When I asked Joey, a good friend from school, to write about his experience as a young professional, I didn't exactly know what would end up in my inbox. I was excited to receive his story about feedback because it really made me think about the kind of feedback I've received in my own career. Whether it's good or bad, all feedback is good feedback. What Joey tells us is that in some cases, you will not get it if you don't seek it. So get out there and seek feedback if that's what you need to grow!
Leaving the universe of academia is a big change. You go from a world where each paper you submit or comment you make receives feedback or a grade. Professors are available for every question, fellow classmates are eager to work with you, you know what assignments are due and when, and the list goes on. Then, you enter the real world, and suddenly the feedback structure that you became accustomed to disappears. The structure that facilitated your learning no longer exists and you have to find a way to adapt. This is where sharing my story could provide you some guidance. I was quite fortunate that my first two roles out of undergraduate provided structure and constant feedback. Immediately upon graduation from undergrad, I commissioned as an officer in the US Army Reserves as a Second Lieutenant. The following summer I worked as a recruiter at my alma mater and shortly after completed my three-month officer training course. During the first 6 months of military work, I thrived. The full-time Army lifestyle was similar to college where I constantly received feedback and there was a clear structure of my duties and responsibilities. I would work out every day and had a Physical Training (PT) Test every month where I received a grade on my physical fitness. On my first day as a recruiter, I received clear guidance and detailed expectations to succeed in my role. Additionally, I met with my superiors weekly to check-in on my progress. After every planned event in the Army, an After-Action Review (AAR) is performed to go over what went right and what went wrong. The Army environment is filled with feedback and ultimately leads to continuous growth and improvement on a personal and team level. Unfortunately, during this time, I didn’t value the level of feedback I received. After completing my training with the military, it was time to transition to a new career. I knew that I wanted to work in an environment where I would solve a lot of different problems and would have the tools to solve them efficiently. I was drawn to a boutique consulting firm in Greenville, SC. In retrospect, the experience was phenomenal, and I was thrown into situations where I had to learn quickly. I made mistakes, but the company had a strong culture of feedback which enabled me to learn. Much like the Army AAR practice, we recorded our lessons learned (“LeLe’s”) after every project and utilized any relevant LeLe’s on any new projects in the pipeline. I even had weekly one-on-one meetings to review my client work progress with my manager, and I attended weekly training to improve my technical and soft skills. After only a short period of time, I was adding value to the firm by creating solutions to help improve internal processes. Again, I found myself in an organization that was thriving off of feedback. However, my feedback-rich environment disappeared in 2018 when I pursued an opportunity at a venture capital firm in Durham, NC, only 30 minutes from my family. It had been six years since I was near my family and the idea of working to grow early-stage businesses excited me, so I packed up my life and moved. “You don’t know what you don’t know” - Socrates.
What I didn’t know when I entered this new role was many of the things that attracted me to this company, such as a small team and no bureaucracy, rattled my confidence. Though in my past roles I worked alone on many projects, I always had a formal feedback system that would update me on my progress. My goals were clearly outlined, making it easy to measure my progress. However, when I started at the VC firm, I was immediately hit with the realization that I was working in a much smaller company environment. The typical chain of command structure was replaced with a lateral decision-making structure and there were limited guidelines and procedures on how things should be done. I was left navigating a very ambiguous work environment. Until this point, feedback was never something I had to solicit, and suddenly I was thrust into an environment where there was no formal feedback structure. At the time, I didn’t realize how much I relied on structured feedback. I started to become self-critical, and ironically it wasn’t because I received negative feedback, but rather that I didn’t receive direct feedback. I allowed myself to make assumptions, thinking I was not qualified. Fortunately, I had an invaluable resource; a girlfriend (now fiancé) who happens to also be a counselor. With her guidance, I was able to identify that my challenge was rooted in the lack of feedback. That is when I decided to take an obstacle and turn it into an opportunity. I implemented a system that involved scheduling regular one on one meetings with co-workers and solicited feedback from the team. Through this process, I grew much closer to the team, identified my strengths, and most importantly identified that the lack of feedback did not mean I was underperforming. Eventually, I found myself more satisfied with each day. When I reflect on the first few years as a postgraduate, my advice is simple; rigorously seek feedback. Seek and accept feedback in the obvious places where it is given, and if the feedback is not obvious, set up your own mechanisms to get the answers you need. As a leader, feedback is critical to your development whether there is a formal structure in place or not.
YoPro Know's Takeaways
- Actively seek feedback
- If you work for a company that does not have a formal feedback system, don't be afraid to set up one-on-one meetings with co-workers and ask them for their feedback
- Feedback is meant to help you develop as a professional, it does not mean that you are not good at your job
Connect with the author: Joey White