Carl was the first manager to ever give me a performance review. He was also the first manager to ever give me negative feedback. I’m a pretty headstrong gal, and taking constructive criticism has never been one of my strengths. It was 1978 when Carl told me I “couldn’t see the forest for the trees.” And I still remember it today. It was a searing moment.
Have you ever gotten constructive criticism from a boss? If not, shame on your boss, and shame on you, because if the boss doesn’t provide regular feedback automatically, you should keep asking for it. It may be a little painful, but it’s the best way to advance your career. It often helps in your personal life, too.
When I’m doing executive coaching or outplacement, it’s my role to help people improve behaviors that are not serving them well. I don’t relish the task, but knowing that it will yield the necessary results, I gladly do it. I’ve learned that when the person knows you are giving the feedback in order to help them, they are much more receptive. And over time, you really do get smooth at it!
My recommendation for giving feedback is to do it often, and in small bites. That makes it more palatable and an expected part of your routine. With outplacement clients, whose self-esteem has already taken a big hit, in each meeting I mainly focus on the positive, but also squeeze in one or two areas for improvement. That way, nobody gets overwhelmed by negative feedback.
Paul Falcone, author of “75 Ways for Managers to Hire, Develop and Keep Great Employees” (AMACOM, 2016) recommends that feedback be specific. “Detailed feedback that is recent and ‘real’ becomes actionable and much more meaningful to the recipient,” says Falcone.
That means, instead of telling someone, “You looked pretty nervous when you gave that presentation,” you could say, “When you paced the room during your presentation, it gave the impression you were unsure of your message and lacked confidence in it, and I believe it contributed to your recommendation being shot down by the decision-makers.”
Of course, your feedback should be a mix of positives and negatives. So, you could say, “The content of your presentation flowed very well, and the slides were clear and concise, but unfortunately decisions are often made on how we present an idea, so let’s discuss how you might improve in your delivery.”
Providing feedback in a timely manner is also critical. “The ongoing feedback loop will garner you high points as a caring leader who’s focused on employee development,” says Falcone. Truly, what’s the point of waiting until your employee flops at a second or third presentation to give the feedback? Feedback should occur regularly, not just during an annual appraisal. By making it part of your regular routine, you are providing others with the “psychological oxygen that keeps them engaged and refreshed, and it removes any awkwardness when it comes to addressing minor issues before they escalate,” says Falcone.
Letting people know where they fall short is actually a gift. I have lost count of the number of people sent to me for outplacement who had been terminated for performance issues that could have easily been corrected earlier if the person’s manager had spoken up.
As for the “gift” Carl gave me 38 years ago, it changed my life. I began to view my world differently and now, if anything, I tend to see the trees for the forest. In my line of work, that kind of thinking is essential. So, Carl, a belated thank-you.