Subscribe

Have you initiated asking your boss for feedback on your job? When is the time to do it, and how's it done?

I have recently transitioned from lab-bench academia to administrative-ish-but-we're-all-still-geeks academia. In graduate school I always had problems knowing if I was doing well, doing enough work or producing enough data, especially with a lab adviser who rarely gave regular feedback on my progress. Therefore, I definitely would like to generate regular feedback from my current, new supervisor. I do worry about sounding somewhat "needy" however, or begging for compliments (I have a sneaking suspicion I am prone to such behaviours.) So how does one go about initiating asking for feedback, if at all?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Yes...it's called a quarterly/annual review...or it's called lunch. You can pick one, see if there's a policy on the first and if not, choose the second.
posted by parmanparman at 7:48 PM on August 5, 2008

"Heya, I'm so close to my work right now that I could use an outside viewpoint in case I lose the big picture in the details. Can I set up a time with you tomorrow to hear your thoughts on my work/progess so far? I'm especially interested in any things you think might have the potential to becomes problems later down the track if not caught early."

And if the next day, you're given a huge and ominous list of your shortcomings and faults, then it will be entirely understandable if you also ask whether this means you're seriously underperforming, or whether it means s/he's being super-helpful by bringing up even the tiniest things.

"Thanks - this stuff is useful. Do you mind if I come to you for this kind of feedback more often?"
posted by -harlequin- at 7:54 PM on August 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

I do it in my weekly 1:1 whenever I think feedback would be helpful (probably monthly). I don't ask always ask for feedback specifically, as sometimes it can be hard for a manager to be open without any prep. The best feedback I get is if a situation comes up during the week, I talk to my boss about it. I explain the situation, my perception (if I think it's accurate or may be bias towards my own views), the actions I took to resolve the situation and if they thought I handled it well or had additional insight on how I could improve. Frequent, informal feedback is very helpful. When formal reviews come up, I know where I stand.
posted by pokeedog at 7:58 PM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Maybe you could schedule a regular weekly meeting to discuss data, review your progress, hash out plans for the next set of experiments, etc. If it's a routine event, it won't seem so awkward, and you can sneak in the feedback requests as part of the general agenda ("Here's what I did last week. Are we moving fast enough? What's the priority for next week?") The to-do list for next week should give you some idea of what's expected in terms of productivity.

Of course, keep in mind that The Powers That Be always want more work out of their employees, no matter how productive they already are. And no matter how hard you work, there's always some maniac down the hall who basically lives in the lab and your boss will always think his group is a buncha lazy slackers, so take the feedback with a grain of salt.
posted by Quietgal at 8:02 PM on August 5, 2008

It's your boss's job to provide feedback; it's part of developing his team.

Just say, "I'm new here and I want to do a good job. Can you give me some feedback?"
posted by 26.2 at 8:57 PM on August 5, 2008

This one is really touchy, anon. One of the most important roles of a supervisor is to give frequent and very specific feedback to people who work for them. Apparently your supervisor isn't doing that for some reason, or isn't doing it enough to satisfy your personal needs.

Without passing any judgement on the capabilities of your supervisor, and without passing judgement on your stated need for a lot of pats on the back, I think it is best you approach it by specifically telling your supervisor that you learn the most and work best when you get frequent and specific feedback, both positive and negative. If your supervisor doesn't increase their feedback to you, I would suggest that you back off. A competent boss would already be doing that. A less experienced supervisor would love that you opened the door for them to feel comfortable in giving frequent feedback. The supervisor who does nothing with your original request isn't likely to ever be a manager, and may be lucky to have the job they have now. Repeated requests for feedback will only remind them that they aren't doing a very good job of supervising.

The fact that you are craving feedback is a wonderful trait in an employee, and I would hope you never lose that desire, even when the feedback you get is not exactly what you were hoping for. Use both the positive and the negative as a road map for continued improvement. You are bound to succeed if you do that. As you get better at what you do, you will get more and more pats on the back, as well as opportunities for advancement or lateral learning. The sky's the limit for those who care to do good work.
posted by LiveLurker at 9:18 PM on August 5, 2008

Schedule a time with your supervisor to go over your performance and if he/she is not pro-active on this going forward, just make sure to take the initiative to schedule something periodically as you see fit. I usually do this either on my 1 on 1s meetings with my boss or if it's been awhile, I'll go ahead and schedule something on my manager's calendar.

With my company's work culture, we just go over this like a regular meeting but depending on yours, you might want to do during lunch or a little less formal than a conference room. Usually I send an email / meeting invite with something like "would like feedback on performance and areas of opportunity for improvements." I try to schedule a few days in advance to give my boss time to mull it over.

Personally, I think asking for feedback is extremely important and has helped my career greatly. It also shows that you care about your work and you do want to do improve, which is important. I don't think any boss would think you are needy as soon as you're asking for feedbacks periodically (and not like, say everyday or on every issue). Since you are in a new role with a new boss, it's expected that you'll ask for more feedbacks at the beginning but as you and your supervisor get to know each other better, it usually decreases. As long as you can take and incorporate the constructive criticisms into your work as well as the positive feedbacks, I don't think you're fishing for compliments at all. I mean, how else will you know if you're doing a good job or not?
posted by vocpanda at 10:24 PM on August 5, 2008

In terms of your specific situation, I think LiveLurker and vocpanda have both got it right. As a general piece of advice, I'd say you should never feel diffident about looking for feedback. It's essential for your growth and effectiveness. The fact that you're not getting the feedback says more about the way you are being managed (and not just by your supervisor) than about you. Dealing with your situation could be tricky but is worth the effort.

You might find a book called: First break all the rules worth reading. In it, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman summarised their extensive research for Gallup into “What makes a strong and vibrant company?” They summarised the results for Gallup, saying: “These twelve questions are the simplest and most accurate way to measure the strength of a workplace.” They proposed that each employee should be asked to rank the following questions on a scale of one to five. From what you've said, I'm sure you'd probably agree with most of these!

1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?

2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?

3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?

4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for good work?

5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?

6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?

7. At work, do my opinions count?

8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel like my work is important?

9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?

10. Do I have a best friend at work?

11. In the last six months, have I talked with someone about my progress?

12. At work, have I had opportunities to grow?

On final note, my day job is in academia so I can empathise with you fully. My experience of working in universities, both as an academic and as a manager, is that these organisations are good at writing paper processes but not so good at using them effectively. That's probably why you'll need to be proactive. Good luck!
posted by the-happy-manager at 1:04 AM on August 6, 2008 [3 favorites]

.... you might also find this pdf useful, but I'll let you decide if you want to read it at work!
posted by the-happy-manager at 1:40 AM on August 6, 2008

I just did that very thing today! I too was concerned about sounding too needy and I basically said, "I just want to check in so that I can correct anything I'm doing incorrectly and know what things I should especially pay attention to working on. I'd also like to know what I'm doing fine with."
Bosses typically appreciate that (at least mine do) as long as you aren't pestering them all the time with this kind of stuff.
posted by Waitwhat at 5:36 PM on August 6, 2008

'I'd like to get some more regular feedback. Can we get together once a month to discuss what you think I'm doing well and what I can improve?"
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:21 AM on August 7, 2008

the more regular you can make your feedback from your supervisor, the better IME. don't be shy about being insistent about it, either, and feel free to try different methods until you find something that works.

I swear, one reason that I had a good relationship with my last boss (in higher ed, btw) is because I was insistent about weekly(-ish) 1-on-1s and annual reviews. so I knew what he was concerned about, and he got to know my strengths & weaknesses. I was somewhat disappointed with others in my dept who b*tched about his managerial style that they hadn't seemed to ever push him at all. that seemed to have made all the difference.

the first time asking might be hard, but if you have a good personal rapport with your supervisor, it should get easier from there. (previous boss & I used to joke about me bugging him for annual review!)
posted by epersonae at 9:04 AM on August 8, 2008

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