Adobe For All In Action.
This is the finale of our five-part series about Adobe For All In Action. There are five key dimensions to making Adobe, or any company, a more inclusive place to work:
- Appreciate the Unique: Value the differences in others’ stories and ideas.
- Amplify Others: Help everyone’s voice be heard.
- Enhance the Team: Consider what a new addition will bring that’s different.
- Rethink Routine: Look to equalize meetings, assignments, social events.
- Open Up: Speak up for what you need and encourage feedback.
In this final post in our series, we’re discussing the critical role of feedback and asking for what we need: Open Up.
As children and young adults, most of us went to school. We knew what the rules were — and what would happen if we broke them. We got immediate feedback on a homework assignment, essay, or test, so we could work on doing better the next time. And at the end of the grading period, we got a mark that showed whether we were meeting expectations — for good or bad, we knew where we stood.
Now we’re all grown up and in the work world, the rules are not as clear. A manager or client might tell us how we did on that report/presentation/project, but they might not (or they might not be completely honest about it). We may not have any idea of how we’re doing until our annual performance review.* In 2017, Adobe conducted research and learned that more than 20 percent of U.S. office workers had cried after a performance review (with tears more likely for men than women!). That’s one sure sign of a communication breakdown.
Frequent, constructive feedback is essential for all of us to do our best work and continue to grow our careers. But there is compelling evidence that women do not receive the same quality of feedback as men. This article from the World Economic Forum outlines a number of studies that all point to the same core findings: Women are given less feedback, and lower quality feedback, about their performance. Managers want to avoid hurt feelings or emotional reactions, which may be perceived as more common in women. Women also face higher obstacles relative to perceived performance, as they need to demonstrate both likeability and strong competence – but those two qualities are often viewed as contradictory. Catalyst calls this the double bind, or “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”
There doesn’t seem to be as much data about differences in feedback provided to employees from other underrepresented groups. But this Stanford psychology study from the late 1990s demonstrated the influence of race in the level of constructive feedback provided in an experimental setting. White subjects gave more positive feedback evaluations to fictional essay writers when they thought they were black than when they thought they were white. The author notes, “Inflated praise and insufficient criticism may dissuade minority students from striving toward greater achievement levels and may misrepresent the level of effort and mastery that academic and professional advancement entail.”
Given that constructive feedback is directly actionable for an individual’s career, we all need to take that responsibility seriously. We certainly owe it to our direct reports if we’re a manager, but we also owe it to our peers, stakeholders, and own managers as well.
There are lots of great resources about how to deliver feedback (see this compilation from Harvard Business Review). But beyond delivery, to ensure that feedback is consistent and fair, ask these questions:
Am I providing the same quality of feedback — e.g., specific guidance on areas of improvement and timely examples — regardless of the recipient’s personal traits?
- Am I holding team members to a consistent performance standard, relative to both work deliverables and personal style?
- Would I give this same critical feedback on style (such as, “You come across as too assertive”) if this individual were a different gender or race?
- Am I softening the feedback out of concern that the recipient will otherwise feel hurt or upset?
Once you’re aware of these dynamics, you can change them!
Asking for feedback
As hard as giving feedback can be, asking for it can be even harder. We’re putting ourselves in a vulnerable place. But I like to think of it this way: Would I rather have this person walking around with this negative perception about me, with me totally unaware, or have them tell me so I can address it? When it’s put that way, feedback looks like the better option.
Just like giving feedback, asking for feedback is best when it’s timely. “What could I have done better in that presentation?” “Are you satisfied with how this project is progressing?” “I feel like we aren’t communicating very well, is there something I could be doing differently?” Those conversations allow for real adjustments and learning.
We all have to be our own best advocates, too. If you aren’t receiving the feedback you need, say so! Given the feedback gap I noted earlier, it’s especially important if you’re female or a member of another underrepresented group. Actively asking for feedback — and then acknowledging and thanking the person who gave you the feedback — will make it easier to keep that feedback coming on an ongoing basis.
You should give feedback to your manager as well. Let them know your ambitions and how they can help you get there. Ask for the stretch assignment, and then ask how you did. Share the areas where you want to grow and ask for advice on how to develop in those areas. Outline your long-term ambitions so they understand and can support that path for you. That will position you for opportunities that you may not even know are coming.
To be effective at asking for feedback and speaking up for what you need:
- Ask for feedback in the moment as well as at key points along the year. Don’t wait for an annual review* to learn what you could have done better!
- Ask for feedback when you sense tension or conflict to get to the heart of the issue and resolve it.
- Acknowledge the feedback and thank the person giving it. You may need to explain or clarify something, but try to avoid having a defensive or emotional reaction.
- Share your goals and ask for others’ help in your growth and development so you’re well positioned to seize whatever new opportunities might arise.
Like the other four elements of Adobe For All In Action, the invitation to Open Up isn’t dramatic or difficult. It’s something we all can do better, and it’s a muscle that when exercised will get stronger and more effective.
The power of all of these actions lies in the rhythm of our everyday interactions at work. Whether you’re a senior executive or in your very first job, you can help make your team a place where everyone feels respected and can be themselves. If we all challenge ourselves to make just one small change this year, our collective impact will be immense. Go for it!
*Adobe eliminated performance reviews in 2012 and instituted Check-in, an approach of giving ongoing performance feedback. Read more about Check-in including our open-sourced tools here.