Ask for improvements, not feedback

Your work can be better. Mine can be, too.

I want to be intentional about excellence. I want our team to decide that we are going to value excellent work and pursue excellence in our own output. And here’s the tool to make it happen:

Improve the work, not the worker. Seek improvement over feedback.

Nobody likes to be criticized, and most of us feel uncomfortable criticizing co-workers. And since we strongly associate the work and the worker, we avoid criticism of our own work and tolerate average output from those around us, even when we know we could help make it better.

We can avoid becoming a culture of mediocrity if we all agree to value excellent work. And a few simple process and vocabulary changes can make it a comfortable growth experience, not a painful critique.

Ask for help improving your work. Ask your co-workers, your supervisor, or anyone who might be able to help. Don’t ask “Is this good enough?” or “Do you like it?” Ask, “How can this be better?” Even if you think it’s perfect already.

This simple change in phrasing gives others permission to help you improve your work without criticizing you. It doesn’t assume there’s something wrong with the work. It is just an invitation for suggestions on how to make it better. And that’s no criticism at all, because everything can always be better.

And when you ask for help, you demonstrate that you want to do better work. That’s an important message to be sending out, and means you’ll get maximum help doing a better job, instead of the minimal feedback needed to stay out of trouble.

Let’s pursue excellence, and let’s not be afraid to expect excellence from each other. Let’s have the courage to say “I think that can be better,” the humility to ask “How can this be better?”, and the wisdom to know that it’s a privilege to be part of a great team working hard to be better all the time.

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