Would you rather your feedback formal and infrequent or frequent and informal?
Updated: Sep 4
Charline’s story is unfortunately a common one. She is left wondering how well she’s doing in her job. She delivers, has positive relationships and has a reputation as a boss people like working with. Lately she’s been asking herself why it’s so difficult for her to receive the ongoing feedback she requires to be confident she is on the right track, make progress and feel good about her job. A year is a long time to wait for the formal review.
Charline is not alone. It is well documented that many supervisors and managers procrastinate in providing the feedback employees crave. Admittedly some cultures frown on giving direct feedback to somebody be it positive or negative. But in most cases the issue is about bosses not being in tune with the overwhelmingly positive impact on performance, engagement and retention regular feedback can provide.
Noted emotional intelligence expert and best-selling author Daniel Goleman argues that “feedback lies at the heart of change” and that it forms the “lifeblood of an organization.” Regrettably so many bosses not only shun the news that may be hard to deliver they even avoid the good news feedback that energizes and mobilizes people.
In the current New York Times bestseller Radical Candor - How to be a Kick Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity, Silicon Valley veteran Kim Scott explains that challenging people on their performance or behaviour while showing concern is a winning formula. I agree.
Harvard Negotiation Project co-authors and researchers Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen in their book Thanks for the Feedback clearly establish the three reasons we provide feedback:
To help people understand how they are tracking against expectations and standards enabling them to course correct as required.
To build self-awareness and help people learn.
To show appreciation.
I believe a large part of people’s reluctance to offer both positive and constructive feedback is because they are not confident in their skills in doing so. Here are some suggestions to strengthen your capability and confidence in providing feedback.
Ask permission. I had a great boss who would frequently ask if he could provide me with the “unvarnished truth” about something. His way of saying “can I give you some feedback”. Whether he knew it or not he was practicing an excellent feedback technique that shows respect, gives a sense of control to the recipient and offers them a moment to ready themselves. All three reduce defense mechanisms and allow a better chance for the feedback (or “guidance” as Kim Scott would say) to build the person’s self-awareness and enable them to adjust their performance or behaviour.
Consider using the open face sandwich technique. Supervisors have long been taught to deliver feedback by using the sandwich technique meaning good news, bad news then more good news. Canadian Neuro linguistics expert Shelle Rose Charvet in her excellent book Words That Change Minds reminds us that most people want to hear the unwelcome news first. Try delivering the constructive, harder to hear bits first then the pieces of feedback that would be welcomed and understood as good news.
Close the conversation with an expression of optimism. Whether delivering positive or negative feedback there is a lot to be said for expressing optimism that the person can correct change or fix the behavioural or performance issue or can repeat and build on a positive.
A very savvy businessperson once told me their use of feedback was way more cost-effective than providing raises to staff. His people were very well remunerated, but they were blanketed in a steady stream of affirming as well as the harder to hear constructive feedback that no financial rewards could touch in their ability to engage and inspire great performance. Frequent and informal was his way. (For the record, they also had slightly more formal quarterly conversations and a formal annual recap as part of how they did business. Weekly check-ins were also scheduled and highly effective.) That’s a highly replicated model.
I hope Charline’s boss comes around towards meeting her needs for guidance and giving his organization the benefits that high performing and truly engaged teams figured out some time ago. She can help her cause and her boss by providing him with some feedback on what she needs from him. Otherwise, like so many employees, especially mobile and feedback seeking younger workers, she may be on the lookout for a new boss who delivers feedback frequently and informally.
Editor’s note: Pierre has apparently been spotted at an undisclosed location reportedly working on a leadership/HR book for managers and aspiring managers. Stay tuned for more details about a 2018 release.
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