What Every Manager Should Know About Feedback
Feedbackwhen its done wellcan improve results and strengthen working relationships.
Thu, April 19, 2007
CIO — A company president in her 50s remembered when her first manager told her she wasnt finishing her work. I was surprised, because I thought I was finishing, she said. He explained what he meant by complete. As I listened, I realized he was describing a pattern that Id had all through school. Id get to a certain point with a project, and then Id lose interest and move on to something else. Somehow, my not-quite-done work was enough for me to make good grades throughout college. When I entered the work world it was a liability. Once I started really finishing my work, I could see the difference in quality and how it affected our teams product. She made a wry face. I still get bored and want to move on to something new, the company president continued. If that manager hadnt taken time to give me feedback, I might not be where I am today; certainly it would have taken longer. And Id be wondering why I wasnt getting ahead.
Feedbackwhen its done wellcan improve results and strengthen working relationships. When it helps people see their blind spots and understand the impact of their behavior, feedback can change the trajectory of a career.
Unfortunately, many managers I talk to confess that they put off giving feedback because they are uncomfortable. Others tell me that their feedback attempts go awry. The conversation ends up in an argument, the recipient rejects their feedback, or they feel put on the spot when the other person asks for examples. When I talk to the receivers of feedback, I hear horror stories of mysterious hints, vague announcements, arguments, blame and humiliation.
A VP of development told me this story. I had a habit of joking and teasing my staff, he said. I thought I was being informalyou know, showing the team I wasnt a stuffy suit. My boss explained that what seemed like friendly ribbing to me felt like intimidation to people lower on the totem pole. The VPs eyes unfocused as he remembered the conversation. It was uncomfortable. But you know, none of my other managers had the guts to tell me my teasing was holding me back. Once I understood the damage I was doingboth to my staff and my own careerI changed my ways.
If feedback is so important, why is it seldom done well? It doesnt have to be this way. Lets look at some of the facts of feedback, what gets in the way and how to do it well.