Are You Being Cautious with Feedback?
If your answer is yes, you’re in line with many managers who say they’re trying to avoid conflict and more disruption on their teams. And it’s no wonder. Last week’s US Chamber of Commerce reported 10 million job openings in the US. On many teams, managers are missing resources, and they worry that giving direct and honest feedback may make an employee want to quit.
They’ve decided that an average or a below-average employee is better than another unfilled position. Some say the bar is lower on expectations to keep people in roles. And they’ve made a lot of concessions to keep employees happy. So, they’re cautious with feedback and they allow missed deadlines, missed meetings and a host of other behaviors to take place.
It’s a short-term action…with long-term side effects.
Every manager who has done this knows it isn’t a great solution. But few understand the deeper impact of allowing a team member to “just get by” or to take advantage of a tight job market.
The side effects start with the impact on everyone else. Other team members often pick up the slack when someone isn’t doing their job well. They’re also observing a manager who isn’t willing to have tough conversations. And it’s demotivating to high performers to see that doing well doesn’t really matter since it’s OK not to do well. Unintentionally, managers lower the bar for everyone when they allow even one to slide under the bar.
And there’s a tremendous side effect on the managers themselves. In our feedback workshops, we calculate how much time a manager spends on an underperforming employee. It’s a lot. In some cases, managers are spending twice as much time on these employees as everyone else. In other cases, they’re literally doing the work themselves to avoid conflict. And in both cases, it’s not the best use of the manager’s time if the employee’s work isn’t improving.
The lack of feedback can also have side effects on the employee themselves. When managers don’t give honest feedback, they’re setting a precedent that someone else will have to undo in the employee’s next role.
Here’s the real question: How bad would it be if an underperforming employee decided to quit?
Overnight, managers would go from one unfilled position to two. And depending on the size of the team that may cause projects to be realigned or deadlines to be pushed out. But the side effects also go away. Managers immediately notice the ease of the burden. And other team members feel it as it validates that you do value hard work because you weren’t willing to allow the lack of it.
Feedback is essential. Everyone on a team needs it. But it isn’t always easy. It can be a challenging conversation, and because many managers dread it, they often miss a few steps that would make feedback a better experience from both perspectives.
Here are a few of our coaching steps to manage feedback conversations.
Uncover the WHY – Managers are stretched and rushed. And because they’re rushed trying to fix problems, they jump into these conversations and focus on literally what happened and how to resolve it. They often miss the WHY behind a problem. And when you don’t know why something happened, you can never be sure that you’ve improved on it or solved a challenge.
Assess Skills Vs Behaviors – Managers often approach every challenge as if it’s a skill gap. Someone didn’t understand how to do something or doesn’t feel confident in the way they’re going about it. But that isn’t always the case. Sometimes, employees choose to not do things well or let things drop because they don’t see the value or don’t like the toll of the work. And it’s happening more often because some employees have come back to the workforce simply for a paycheck.
If the conversation begins with discovery behind the why, managers can quickly assess whether the problem occurred because of a skill gap or a behavior choice. It’s an important distinction in order to get to the right actions.
And unfortunately, a virtual work setting makes it easier to disguise some of the behavior choices. So, managers need to invest the time to prepare for these conversations in order to get honest responses and reactions from an employee.
Listen More, Talk Less – Talk less as a manager. The more a manager talks, the more they’re owning the problem. A feedback discussion reveals insights that can help an employee get to better outcomes. But it can’t be prescriptive. If a manager tells an employee how to solve something, the manager is giving direction more than feedback. Allow the employee to participate in the solution and define the action that changes it.
Move Beyond It. The fear of losing employees is real. And it may be less about the conversation itself and more about the impact it has on the emotions of an individual afterward. Everyone on the team observes that. The manager has the power to reset interaction and move an employee and a team beyond it. Don’t allow awkwardness or distance between you and the employee. Show interest in them personally and reset the group to an engaging and warm environment. Every employee watches the manager to gauge temperature. When a manager illustrates that they’re not holding onto emotion or frustration toward an employee, even when there is a gap or challenge with their work, the team exhales and moves beyond it.
Feedback is a gift. Assume best intentions from everyone on your team. Listen for the WHY at the start of the conversation and adjust the conversation to involve the employee in working through a solution. Set parameters, timing and a check-in to get to a resolution.
And if you’re a manager who feels a little cautious with feedback, call us and we’ll give you the tools to prepare for the tougher conversations.
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