I went to meet my ex-boss for some inspiration and blessings. We started talking about various things including the business environment and the challenges I encounter. We spoke about our past experiences running businesses during the global financial crisis in 2008. He did not ruminate over my behaviours then; he offered no analysis of what I did well while dealing with the situations in the past; neither did he refer to the impact my behaviours produced. He just gave me some advice, I was happy to return back with it. I started thinking why this process worked well.
Normally managers are trained to offer feedback. We are trained to recall a situation, describe it to our team member, refer to the behaviours demonstrated by him or her in that situation and talk about the impact it produced. This process done well, makes our team member realize the need to either continue demonstrating the same or make some changes.
I have seen this work well in many cases. For example, we finish a client presentation and the boss gives a feedback to the members of the team involved in it. Sometimes, members get an opportunity to offer feedback that is relevant for everyone involved including the boss. This helps members learn from the combined wisdom of the team. We can all improve our skills needed to gather the needs, explore possibilities, develop a solution, present impactfully and deal with the questions raised by the audience. Feedback helps after an event has occurred and we have the opportunity of quickly reflecting on it. We can be prepared better to deal with a similar situation in future.
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Sometimes feedback isn’t the best tool
I happened to meet one of my ex-colleagues who is in a senior role in a buzzing start-up growing each day by leaps and bounds. His bosses are happy with the agility and the bias for action he brings to the table. He understands that. He has also been told that he should develop strategic thinking capability so that he could move to CXO level. This feedback is generic and can be given to almost everyone in CXO-1 role! What actions can he take?
Possibly he needs advice on approaching tasks differently from time to time. Someone should possibly mentor him rather than offering a feedback that he needs to think long-term.
You have come across people who rate themselves 5 on 5 in their self-appraisal. Try giving them a feedback! In my experience, they come to appraisal discussions primed for appreciation and praises. They are not ready to hear about the situations where a peer felt ignored, client found the person’s response cold, you found yourself unsure of delegating certain kind of tasks or the person being lackadaisical about weekly reports. However, the manager is trained to offer these feedbacks. Let’s assume he or she does it well. So, he or she describes the situation, talks about the behaviours and the impact delivered. The member either defends the actions, sometimes outbursts emotionally throwing the discussions off-track. No point offering feedback in these situations!
I would say, the manager rather should lean on the goodwill he or she has created with the member, offer some words of wisdom and push the member to higher levels of performance. This doesn’t sound convincing for practising managers trained in the western management practices. However, there is another school of thought professing horses for courses.
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Timing is important!
Often developmental conversations lose their effectiveness just because of the timing. Many organizations mandate this crucial discussion to happen along with review of the past performance. Employees are concerned about the grade they receive than listening to the voice of the manager.
Developmental conversations are crucial for professional development and sometimes, for personal development as well. Someone whose role provides a view from a higher elevation in the organization can provide meaningful perspectives of performance results and the journey undertaken.
Organizations should mandate their employees to initiate this conversation rather than the HR team reminding everyone. HR systems are intelligent enough to provide a nudge to the employee and the manager to have a chat about feedforward than a feedback.