Reflections from Wallace Center's ED: The Value of Feedback
2019 arrived with a bang. For what can be a slower part of the year for some organizations, after a rush of post-holiday campaigns, end of year fundraisers, and fiscal year close-outs, the reality was quite different at the Wallace Center. As soon as January arrived, our teams launched into strategic planning prep and dispersed all over the country to facilitate trainings, attend conferences, and participate in working group meetings.
As part of the new year, we also engaged in a familiar process- the annual review. Our team at Wallace takes this process very seriously. We review previous year’s goals, asses them, and rank our outcomes. Before we jump into planning for the new year, we also have a relatively new practice called the “multi-rater”. This practice involves inviting individuals other than direct supervisors to provide us with 360 degree feedback on our performance in several key areas, including a ranking of said areas. This process is voluntary and anonymous, wherein the rater we invite to assess us sends their feedback to the supervisor of the person who requested the review. Sounds a bit nerve wracking, no?
This year, as Wallace Center’s new Executive Director (having been Wallace’s Program Director the prior two years), I decided to invite the full Wallace Center team to assess my performance and rate me. This included my peer, staff who report to me, as well as staff who don’t report to me but interact with me in a variety of ways. Having worked with everyone on the team before but being in a new role, I wanted to seek frank and constructive feedback on my strengths and things I do that the team finds valuable, as well as areas I could improve in or modify.
Since the multi-rater process is both voluntary and can be time-consuming, I wasn’t sure what to expect- I assumed that a handful of staff would take me up; probably the folks that work with me directly every day. What resulted, however, was the majority of the team taking me up on my ask. When all reviews were collected and aggregated by category, I received an eleven page, single-spaced document. My heart skipped a beat… Being confronted with that volume of feedback, a mix of concern and anxiety flushed through me. I quickly opened up the document of staff feedback and dove in.
You may be wondering what the feedback was and how I reacted to it. I’ll say this- it was honest and constructive. There was praise if it was due, along with reflections on my work, how it affected each team member differently, areas where I could improve, and things the team wanted me to examine in the new year. Although the exact nature of the feedback may be less relevant to a broader audience, I believe the value of the process and the outcomes would be meaningful for anyone, regardless of position.
Here are some of the key things I learned from a 360 degree, anonymous review process, open to anyone who wished to participate:
1) Receiving feedback is a gift. This may sound corny to some but it’s very true. There is no greater opportunity for a deep self-examination and learning than having individuals who interact with you, in all sorts of different capacities, tell you what you do well and share what you could be doing better.
2) The team’s feedback revealed a number of trends, both positive and ones I should work on. Learning things that come up numerous times is a signal of what to prioritize and pay particular attention to.
3) The feedback also addressed and affirmed things that I’ve been reflecting on privately towards the end of 2018 and planned on modifying in my new role. This was gratifying in that I sensed that I needed to change my focus from a few core things and activities to several new ones. The feedback not only affirmed my thinking of needing to make certain shifts; it also provided me with specific examples of what the team found find most useful and valuable.
4) Although there was feedback that I either expected or didn’t find surprising, there was some feedback that I didn’t anticipate- which uncovered a couple of not so insignificant blind spots. More than anything, receiving feedback on something that you’re unaware of can be pretty raw— and at the same time powerful. After the initial flush of emotion, which quickly subsides, stepping outside of yourself to reflect on the information and examine the intent with which it was given, a bigger picture emerges. And along with it, a quiet but deep appreciation for receiving something that will help you become a better version of yourself.
5) Finally, the 360 review process affirmed something that we’ve recently been working on at the Wallace Center- that being the creation of a culture wherein feedback is shared regularly, at all levels, and in the spirit of solidarity and growth. It’s not always easy to give or receive feedback, but after learning how to do it with honesty, humility, and grace, it’s incredibly powerful and everyone is better off for it.
By Lucy Jodlowska, ED, Wallace Center