Once you’ve been working for a while, you’ll have been through many feedback exercises, and I’m no different in that respect. Solicited or unsolicited, formal or informal, developmental or critical… Many organisations require ‘360 degree’ input, from those below you, at the same level as you, and above you, aiming for a holistic perspective. And, there’s also the feedback we get on a daily basis, reactions from the audience to our presentations, smiles or frowns in the corridors, body language in meetings, responses to our emails… Lots of input if we’re open to it, but it can be overwhelming. What’s a healthy way to approach feedback?
When we actively seek input from others and ask for their advice, it makes us feel collaborative, humble and connected with them. Indeed, we strongly suggest gathering feedback as part of preparing for your performance appraisal as it provides supporting evidence for your conversation with your manager, including reactions from customers, praise from colleagues or suggestions for improvements.
It is natural that a wide range of views will contain conflicting responses too, partly because different people see you in different situations and they each have their own preferences – more on this later. The key is in assessing which is ‘outlier’ feedback and which are common threads that require attention from you.
For example, I recall how years ago one of my team told me that I’d regularly ask him for feedback, but then wouldn’t do what he suggested. I was taken aback, believing that my requests for input were genuine. Upon reflection, I realised that he was talking about how he felt that I should come into work early like him as well as greet him cheerily to get the day off to a good start. I’m so not a morning person, so a ‘good start’ for me is to ease slowly into the day, warming up by midmorning aided by caffeine. I don’t see the morning commute as a joyous experience nor bound into the office eager to attack my to-do list. He saw this as disrespectful to him though, and once suggested that when the clocks shifted for daylight savings time, I should use that as an opportunity to come into work earlier until the clocks shifted again! The night owls among you will attest how impossible cheery mornings are for us.
Read more to see why feedback isn’t actually about you, why it is still incredibly important, and who to listen most intently to.
Behind every successful individual, there is a squad of supporters who’ve contributed in different ways over the years: inspiring them to realise their potential, spurring them on when the going gets tough, or celebrating the wins along the journey. Mentors, bosses, colleagues, coaches, champions… Each supporter brings different skills, experiences and perspectives to bear as they grow.
Behind every successful individual, there is a squad of supporters… Mentors, bosses, colleagues, coaches, champions…”
At Protagion, we often advise our proteges to build their own ‘board’ of individuals with diverse insights – we find this offers invaluable reinforcement for achieving professional career goals as well as other life goals. Speaking regularly with the members of our personal board helps us to refine our ideas, challenge our assumptions and hold ourselves accountable to others. Connecting with them guides us to consider the regular improvements we make in the context of our aspirational longer-term goals, and allows us to gather input to course-correct as we proceed, learning from others’ experiences and suggestions.
Examples of different mentors and coaches include: aspirational mentors, skills mentors, leadership coaches, technical mentors, professionalism mentors, purpose coaches, robo mentors and more…
Leadership coach, Daphna Horowitz, refers to her own support squad as her “A-Team” and says they help her be at the top of her game. The members of her A-Team are:
If you’re developing people you need to begin with developing yourself… your knowledge, skills and personal effectiveness…”
Daphna also climbed Kilimanjaro in 2012, and wrote a book about her experiences, describing it as a “life-transforming journey for me. In every step I took, I was drawn to the parallels between the climb and leadership.” In her blog about her preparation, she referred to her “Kili training coach” too who helped her prepare physically and mentally. “Climbing Kilimanjaro was an experience of extremes – the toughest thing I’ve ever done and the most beautiful.” In the book, she thanks too the “amazing team of climbers, guides and porters who made this trip possible” and her “writing coach and mentor” who helped her share her experiences with others through her book.
I’m proud of the fact that while the Kilimanjaro trip is a personal journey of meaning and growth, it is also about a cause that is larger than myself. This trip is about inspiring women in challenging circumstances to know that anything is possible, one step at a time”
For more on this topic of assembling your own board, see our article “Mentorship: the value of a Personal Board of Advisors”. In it, we thank Protagion’s own advisors, and touch on Glenn Leibowitz’s views including his summary of an MIT Sloan Management Review article’s recommendations on developing self-awareness and diversifying your network. We also share Eric Barker’s thoughts on picking mentors, and reference Daniel Coyle’s ideas on desirable characteristics for mentors.
To explore the mentors and coaches available on the Protagion platform for your own board, sign up as a protege. Once you’ve logged into your protege account, select "Connect with Mentors" from the menu on the top-right to browse the headlines of the mentors and coaches available. Select each one you want to engage with from the list to see their detailed information, and "Book a Session" to book time with them, selecting a timeslot from the calendar and providing your payment card details.
Life is full of cycles. Round and round. Over and over again… Or perhaps I just notice them more often because of my professional training?
Two elements which immediately come to mind as fundamental to actuarial training are (i) models, such as financial models, and (ii) the control cycle. A key lesson drummed into us from very early on is that models are simply representations of reality, although they can be very helpful i.e. “All models are wrong. Some are useful.” They depend heavily on the chosen structure for the model and the assumptions inputted and should be stress tested to judge where the model may help and where it may fall down.
The second element (the control cycle) permeates much of actuarial thinking as it forms the basis for how actuaries add value. The basic cycle (which in itself is a model!) consists of a series of steps:
1) Identify & Specify the Problem, taking the environment and context into account
2) Develop & Implement the Solution
3) Monitor and Respond to Experience i.e. see how things evolve, improve your understanding of the problem, and update the solution
The fundamental strength of a cyclical approach is that it repeats (rather than being linear and coming to an end once the steps have been ticked off). And, while the control cycle can seem quite analytical/quantitative/technical, it can be abstracted more broadly – more on this later.
Given my professional background and personal interests, I was naturally keen to apply the ‘cycle’ approach to the world of career development. At Protagion, our approach/philosophy is to start with Knowing Yourself, then make Improvements, and Track Your Progress, getting to know yourself better in the process and making further Improvements i.e. repeating the cycle. This mirrors the control cycle above well. Knowing yourself includes understanding your aspirations, motivators and strengths, and reflecting on your career path and goals. Improving yourself involves gathering feedback and suggestions (both self-directed and external), challenging yourself and getting guidance from mentors and coaches. Tracking your progress is to ensure that the steps you are taking move you forward towards your career goals.
While it shares similar elements, a broader approach than ours is the Personal Development Cycle. Under that cyclical model, we each have a “self concept” i.e. how we see ourselves: who we are, what we do, what we’re good at. Next, something happens (positive or negative, and it may be an uncontrolled event) – some direct examples are: illness, loss of a family member, divorce, losing a job, natural disasters, financial crises, feedback from a boss, a significant raise, moving country, starting a new business… These life experiences cause us to reflect i.e. “self examination”, which leads us to new insights e.g. a commitment to spend more time with our families, or an idea to start a new business or side hustle. We then form new “personal expectations” i.e. how we want to behave, and ideally put in place supporting motivation to help us make the changes we aim for. Where our “self development” succeeds, it leads to an updated “self concept” i.e. personal growth changes us. In effect, maturing/growing is about going through cycles of learning & updating our self concept. It is important to note too that the prompt events causing us to examine ourselves can be indirect e.g. learning from others’ experiences (such as those of mentors), or exploring our inner drives and imagining possible situations (perhaps with the support of a coach). Although not as intense, learning from others can be significantly faster than direct experience, partly because there are more opportunities to learn from and we can dive into the lessons rather than living through the pain or joy of the event itself.
Control cycles: inner and outer
Back to the actuarial control cycle: the original control cycle is analytical in nature, and has been expanded into two separate, but related, cycles by Jules Gribble and Lesley Traverso. Jules is an actuary by profession (a Fellow of the Society of Actuaries (FSA) in the US and Fellow of the Institute of Actuaries of Australia (FIAA)) and Lesley has a recruitment background and is director of Talent Insights Group in Sydney. They posit that using two separate cycles “makes it clear that it is a process... to be applied in multiple and diverse areas”. The original control cycle is used as the inner cycle, focusing on technical skills: “The steps [1-3 earlier] can be rephrased as ‘What do you want to do’, ‘Attempt to do it’ and ‘See if it worked (and if not redress the issues)’.”
The second, outer cycle looks at broader issues around the inner model, and focuses more on ‘softer’ skills which pick up on behavioural, cultural and ethical matters i.e. it covers aspects like governance, interpretation and communication, and is more strategic and qualitative in nature. It requires synthesis of models used in the inner cycle and interpretation of results in a broader context to inform decision makers. The two-cycle approach implies a blend of specialist/analytical skill and generalist/interpretative skill is important – a topic explored in our past article on Specialising vs Generalising as a Career Strategy.
Application to career management
This approach of dual levels of detail in the overall process can be applied to career management and personal development too. The inner cycle concentrates on the individual actions on a regular basis, concrete steps to take (and track) towards your career goals like a promotion or new skills to master. However, the Know, Improve, Track (in Protagion terminology) framework can be applied at an abstracted, outer level too i.e. a strategic perspective on your career, including broad concepts like purpose and meaning. Do you fully appreciate your long-term resonating goals and are your compounded short-term actions leading you to achieve them?
This post has concentrated on elements from my actuarial professional background and corollaries in career development. Do similar cycles exist in other professions? Please share your thoughts in the comments. For example, I don’t recall such cycles being part of my Chartered Financial Analyst studies (barring economic cycles) – but that may be my memory… For example, reflective practice in the medical profession is one application of steps 1-3 in a continuing professional development context. Which others have you come across in your professional experiences?