In recent times we have seen public examples of large organisations moving away from traditional, formulaic, bi-annual performance reviews. We also know more than 80% of executives seek more feedback. The Chief Legal Officer of a large listed firm recently mentioned to me that while all the formal processes were in place, he didn’t feel they were having the “real” conversations with people. Why is this and how can we do better?
For many executives, the bi-annual performance cycle has become a bureaucratic exercise best avoided so “we can get back to business”. Undoubtedly cynicism has built up about the traditional approaches but without feedback, how can we continue to learn and do better? Now is not the time to abandon feedback but maybe find a more effective method!
I liken feedback to raising kids. No one would imagine a parent saving up 6 months of feedback so they can sit little Johnnie down and reflect back on all the good, and not so good things he’s done half a year earlier. First of all Johnnie lives in real time and not pushing his sister, or putting his plate in the dishwasher needs addressing in the moment. So while the dynamic between parent and child is clearly different to manager and subordinate, perhaps there are lessons from parenting we can adopt to make giving feedback more effective.
Make it frequent
Giving feedback is made harder when you don’t do it regularly. The traditional approach stores up the discussion so it takes on an unnecessarily large gravity for the manager and subordinate. Regular feedback should be the way you do things and in the moment. I suggest managers incorporate as part of their management rhythm at least one piece of feedback to their direct reports each week. The beauty is not only how much feedback subordinates get but just like parenting, it’s constant, tiny positive and negative adjustments that keeps everyone on the right track.
Make it fast
A technology entrepreneur I was working with said “I don’t know how to start the conversation so I prefer to avoid it”. Feedback can come about from anywhere and anytime and does not have to be labourious. This leader had lots of great feedback for his team and starting with “Do you mind if I give you some feedback?” became how he introduced the conversation. He then set about providing quick, in the moment feedback that lasted about 20 seconds. He found it quickly became part of his management toolkit and his team developed exponentially.
Make it specific
Often managers will say, “Sarah, you’re doing a good job – keep it up!” I asked a very senior exec why she had recently been promoted and she said, “they didn’t say”! Positive feedback makes us feel good but specific feedback makes us better. Provide specific feedback by adding “Sarah, you’re doing a good job because …”. The lack of specificity leaves people unsatisfied and is partly why we’re not having the “real conversation”. Managers should try and answer what is it exactly you’d like people to start doing, stop doing and continuing to do more of – and why?
Make it 5-1
Behavioural scientists have demonstrated we humans disproportionally experience negative experiences versus positive experiences. Hence, as a general rule of thumb, managers should try to provide 5 positive pieces of feedback for every 1 negative piece.
Make it well intentioned
My wife has a saying, “never take away the love”. The love and feedback for our children is never conditional. In a work context the same is true. As managers, our feedback should always be well intentioned and our subordinates should genuinely feel it is coming from a good place. Even the hardest feedback can be given when the person knows a manager who is well intentioned is delivering it.
As executive coaches, we develop executives to reach their personal potential and feedback is a natural part of the coaching process. Having feedback as part of your toolkit by making it fast, frequent, informal, specific and well intentioned will make you part of the minority of managers genuinely developing your people.
Chris Corneil is an executive coach with Executive Coaching International, a company director and has had a successful executive career including as Australasian CEO of a large financial services firm. Chris now works closely with senior executives across a wide array of industry sectors in Australia