Dove is really ‘cleaning up’ in the media these days. Following up on its controversial ‘real beauty’ campaign of recent years, the company has launched another powerful, media-savvy initiative.
The Real Beauty Sketches project is based upon the work of Gil Zamora, a forensic artist tasked with blindly sketching comparative images of women based upon their own descriptions of their facial features and the descriptions of others. In case after case, the illustrations that resulted from the description of a stranger was considerably more attractive than the ones generated by a woman’s own description of herself. The punchline is that women don’t recognize and appreciate their own beauty.
This sort of skewed personal perception isn’t the exclusive purview of beauty nor women. As I see it, this social experiment can be generalized to underscore the potential inaccuracies and blind spots we all have… and the value of another, more objective viewpoint.
As I see it, this social experiment can also serve as a powerful reminder of the importance of feedback in the workplace.
Day-in and day-out, employees toil away, offering their contributions to the customer, the process, and/or the organization. They calibrate their efforts based upon their own personal assessments of their behavior and performance. Yet, those assessments may be as off-base as the Dove women’s descriptions of their faces.
What employees need is that ‘second sketch’, the more objective description of how they’re doing… from the vantage point of the supervisor or leader. Sometimes (like the Dove women), employees don’t appreciate the quality of their performance, the magnitude of their contributions, or the value of their service. Savvy leaders offer recognition and positive feedback to help bridge the perception gaps in their cases. In the process, they unleash greater confidence, engagement, and capacity in these workers.
Sometimes it works the other way. The employee’s perception of their performance is more beautiful than how the leader sees it. In these cases, it’s critical to offer constructive feedback. These employees need to see things from their leaders’ eyes, generating a more objective understanding of where their efforts don’t meet expectations and how to address the gap.
Candid feedback can be as powerful to employees as the stranger-generated sketches were to many of the women involved in the Dove project. Constructive conversations about performance can hold up a mirror to employees, helping them get a clearer picture of how their doing and how they can excel. And that’s certainly a beautiful thing.