A little feedback story: At my first job out of college at a management consulting firm, my first manager was a guy named Tim Hardy*. I was super ticked off when I was allocated to Tim– my nickname for him was “No Party Tim Hardy” – and he just took everything so so seriously. He was a year older than me, and unlike the other managers who were buddy-buddy with their managees, Tim Hardy just seemed so uptight. I couldn’t understand why he was constantly harping on me for things that I thought were so trivial…. (Different color schemes on a PowerPoint slide – who cares? 10 minutes late to an internal meeting – big deal! Business casual being very loosely interpreted…oh well!)
Yet, over the years, I have come to appreciate and be truly grateful to Tim Hardy – and here’s why. When I started my first job, objectively speaking, I was a terrible consultant. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, and did some pretty bonehead things (happy to share those – just ask). But, along with many other things, Tim took my development seriously and was a constant and effective giver of constructive feedback. Tim made little tweaks in real time of how I did my work, how I helped or hindered the team, and how I interacted with our clients. And here’s why I’m so grateful – Tim’s little tweaks changed my long-term career trajectory. Little tweaks early on in someone’s career have huge knock-on effects later on. A graph best illustrates this:
It’s MUCH harder to change someone’s behavior after they’ve been doing it for years and years and years! I’m sure there’s some mathematical equation to underscore the above graph...I’ll let someone else prove that...
So, my friends, if you only do one thing as a manager, do this: give constructive, well-structured, and frequent feedback. The power and responsibility you have in setting your managees on the right trajectory early on in their career is huge: without feedback, your employees will not change those behaviors that, over time, may impede their professional and personal development. Without feedback, my 22-year-old self’s bonehead habits would have been allowed to flourish. So, lesson one of this management journey is simple: to be a great manager, give feedback.
Okay, makes sense, right? Easy to do…..well, wrong. Here’s where it gets tricky (and what I hear all the time from first time managers). It’s super awkward to give constructive feedback, especially when the person you’re giving feedback to might be your same age (or even more awkward - older than you!). And, to make matters worse, you’re probably not 100% comfortable in your own job yet, you know you also have tons of areas to improve upon, and you likely have a manager who might not be giving you the feedback you need to develop. What right do you have in telling someone else that what they’re doing is wrong?
Well, you don’t have a right...you have an OBLIGATION to give feedback to those you manage. And guess what, the feedback you give is going to be awkward and it’s going to be uncomfortable and that’s life. You still have to do it.
Okay, so I’ve convinced you that you have to give constructive feedback to be a great manager….so the next question is how. What does great feedback look like and how do you give it?
The Super Simple, Really Obvious Feedback Process:
Well-structured feedback follows a simple process. I’m not sure who originally developed this process (I wonder if there’s an epic fight going on in the big consulting firms about who “owns” this magical process), but it’s been used for years to train folks on how to give and receive feedback. Here’s how it works:
You might wonder what makes this so powerful….
First, you’re starting from a place of data (“I observed that you joined the meeting 10 minutes late”) as opposed to starting from a place of judgment (“It’s bad when you join meetings late”). Starting from a place of data immediately brings the emotion down in a feedback conversation and helps the receiver of feedback be less defensive and more receptive to what you’re about to say.
Second, you illustrate how the behavior impacts you, the team, or the client, thus helping the individual understand why this feedback is important. Coming back to the example of my 22-year-old self, Tim Hardy explained that different color schemes in my PowerPoint decks were not ideal because a client could interpret the different colors as a lack of attention to detail - which might make the client call into question our attention to detail in our financial models or other analyses. Wow - that is far more powerful than just being told to change colors in a deck.
The last thing that makes this process so powerful is suggesting a change in behavior. Before you give any feedback, think about what this person could do differently to alter his / her behavior. If you can’t think of anything...should you be giving the feedback? This last step creates accountability and ensures that the feedback you’re giving is not “personal” - i.e., not intrinsic to someone such that they can’t change their behavior. And, this last steps shows that you as a manager care about them getting better - you’re not just critiquing everything they do!
The funny thing about feedback is that most young people crave feedback. So many employees I’ve met complain that their manager doesn’t give them any feedback and they feel anxiety about not knowing where they stand in their job. Yet - despite people wanting feedback and being receptive to it, no one feels comfortable giving it. We want to receive feedback, but we don’t want to give it. Time to break that cycle. So, start giving feedback to your employees and seek (demand!) feedback from your own managers!
Your job as a manager is to provide constructive, timely feedback. You will hurt your employee’s long-term career prospects if you do not provide feedback.
Just start giving feedback even if it’s awkward, received poorly, or your manager doesn’t do it.
Always start with data when giving feedback; use examples and come from a place of objectivity.
Provide actionable modifications to behavior at the end of your feedback.
Want more on feedback?
Read: Radical Candor, by Kim Scott
*Names obviously changed.
**Too Long Didn't Read
Leave a comment about your best and worst feedback situation!