Common Sense Check (A Rant about Feedback)

Common Sense Check (A Rant about Feedback) 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

I’ve been getting a little twitchy lately about a few things.  And most of them come back to a general conclusion that we seem to have lost all common sense when it comes to how we treat each other at work.  One thing in particular has been really getting to me lately and it’s all of this talk about feedback.

It seems that I have been seeing endless articles out there about the importance of giving people feedback as a manager.  Really?  Do we honestly need to be reminded that talking to the people we supervise about their work is important?  I recognize that for some people this may not be an obvious thing to do, but who’s promoting these people into management in the first place?  If you can’t provide people with feedback (or let’s just call it talking to them), then you shouldn’t be managing in the first place.

Plus, for every article on the importance of giving feedback, there are a couple of articles on how to effectively give it as a manager.  Now, I’m not going to argue that there aren’t some more and less effective ways of providing feedback to people or that managers shouldn’t be trained in giving feedback, but seriously.  Enough already.  We have been convinced, apparently, that the performance of every employee hinges upon the quality of the feedback discussion.  The truth is that no single conversation is going to make or break you as a manager, so stop stressing out about it and have the conversation.  It’s not that complicated.  Just talk to the employee about what they are doing well, what their work is missing and what just isn’t quite working yet.  And do it regularly.  Thanks to Gallup and others, we have wildly overestimated the importance of each interaction we have with our people.  Step back and take a breath.  It’s not as big a deal as you think it is.  Just have the conversation.

The bigger problem is that we seem to have made it okay for employees to freak out about feedback. And this freak out is what scares even some good managers away from giving feedback.  They don’t’ want to deal with the freak out.  Freaking out to feedback is not okay.  And you don’t have to tolerate it when employees react inappropriately, particularly to negative feedback.  If they do freak out, you need to give them feedback on how they are taking the feedback and teach them a more appropriate way to handle it.  If they don’t figure it out over time, you need to help them become someone else’s problem.  You have more important work to do.

This all leads me to one of the major epiphanies of my HR career.  Turns out, if you teach people how to receive and process feedback constructively, you don’t have to spend so much time worrying about how managers are giving it.  I have had to learn this myself and once I did, I started getting a lot more out of the feedback that came my way, even when it wasn’t delivered the best.

This is real power in flipping the script on feedback.

How about some writing on that?  (There might be some here tomorrow.)

  • akaBruno

    I never know how to respond to posts about feedback…

    The question I always come back to is that most employees have received constant feedback for at least 12 years in the form of grades at school. At a certain point, shouldn’t we have been inured to the ups and downs of feedback? The freakout should have already been tempered.

    • Jason

      Matt, I agree that people should already tempered to feedback, but they aren’t. At least not in my experience. I think it’s because grades are impersonal and hold little actual meaning to the individual. When it comes to talent assessment type feedback, the focus of the feedback isn’t your work, it’s you. And that can get pretty raw for people when they aren’t prepared for how to handle it. I’m going to post tomorrow about how I’ve tackled this in my work at times.

  • akaBruno

    Ha…if only grades were impersonal and lacked meaning. I have a boatload of e-mails from disgruntled students about the grade on an exam or for a class, as well as several honor code violations, that might suggest otherwise. Many students identities are wrapped up in their grades.

    An interesting little experiment I do in my stats class is I ask students, “What specific grade is your goal for this class?” I follow up with, “What specific grade do you expect to receive in this class?” Even when primed with the information that the average grade in the class is around a B-/C+, virtually all students put B or higher for both categories. Perhaps the freakout comes from a higher sense of self-importance or self-worth.

  • Philip Borker

    Your rant is so timely(as usual with you!!) I just read the getabstract on the book, Clear Leadership. Great stuff really. It gave me words to describe the organizational milieu of “interpersonal mush”. Your comments about the need to remind managers to talk with those under their charge or those that they report to, simply speaks to, of course, the “mush” we fall into, i.e., the cyclical nature of life and leadership. The author contends that Clear Leadership comes from creating clarity… and you cannot create workplace clarity or for that matter life clarity, without talking to the people in your world…..Journey On…

    • Jason

      Phillip, Thanks for the note and for the reinforcement. It really is about clarity. It seems like it should be a natural impulse for any leader to drive towards clarity, but it certainly is not in my experience. I love the phrase, interpersonal mush, because it represents how messy this work can be.

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