No one has ever accused me of being too subtle. You usually don’t have to try and guess what I’m thinking. (Those of you that know me well, please stop laughing.) I’ve found that being vague, during feedback conversations, can lead to confusion and a lack of clarity with the person you would like to see improve in certain areas. We discussed baseline conversations last week that are necessary to set clear, initial goals. We’ll continue the discussion around the book Leadership Conversations: Challenging High Potential Managers to Become Great Leaders with some things to consider when you are having a leadership conversation that is focusing on three different types of feedback:
Underperformance: You promoted or hired someone because they were great in their last position. Now they are underperforming. Maybe they don’t have the skills necessary for the new position, or the mindset that made them successful last time is now a liability. Maybe they are failing to develop relationships with their boss, peers, or direct reports. First consider whether it could be that they are not clear on their new role, or that they have been given inadequate resources.
Be sure to create an atmosphere of safe and open communication by holding the conversation in a neutral place if possible – maybe outside of the office. It can help to state your intentions at the beginning of the conversation by saying something like, “I value you and your contributions to our organization.” When you conclude, make sure you define what each of you will do to improve the situation, specify the metrics that define improvement and when set a date on when progress will be reported.
Timeliness: Do you do what you say you are going to do when you say you are going to do it? Are you on time to meetings that you set with people inside and outside of your company? It’s important to do your personal inventory before you give a direct report any feedback about their timeliness.
With your boss: This can be one of the toughest ones to have. Many times, though, it’s essential to a great working environment. Start with being empathetic. It’s quite possible you will be them one day. Do your best to take three perspectives. Let them know what you are seeing, listen to understand their point of view, and work with them to explore new possibilities. Most leaders I know welcome feedback from the people that work for them if it is constructive and is delivered with possible solutions in mind to improve the situation. If you want respect, shorten your story and lengthen your options for moving forward in preparing for this type of conversation.
Here’s a previous Launch List about asking for and receiving feedback that has additional information that might be helpful.
Just because someone doesn’t react well to feedback doesn’t mean you conducted it improperly or shouldn’t have delivered it. Many times the person needs some time to digest what you’ve said in order to incorporate it into changes they need to make. Check back with them in a few days and see if they have additional comments or thoughts to share with you.
Be clear and frank. No one wants to guess what you meant when you said something like, “I just need you to do a better job at this.” (Define what a “better job” is exactly.) People will appreciate your desire to improve situations and the effect they may be having on you, your department or organization.