It is difficult for us to gauge the true impact we have on others and on events. It requires the ability to see oneself objectively, as if you were watching yourself. Not everyone possesses this ability.
Within Apple’s halls, “Feedback is a gift.”
Feedback for most of us is elusive. We do not give, nor receive, much honest feedback. There is a saying within Apple’s halls, “Feedback is a gift.” While it would be hard for most to characterize negative feedback as a gift, at least we know where we stand and what we have to improve. If someone chose to remain silent and say nothing, it would be logical to assume that we’re on the right path, doing the right things. If you’re doing something wrong, you need someone to point it out to you.
Think about when you’re first starting something new. Without proper context, you’re simply grasping at straws. Unless you actively seek out people to compare yourself to — usually not a problem for any of us — you don’t know what the standard is. It’s rare to find someone doing something original or unique even if we think we might be. There are others that have come before us, creating and contributing, some setting the standard.
For the performing artist, the feedback is immediate and in-person. At the end of the performance (or in the middle), they receive an ovation for their work. Even in practice or in rehearsals, they receive immediate feedback from their director. (Director’s are never shy in giving direct feedback and constructive criticism.) It is hard to beat direct, in-person feedback. You know immediately where you stand and the difference you’re making (or not). This is the path to growth, to improvement. Note how much better we can get with a few more stage directions. It may not take much to vastly improve our performance with just a few more rehearsals.
Artists may not know the breadth of their impact.
When someone is new to standup comedy, they may begin their early sets doing impressions. This is a common way to start when you have not yet found your own voice. Some think impressions are a hack (within the negative context), but they are a way to get to the stage. And some audiences still love them. It isn’t that the impressions haven’t been done before. They’ve been done since vaudeville. It is that someone new to standup may rely on what has got them there so far. Someone new to standup can likely recite one of their comedy hero’s acts entirely. Our heroes inspire us to get into the act whether they know it or not. They don’t know the breadth of impact their act has upon others.
Experienced weightlifters talk about the value in hiring a coach even if you think you know what you’re doing. You can think and feel that you’re lifting the dumbbells properly but you may not be. Unless you have a keen, honest eye and a mirror, it is likely you’re missing something in your form. An experienced coach can see, analyze, and provide feedback to the weightlifter that he’s been missing for years. All this time he’s been lifting the weights and doing the reps somewhat improperly. While this may not sound like a big deal, improper weight movement — especially when done to excess — may result in injury. Within this context, direct feedback has positive impact even if it may be hard to take. The coach’s impact includes not only injury prevention, but accountability and greater gym success as well.
Not all of us are so lucky to get this kind of direct, constructive feedback regularly. We’re feeling our way through the dark. We’re throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks. We go to the gym and lift random weights at random reps. We’re trying new things and seeing whether people like them. Note that it is OK to go about our business like this. There’s never anything wrong with trying new things or being creative in getting things done. The problem is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. It is like doing 500 pushups a day and expecting to be an excellent runner as a result of doing them. Direct, honest feedback corrects our behavior of doing the same wrong thing over and over again, like improperly lifting the weights set after set.
Look at marketing. Many businesses have only one method of customer acquisition. They only do email marketing. They only do direct mail. They only do trade shows. They only do referrals. They only do ads on TV. They only do print ads. It would be far better for these businesses to do a blend of these different channels to gauge which ones would work best for them. If you’re only doing one of these, you cannot know the true impact you have on your market or cohort of people. If you’re only doing one of these, you may not know your market very well. The business that knows its market best wins.
Think what you will of social media, but it is a great mechanism to receive immediate feedback and to perform tests on cohorts of people. This sort of testing was difficult to accomplish without a list of people to try it on or within a specific focus group of 12 individuals, and even then, you’d have to do multiple rounds of testing. Social media metrics give us rapid results and a gauge on impact. The analytics let you know where you stand.
Get as close to your customers as possible.
A great way to gauge your impact with your customers is to get as close to them as possible. Get to know them well. Take them out to dinner. Actively listen to the way they talk and the exact words they use to describe things. Let them do the majority of the talking. Find out what matters to them most. Find out what a win for them looks like.
A great opportunity to do this is at a customer (or prospect) training you hold. Survey them to find out early what it is they want to learn or where they are struggling. Also, tell them that this will be a great way for them to share success ideas and what’s working now for them. They will love the sharing involved and helping others who are struggling with the same topic. You act as the facilitator and the connector, someone who brings people together with common goals. Then, after the event is finished, send a quick personal email to each of the training participants and ask them what they liked, what they didn’t like, and what you can do better next time, the easy post-mortem. From here, you can gauge your impact. We are often surprised at what people will share if we simply ask.
Our personal and professional lives are enhanced when we have a good read on our impact on others. The positivity augments our engagement and joy in our work. It makes us want to give more and perform at a higher level. Honest, direct feedback can propel us forward to further success than we can without it.