“I love what I do, the products, the culture… but to be honest, dealing with employees all day long drains me beyond words… ” Have you ever heard a colleague or even your boss say something like this? As frustrating as it may be, if they are in a leadership role, they spent all those years developing, even perfecting, technical skills that are less and less important as they manage bigger, more complex, and possibly remote teams of people.
Managing people – why do some people find it so easy and others long for the days they were back in a lab or an office only dealing with complex problems with systems or code or financial data?
When I worked in Human Resources years ago, it was not unusual for a frustrated executive to storm into my office and scream, “He (she) has to go!” or “I need YOU to fire her (him) for me, right now!” Inevitably, after calming the person down and listening to a diatribe of the employee’s many shortcomings, I asked the executive when they last had a conversation, a one on one meeting, a feedback session, or a performance review with the person they were not happy with? If the executive started to pale, redden, mumble, stutter, or all of the above, the chances were that the answer was – NEVER. Don’t be that person!
As most people progress in their careers, managing people is not only required – it is essential. And we need to learn how to do it well. With a great job market and a highly competitive tech sector, the quality of leadership skills starts to show in the numbers – retention, productivity and sales.
One of the things that many otherwise driven and successful executives find challenging is giving effective feedback. Failure to do so is hard on you and the people who work for you. Why is this so difficult? After all, isn’t it obvious what you want them to do? Well, it might be, if they had that unique skill called mind reading or they thought the same way as you did. It would be obvious to them, if they had the same motivations, the same education, experience, attitude and unique talents, but they don’t.
In my experience, failure to provide feedback to direct reports often leads to the following:
- If people don’t know what you expect of them, they may make it up as they go along
- When you don’t give clear direction, they make assumptions and may get it wrong
- They figure you don’t mind how it gets done as long as it gets done
- When it doesn’t turn out how you expected, do you seethe, explode, get passive-aggressive, write people off, or storm into your HR director’s office and demand they fire someone?
- The people who work for you lose respect for you and your leadership and end up leaving or moving to a department whose leader can communicate better.
EFFECTIVE FEEDBACK: WHERE TO START?
Giving effective feedback involves a certain amount of finesse and a good deal of influencing skills, but there are some basic rules of the road, regardless of communication skills or experience:
- Set clear expectations about what you want from the beginning. This includes the scope of the project or task, budget constraints, time frames, and what each person’s role will be.
- Make sure the person or team members have the tools and training they need to get the job done. If in doubt, ask and create an environment where people, especially less experienced ones, aren’t afraid to speak up.
- Check in with each team member on a regular basis. Weekly one on one meetings are Ideal, as well as regular team meetings, so that everyone knows the plan.
- Give feedback on a regular basis and in a timely fashion. Most people appreciate and need input on their performance. They also want to know how to progress in the department and the company.
- Don’t wait too long before stepping in.
- If something isn’t working, you might recognize it early, but someone else might not.
- Measure success or failure or degrees of both. Give praise or offer constructive criticism where appropriate and above all else, make sure they, as well as you, know what was learned from each success or failure and what could be done differently the next time.
I want to share a case study of what happened with a previous client. This shows how a talented and dedicated executive can falter even with the best of intentions, but still manage to change his behavior and become a more effective leader. I strongly urge you to take some time to read it.