Being able to give clear feedback makes you a better manager

A manager had someone in one of his teams with performance issues. This employee was leading a crucial project, but wasn’t communicating nor cooperating well with others. Not within his department, and certainly not with people from other departments. This employee reported to a junior teamleader, who hadn’t been successful in improving performance.

When other senior managers grew concerned about the delivery of the project, the manager realized he had to take action. He felt he couldn’t let his junior teamleader solve the problem, and decided to get more involved himself. He informed HR that he was going to have a serious talk with this employee. He was going to state it as a last chance, where he would personally monitor the performance of the employee. He was sure it would be an important signal, to show the seriousness of the situation.

A few days after this talk, the employee walked into the HR department. He seemed inches taller, with head held high, and puffed up chest. He demanded HR to increase his grade (and salary). Baffled, the HR advisor asked why. Well, he was now reporting directly to a more senior manager, wasn’t he? He moved up in the organization, which was long due of course, because he managed such a crucial project. The only issue remaining was to finally get him to be rewarded accordingly.

Obviously, the manager had not gotten his message across. If the employee had been aware he was given a last chance, he probably wouldn’t have had the nerve to demand a raise.

Communication, especially about performance issues, is often watered down too much. We shouldn’t be blunt to people of course, but we need to be honest. People have the right to know how they perform. How they can become better at their job. And certainly how they can avoid being fired.

There are many good courses and books on how to improve your feedback skills. But many people feel they don’t need it. They hate training sessions where they have to role-play. They feel awkward having to try in front of their colleagues. Or they just feel they are capable enough. But giving good and effective feedback is difficult. Especially when addressing performance issues. It is much easier to water down the message, and remain the nice boss, or the easy going colleague. It really is a skill to address someone’s behavior.

Giving good feedback is one of the most important things to master as a manager. You can’t get your team to perform well without letting them truly know how they perform. So if you want to perform as a manager, you have to get your people to perform by letting them know what they do well and where they need to improve. Next time, ask yourself: are you sure your message came across as intended? You can’t afford not to give the feedback. Otherwise the work, the team, and you will suffer.

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