The Best Gift for Executives? Feedback

The best gift you can give your executives who may appear to “have everything” is the gift of feedback. Chances are, they don’t have it.In my experience, most executives don’t receive feedback because it’s a hard gift to give. After all, executives tend to be successful, smart and confident people. And they’re in positions of power — namely, positions of power over people’s careers. So, barring a resolute and inviting effort on the part of executives, the valuable gift of feedback goes unopened.


Now is the perfect time for leadership teams to reflect on the state of executive feedback, or lack thereof, within their organization. Why? Because effective and frequent executive feedback is like a gift that keeps on giving. Providing executives with accurate feedback can not only improve their individual performance but can also stimulate business growth.


In fact, a 2017 study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior found that CEOs who encourage feedback on his or her performance can help improve the confidence of top management (and in turn benefit the company’s performance). I’ve compiled four rules to follow when giving feedback to executives. Whether you are an executive leader or a leader of executive leaders, follow these four rules when giving the gift of feedback to your leadership team.


1. Use data to support your feedback.

Executive feedback, like feedback at all levels, should be given in real-time as much as possible. The ability to point to a specific action or behavior that was recently noted and how to improve it can be powerful. If there is a specific metric you can point to that will help convey the problem or feedback area, then come to the meeting with a report that highlights the data.


2. Establish clear goals and expectations with a timeline following the feedback.

Present negative feedback as a means of improvement, not a character flaw. Try framing your feedback in the context of accomplishing shared goals as part of the same team. Make sure to provide specific, actionable suggestions. Work with the executive to build an action plan as a follow-up to receiving feedback. This will give the feedback more meaning and help hold the leader accountable for any changes they wish to make to their behavior.


3. Choose an appropriate setting for feedback.

Set the stage for receiving feedback by choosing an appropriate setting. In a survey from Harvard Business Review, 74% of those surveyed were aware of the problem area and weren’t surprised by the feedback. While you might think leaders, in particular, may not be good at receiving feedback, there is a high likelihood that they are. This makes choosing an appropriate setting even more important. Seek out a private safe space to deliver feedback to the executive.


4. Don’t wait for a special occasion.

Often when executive feedback does exist within an organization, it is only provided during year-end reviews or as part of a 360-degree-feedback process. I believe this presents several problems, including the potential to upset an executive who may be surprised to hear of criticisms in their leadership style they were unaware existed.

In addition to real-time feedback, set aside time monthly or quarterly to solicit feedback from their subordinates and peers. This not only provides more transparency into ongoing performance but also the opportunity to more immediately address potential development needs.

When it comes down to it, the foundation of feedback giving is simple: It’s talking, communicating and sharing. Although it is simple, the range of benefits to any organization is broad, varied and far-reaching. In my experience, truly great leadership teams recognize the rewards of robust feedback and an environment of accountability. When you give executives the gift of feedback, you’ll not only positively impact their performance, but you’ll improve decision making, strengthen team member relationships and encourage valuable feedback among the rest of the organization.