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How your manager is setting you up for failure. How to encourage them to tell us what we NEED to hear.

manager feedback

Is your manager telling you want to hear or what you need to hear?

Is your manager doing you any favors? 

Manager feedback is critical to our careers. If you have heard any of the following in the last month from your manager, don’t assume you are knocking it out of the park and up for a raise.

  • You are doing great!
  • That was a great job!
  • You are brilliant!

This week’s blog is the result of a recent, three event perfect storm. I want to drive home the point that positive feedback isn’t helping you. The feedback that we want to hear is the criticism of our performance.

Event 1

I and my HR colleague just on-boarded two new employees. Both hires are early in their career. Part of our on boarding process is that HR meets with these new hires once a week for the first 4 weeks to “check in”. After 4 weeks we adjust the tempo. We do this for a number of reasons:

  • Make sure the new hire is comfortable with the culture and they are experiencing what they signed up for.
  • See if they making new friends and getting along with the team. If they aren’t, we can reach out to a team member and ask them to take them to coffee or lunch.
  • Are they feeling comfortable with their manager and getting the feedback necessary for success? It is important that new hires create a relationship where the manager feels comfortable enough to provide constructive feedback. Especially in the learning phase/

Of course, we provide some Nasty career advice, AKA manager feedback.

Event 2

My very close friend Tiana, a Social Media Maven just texted me an excerpt from an article referencing the Gallup State of the American Workplace Report

“T” texts me workplace and career articles on a regular basis and I really appreciate the sharing and discussions that follow. Tiana is a real go-getter and me pitties da foo that tells her something can’t be done. She has the perfect balance of Alpha corporate seriousness and an intellectual hipster style which restores my faith in the Millennial generation and the future of the world. Thanks for sharing T!

The article referenced a few well-known observations/facts within the HR community.

  • “Some 70% of managers say they are uncomfortable “communicating in general” with staff. 
  • Workers are more likely to perceive negative feedback as a psychological threat and try to avoid the person offering criticism Research from Harvard.

HRNasty’s riff on the above

Manager love to give positive feedback. ALL managers THINK they give feedback for improvement. In reality, specific feedback and coaching for improvement are rarely provided. I think the percentage is much higher with less experienced managers and all managers think they are experienced. Comfort delivering critical manager feedback comes with experience. 

Event 3

I talked with an employee who explained to me that they feel they are doing great at their job. The manager feedback at their last review which was 5 months ago was very positive.

My immediate inside voice reaction was “Yikes, a LOT can change in 5 months”. As it relates to manager feedback, those are dog months. Those 5 months are the equivalent of 35 months or close to 3 years!!! I suggested the employee request a mini review at least monthly to make sure both manager and employee are on the same page.

So, where does are perfect storm lead us?

I wanted to give more detail on what we suggested our early in their career new hires try to increase the chances of success in their careers.

We encouraged them to participate in the company events and meet colleagues OUTSIDE Of their departments. Of course, we will play their wingman and wing-woman and get them introduced and hooked up.

One of my questions was: Are you guys receiving constructive feedback?

We have strong managers and BOTH new hires had specific examples of where their managers diplomatically called them out in areas where they could improve. I gotta say, I was proud. Mainly because I recommended that we PUSH one of the managers into a management position even though he was adamant that he didn’t want the position and I recruited the second. BOOM! But I digress.

The Rub

If we as employees are NOT receiving constructive manager feedback, we are not going to know what is pissing our managers off. We are NOT going to know where we need to improve. We end up dying a silent death. The death of 1000 cuts. Our managers are miserable and of course, as employees, we are miserable.

This isn’t a case where our managers don’t like us. Very few of us like to give criticism to friends or family. This is just human nature. It is hard. It is emotional and it takes a lot of professional courage. Are we really motivated to give feedback to our colleagues who we pay a salary with the assumption that the Benjamins should buy us performance? 

We all have had co-workers that:

  • Wear too much perfume/scent. More is less people!
  • Talk too much during meetings about non-relevant issues
  • Leave dirty dishes in the kitchen sink
  • Correct us in front of clients and vendors

The reason they continue to do this? NO ONE HAS THE BALLS TO GIVE THEM REAL MANAGER FEEDBACK or coaching to cut that shit out.

“Atta boy is an easy conversation”

It’s easy to say “Atta boy”, “Good job” or “That’s brilliant!”. The reward from the recipient is a smile which generates a hit of dopamine in the manager’s cerebral cortex. (My employees like meeeee!) If the monkey presses the lever and receives a pellet of food, guess what? The monkey is going to press the button again and again. 

It’s much tougher to deliver the news of poor performance because we don’t want to see anyone’s reactions when their feelings are hurt. Especially people that we have to spend 8 – 10 hours a day with. If the monkey presses the lever and the monkey gets shocked with electricity, guess what? The monkey isn’t going to press the lever. 

Professional courage = critical manager feedback

When I have a manager that is giving me feedback for improvement, I know they are invested in my performance. I know they are looking out for me. Their intent may or may not be well-intentioned, and their delivery may need improvement, but at least I know what I need to change in the eyes of the person writing my review!

So, what can we do to encourage our managers to chop up our performance? What can we say and how can we act to increase the odds of getting feedback from the person that is writing our review and signing our checks?

Ask for feedback. But don’t just say, “How’d I do?” because you are going to get an “Atta boy” or worse, “Fine.”

How to encourage feedback

“Hey Sally manager, I just finished this last project and if I were to do it differently, I would have done X and Y. Do you have any thoughts on what I could TRY differently next time?”

  • We gave examples of what we would try differently next time. We demonstrated that we are going to improve and set the stage for further feedback.
  • When we use the word “TRY”, it makes it easier for Sally manager to give feedback critical manager feedback. Most managers (unless they are straight up ass holes) are hesitant to say “You did this wrong, you should do it this way.” When we queue them to suggest we “try it this way”, the barrier to feedback is lower.

“Hey Johnny Director, I am going to give a presentation at the end of the week. Can I do a trial run in front of you before the live performance? I want to work on two specific things. I want to make sure that I am keeping the attention of the audience and I am speaking clearly. And if you had any advice for me, I would really appreciate it.”

  • The key here is to ask for SPECIFIC advice. We gave them permission to hurt our feelings and greased the tracks to further general advice.

Your reaction will be the pellet of food or the shock that determines future behavior

When you do receive feedback, regardless of its value or how it is delivered, smile, say thank you and explain that you are going to try it.

The goal isn’t to have your manager generate well-delivered feedback. The goal is to uncover what is bugging your manager. Feedback delivered is better than no feedback.

So, don’t take the “atta boy” for granted. Don’t take it as a sign you are being successful, up for a raise or a promotion.

If you want the bigger and shinier opportunity, make it easy for your manager to give you constructive feedback to improve. If they know they can coach you on important projects, you will jump to the head of the line. Don’t just ask for it. Insist on it!

See you at the after party,

nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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