In my last piece of writing, I spoke about the importance of giving personalized, impactful positive feedback, or ‘kudos’ if you prefer. For this piece, I’m going to focus on feedback given as a way to make someone around you better.
I can’t even count how many people our team interviews or is engaged in coaching over the course of a week…a lot. One of the topics of discussion I like to really dig into is feedback. Often starting with a question around what the individual struggles with or needs to work on, I like to explore what kind of feedback they’ve received from either their leader, their peers, their team or someone personal in their life. What did their last performance review look like? Unfortunately, most annual performance reviews tend to be ineffective, but I digress. Equally as often, we get the standard responses from people who are full of crap and love to say things like, “I work too hard, I’m a perfectionist, I need to slow down and have more balance in my life.” Some of them may quite possibly be true, but most are full of ‘it’ and only looking to impress you. What I’m most interested in are the responses from people who legitimately can’t offer any good, developmental feedback they’ve gotten from their leadership because they haven’t gotten any. They work with managers who are more interested in their to-do list, their financial statements, their sales forecasts or what they’re doing this weekend rather than coaching and developing their MOST important asset…their teammates!
In our 3-day Leadership retreat that we host here in Massachusetts, I’ll often ask early in the program for each person to stop and think, and identify how many people they have in their lives who really challenge them. How many people have the courage and confidence to call you out and tell you what you NEED to hear, not what you WANT to hear? How many do those of you reading this article have? 99% of the time, the answer is unfortunate…only 1, maybe 2. I follow up with, “What do those 1 or 2 people mean to you?” 99% of the time the response is, “EVERYTHING”. Where would you be without them in your life? “Nowhere”. Now, remember that the next time you have feedback for somebody that could help them, and you’re thinking about avoiding the conversation.
One of my colleagues at Giombetti Associates is an ex-CEO whose run manufacturing organizations for the last 40 years…why did he choose to come work at GA, you’re probably asking yourself, as I do and then pinch myself. He says fairly frequently that providing developmental feedback and having the harder conversations are probably one of the tougher parts of the job. It can be uncomfortable for people who don’t like conflict or are too nice, or they use a crutch so many people throw around loosely, “I’m too busy”. I do think it’s hard for people who care deeply about feelings and emotions and it can certainly be uncomfortable because you don’t know how the person is gonna react and handle it. The fact remains, if you don’t provide your team the feedback necessary for them to improve and get better, you’re hurting them. So, you pass on telling someone they really need to improve their listening skills, because you don’t want to hurt them or their feelings, but that’s exactly what you’re doing in reality. You’re hurting them, they won’t improve, their listening skills will continue to suck, you’ll continue to experience it and live with it, and maybe worst of all, you’re not doing your job. You’re not doing one of the most important tasks a leader is faced with…coaching and training your replacement. Developing your bench, succession or ascension planning as my colleague likes to call it, and coaching people up all take a back seat and, in affect, you set the organization back by years.
So, please, take the opportunity when it presents itself to sit down and coach. For me, it’s the difference between managing for performance or coaching for development. Where do you spend most of your time? I’ll bet, all too often, it’s spent managing for performance. Do your team, your entire organization, and their families a favor and just tell your co-worker what they REALLY need to hear to improve, with suggestions for HOW to improve it. Your advice, or feedback, will be so much more helpful if you can give them ideas on what they could do to practice or enhance the behavior you’re addressing. What YOU can control is your delivery. Make it conversational, be direct, not blunt, and deliver it in a kind or, as another colleague would call it, lovingly critical way. And, if you struggle giving feedback, try scripting out your thoughts, get them down on paper and practice sharing it with someone who can help YOU improve.
Ross Giombetti, President