Tuesday, May 6, 2014

You can’t handle the truth! ...but they can.

Give your employees the truth about their performance.

In the movie “A Few Good Men,” Colonel Jessup (brilliantly played by Jack Nicholson) strongly believes that the general public just can’t handle the truth.  Me?  I’m more like defense attorney Lieutenant Kaffee.  I want the truth! …and so do your employees. They want the truth about their performance in the workplace.  

As managers we sometimes find it difficult to give employees the candid feedback they want and deserve.  It’s my position that employees do want this valuable feedback.  They want it constructively delivered and in a timely manner from a leader who honestly has the employee’s development in mind when they give it.  Here are my top five tips for giving good, honest feedback.

Be Specific
It’s very helpful to hear performance coaching in context of an example that is timely.  In my career the most growth has come from times such as this; where I got very specific situational feedback on things I did well and how I could do better.  Who doesn’t want to be better?  While the sting of any less-than-positive assessments can hurt a person’s ego, the reality of the feedback will give them what they need to improve and puts them on track to become the best that they can be.

Don’t Ignore
In my experience this is the most common mistake.  Leaders seem to think that if they ignore the behavior or performance problems that they will improve on their own.  Or sometimes they think that employees will somehow just get the hint, or that a coworker or someone will tell them.  Wrong!  I’ve had the unfortunate task of having to tell 30 year company veterans that their performance needs improvement.  It’s a failing of previous management, not the employee that they are hearing the truth for the first time after so many years.  Often by that time it’s too late for the employee to substantially change their behavior.  Why do we do this to people?  Have courage, be honest, be professional, but tell the truth.

Don’t Soft-Pedal
This is manager behavior I see quite a bit, especially with newer leaders.  When you have a chance to give feedback, tell it to them straight.  If there’s room for improvement speak plainly and frankly about what it is.  Don’t minimize it.  If there was something worthy of praising make sure to be specific about that as well.  I think we miss opportunity to build trust when we try too hard to be nice or not to play favorites.  I’m not advocating that we shouldn’t be considerate; don’t give improvement tips in front of a crowd.  At the same time, make sure others hear your praise for those that deserve it.

Coach
This tip is really the mindset you should have as you provide any employee feedback. The idea isn’t to catch someone doing something wrong so that you can be specific; it’s about adopting the attitude of coach.  These are your star athletes of the workplace.  Why wouldn’t you want them to perform at their best? A coach finds a way to make good players better, not by pointing out every little thing, or hundreds of things all at once.  They target the changes that will generate the most improvement in their players.  Think about the whole person as you give feedback.  Where do they most need to improve?

Watch for and encourage improvement
While employees want feedback, they also want to be recognized and encouraged as they make honest attempts to change for the better.  Ignoring attempts to improve is worse than ignoring the changes that needed to be made.  Pay attention to your people as they work to incorporate your coaching into their daily work.  Notice their efforts and compliment them.  This will let them see that you didn’t want to just complain about something they were doing, but really do have an interest in their development.

If you can incorporate these tips into your management style it will pay dividends in their careers and in yours.  Employees will trust that you have their best interests in mind, and your team’s performance will improve leading to better results for you.

1 comment:

Jawad Akhtar said...

Definitely a good leadership strategy. I would also say, be clear about setting expectations of what you expect of your direct reports. Don't expect them to "know" what they are supposed to accomplish. At least set goals and targets, especially if it is not obvious or spelled out. Be clear (as specified earlier in the main post), not only in feedback on performance, but what would constitute good performance before you ever have to communicate for the performance review. Setting up clear communication and explicit targets for accomplishment go a long way in motivation of people. Share your vision with your direct reports of where you are and where you wish to go.