The problem with feedback at work

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Got the image above from Harvard Business Review. Before we get that far into this, how funny is that picture? It kinda summarizes feedback at work in a nutshell in 149 different ways.

Here’s the article where I got the image from. Right near the top, the authors talk about a recent conversation they had with a senior leader regarding the process of giving feedback. Check this out:

Q: What’s your plan for the feedback session?

A: Shock and Awe! Get in the room, deliver my message, tell them what needs to change, and then get them out of my office!

That’s a miserable, horrible answer — although it shouldn’t surprise anyone, per se. The American Corporate Schematic loves to deify the military, even though they operate according to very different principles. “Shock and Awe” is a military term, give or take; it makes an over-burdened middle manager think to themselves, “Yea baby, I’m a general…”

At this point, you might be reading this and say to yourself, “Well, who the hell are you?” Right. I’m an also-ran. But … now check out this graph (from the same article):

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So rather than “Shock and Awe,” you should actually listen more. That’s sadly very uncommon at most workplaces.

Here’s the other essential rub of the feedback process. Most managers, just as they assume salary is everything (it isn’t), also assume that if an employee is performing badly or off-task, they (the employee) has no idea about it. Um. No. See this?

We asked a global sample of 3,875 people who’d received negative or redirecting feedback if they were surprised or had not known already about the problem that was raised. We were taken aback to discover that fully 74% indicated that they had known and were not surprised.

3 in 4, then, did know there was a problem.

This also shouldn’t surprise you: most employees honestly don’t understand their job, and/or their job might not even need to exist. So they might be totally aware that there’s a problem, or they’re doing something wrong, or whatever the case may be … but they can’t really fix it, because they’re not even clear on exactly what they should be doing. Managers don’t necessarily help.

Of course, the other essential problem is that most managers are taught to chase deliverables, and often, they view a lack of hitting deliverables as something that needs “accountability.” But … most managers confuse the ideas of “accountability” and “screaming at someone.” That’s bad.

If you got to this point and are wondering, “Hey, why is any of this important?” — well, the central reason is that real, honest, legitimate feedback is (a) a business advantage and (b) the supposed true way to manage millennial talent. So, er, get on board.

My name’s Ted Bauer; I blog here regularly and you can learn about hiring me for freelance and contract gigs as well. You can also subscribe to my e-mail list.

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