Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Why We Ask Before Giving Feedback

Actions to take: Always ask your employee for their permission before giving feedback. Change your mindset about what feedback is. Think of it as advice to your employee, not instructions they must follow. advocates for casual, frequent performance feedback using the following formula: 1) ask if you can provide feedback; 2) provide feedback using the format "when you do X, it has Y impact"; 3) finish with a question asking them to change or an affirmation that they should keep it up. Feedback is short, simple, and can be about any work behavior. All posts about feedback assume this formula and strategy.

In the first session of my personnel management course, I ask two questions. First, "How many of you like to be bossed around at work?" As you might imagine, the answer is "nobody." Second, "How many of you are willing to get guidance from your supervisor to do your job better, assuming they did it in a polite, respectful way?" Again, no surprise, the answer is "everybody." 

These are two perspectives on the same situation, but the difference is crucial. When an employee has a major success or major failure, and the average boss thinks to themselves, "It's my job to say something." They must make a judgment about the employee's work, to make it clear that they know what is going on. An employee comes in over an hour late for the 5th time. Other staff are talking. The boss can't pretend like it isn't a problem anymore. They call the employee into the office and say, "You've come in late 5 times now. If you do it again, you're fired." With this approach, it is impossible for the interaction to feel anything but authoritarian. The employee, who hasn't heard a single thing from there boss until this moment, can't help but feel unjustly bossed around (even if they know that they should come in on time). 

We need to change the whole mindset around how feedback fits into the manager-employee relationship. We need to stop thinking about feedback as a judgment about someone's work. We need to stop engaging in behaviors that make our employees feel "bossed around" when they get feedback. 

Feedback is not judgment. Feedback is advice.

Once you accept the premise that feedback is advice, it is obvious that you must ask before giving it. Think for a moment about advice generally. Do we "make" people take our advice in everyday life? Do we demand that people change based on our advice? Of course not. It is the same in a work environment. It is unprofessional to try forcing advice on someone, whatever your roles in the organization. If you use your power as a boss to force advice, it stops being advice. 

Since we are giving advice, it is only natural to ask a person if they're interested in getting it. We are removing the "bossing" part from the equation. They are under no obligation to take your advice. The mindset is that you are simply a person trying to help another person improve for the future. 

Let's return to our example of the late employee. The very first time they come in late, we say, "hey, are you willing to hear a little feedback on your work?" Assuming they say yes, we continue: "When you come in late, a couple things happen. It throws off work and others have to adjust their plans. People notice and get a little annoyed. Also, if it keeps happening, our attendance policy requires me to come down on you, which I don't want to do. Is this something you can work on?" We are not telling employees what they have to do. We are asking to give guidance about the impact their actions have, and we leave them the autonomy to decide what to do about it. 

Before wrapping, let's address an argument some managers have against asking. I have had bosses explain that they shouldn't need to ask. Their employees have a professional obligation to be ready and willing to hear feedback. Certainly, it is not as though your role as a manager doesn't exist here. It is your job to help your employees do their work better. It is their job to be open to your thoughts on how they can improve. That is part of being a professional, I agree completely. But it is delusional to think that translates to "My employees are always mentally and emotionally prepared to productively receive feedback." I ask those managers, "Have you never been distracted by something at work before? Have you never been in a place where you are unprepared to switch focus?" 

It is such a small thing to give your employees that option, and it is incredibly valuable in building trust and increasing the likelihood that they will take your feedback. There are many reasons to ask before giving feedback, and no credible reasons not to. Better bosses show their employees courtesy by asking before they give performance feedback.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Give Deadlines for All Assignments

Actions to Take: Every time you assign a discrete task, attach a deadline with a specific date. Do this even for tasks that don't "need" a deadline. 

Most bosses do not set deadlines for most things. Some avoid deadlines out of politeness, others out of laziness. Whatever the reason, bosses who do not set deadlines are contributing to their employees' stress and uncertainty. 

Here are a few things that happen when you do not set a deadline on an assignment.

First, the employee will either assume that it is top priority or bottom priority. For some employees, any task from the boss requires immediate attention. They will assume that the boss wants them to pause all other work to complete this. Or they will operate as if that is true, whether or not they believe it, in order to impress the boss with how quickly they can work. Other employees will assume that tasks without deadlines are lower priority than all tasks with deadlines. They will keep pushing this task to the bottom of the pile as new tasks with discrete end dates get added to their workload. 

Second, you employee will spend the wrong amount of time on the task. Deadlines give employees a sense for how much work to put into an assignment. For most jobs and most people in the world, quality standards are not rigidly set. There is a spectrum to the concept of "finished work." Without a deadline, perfectionist employees may never be "finished." The boss is expecting a result that can be accomplished in about three to five hours' work, whereas the employee is pouring twenty or thirty hours over the course of a month, getting it "just right." The opposite may be true. Some employees simply do not think about work until it needs to be done. Without a deadline this task never makes it onto their radar, it does not cross the threshold into "needs to be done." They will do virtually no work on it until you follow up. Then they will slap together something that is technically finished but not nearly up to your standard.

The encompassing point is that employees will assume things that are not explicitly communicated. They will make assumptions about the relative priority of various tasks, and priority equates to time spent. Deadlines are a quick and easy shorthand for explaining the importance of any given task. 

The action items of this post are about as simple as they get: always set deadlines. Instead of "Work on X," say, "Deliver X to me via email by the end of work on Tuesday." There is really nothing more to it. Provide a time and a date for every task, every single time. If you forget, catch yourself and follow up with a deadline. Just set deadlines.

There are a couple main reasons why managers avoid deadlines. The first is simply a form of laziness. The boss has not considered the details of the task they are assigning. They have not thought through the amount of work it will be or its priority relative to other tasks. We all get busy enough to do this a little bit. Poor bosses do it a lot. In the worst cases, this is a cowardly form of CYA. The boss is intentionally not providing a deadline so that they can blame their employees when their deadline is not met. This managerial laziness is morally offensive, but it happens.

Bosses avoid deadlines for another reason, which stems from politeness and unwillingness to assert their authority as a boss. These managers want to respect their employees' autonomy. They see a deadline as tantamount to saying, "I know your priorities better than you do." I have a lot of respect for this reasoning. A boss should indeed avoid leaning on their authority as often as possible. You get better results when you work from a place of relationship-building and collaboration. 

However, you cannot be afraid of your managerial authority when using it is the right tool for the job. Here, avoiding the use of your authority leads to worse outcomes and also damages the relationship. Employees will feel like you are dinging them when you ask about X before the deadline arrives, even a benign question like "Are you finished with X yet?" And without a deadline, the deadline for X can never arrive.

There is a solution that both meets my advice and maintains respect for an employee's autonomy: suggest a deadline and get their signoff on it. It looks like this: "Please get started working on X and email me the results. How does a deadline of next Tuesday by the end of the day sound?" Simple, right?

When you set deadlines on tasks, you are helping your employees understand the relative priority of their work. Do it every time.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Your Time During One-on-Ones

Actions to take: Have a working file for one-on-one topics that is always close at hand. Throughout the week, note topics to add for your employees. Always have it front-of-mind. Spend some time just before each one-on-one thinking through how to discuss the more important or complex topics.

To be a truly effective boss, the most important thing you can do is build a trusting relationship with each employee. By far the easiest way to do that is through routine one-on-one meetings. recommends that those meetings are scheduled, 30 minutes, weekly, and rarely missed, with the first half of the meeting spent on whatever they want to discuss and the second half for whatever you want to discuss.

Some of your employees are going to be skeptical about this whole one-on-ones business. Rightly so if you were boss who did not do very much active management in the past. The easiest way to prove those employees right is by failing to adequately prepare for your half of the meeting. I had a friend who rolled out one-on-ones with her team of five. However, the launch week for the meetings was just after her own week-long vacation. The first set of meetings were dreadfully awkward, and she ended most of them after about 10 minutes. She got into each meeting and just didn't have anything to say. The experience soured her team (and nearly soured her) on the idea of one-on-ones altogether. The setback took months to correct. (She ultimately "relaunched" one-on-ones with an apology to her team and a promise that that the meetings would look better in the future.)

Avoid this pitfall by adequately preparing for your one-on-one meetings. They are your most important meeting, after all--treat them that way. When you are well prepared, your half of the meeting flows naturally. There is almost nothing to it: you will go through your list of topics, make sure to leave room for them to speak (it's a discussion, not a presentation), and take notes as necessary. Preparation is the key word. Preparation separates genuinely valuable, rewarding one-on-ones from the awkward drudgery of a meeting led by a mediocre boss. 

Here is how you will prepare:

  1. Have a file within easy reach at all times to note topics for one-on-ones with each of your employees. I like an excel table with employee names down the side and week-by-week dates running across the top. This allows me to easily make notes for one-on-one topics several weeks out. A more common method is to have a notebook for each employee, one page per meeting. Then it is as simple as flipping back to review old meetings or flipping forward to make notes a few weeks out. 
  2. Always have this file front-of-mind. With just a little effort on your part, you will discover dozens of potential one-on-one topics throughout the week: you overhear your employee talking about a new process idea in the workroom; an email from your boss reminds you of an important service update launching next week; you see an employee deftly handling a tricky customer; etc. Note these things down as topics for your next meeting. 
  3. In addition, spend some time prior to each meeting preparing what you will say. If your list is light, you may use this time to come up with additional topics. The primary purpose, however, is to think through how you will approach the topics you already have. If you plan to give positive feedback, think through the phrasing. If an unpopular change is on the way, think through how to draw out your employee's concerns. If you're planning to learn more about some aspect of their work, consider what questions to ask to get them talking freely. 

With the right preparation, employees will be impressed. You will be involved in their work in a productive, non-intrusive way that they have never experienced before. They will see that there is real content there, meaningful discussion that actually has an impact on their ability to achieve their goals. They will recognize that you are genuinely trying to get to know them, and they will respond in kind. When you have a list of 5-10 thoughtfully planned topics each meeting, your employees will get on board with one-on-ones in just a few weeks. 

The average boss does whatever the company expects for routine meetings with employees. They assume that one less meeting is better for everyone, so they avoid any meeting that is not mandated. If one-on-ones are required, average bosses muddle through with barely a moment spared for advanced preparation. Better bosses know that weekly one-on-ones are the easiest way to manage. They guarantee the value of those meetings by coming prepared. 

Monday, February 15, 2021

Their Time During One-on-Ones

Actions to take: During your employee's half of one-on-one meetings: explicitly hand over the meeting, do not judge what they choose to talk about, actively engage in the discussion, avoid taking over, and take notes where appropriate. 

To be a truly effective boss, the most important thing you can do is build a trusting relationship with each employee. By far the easiest way to do that is through routine one-on-one meetings. recommends that those meetings are scheduled, 30 minutes, weekly, and rarely missed, with the first half of the meeting spent on whatever they want to discuss and the second half for whatever you want to discuss.

This post describes exactly what to do during the employee's half of the one-on-one. 

  • Hand over the meeting with a question: When your employee comes into your office for their one-on-one, say the same thing every time. "What would you like to talk about?" or "What's on your mind?" or even a neutral statement like "The floor is yours." Pick one and stick with it. You must avoid leading the witness here. You want this to be their time to talk about whatever they want. Some employees will try to guess what is important to you and talk about that. You want them talking about what is important to them. When you roll out one-on-ones, I recommend that you even mention that you will be asking this same question. "I want to make it perfectly clear, when I say the first 15 minutes are your time, I mean it. I'll ask the exact same question every time you come into the room. It is just my way of saying that you have the conn." 
  • Talk about anything they want: The purpose of this meeting is to establish trust with your employee so that communication comes easier. It may feel like the point of the meeting is to get work done, answer work-related questions, talk about work-related projects, etc. That is the fringe benefit. Don't lose sight of the real goal: building a meaningful relationship. This means you will talk about anything they bring up. Now, we exist in a working environment, so most of your employees will want to talk about work. That is what will be important to them for their relationship with you. But not all. Some employees will want to talk about their families, or their pets, or their obsession with some particular TV show. That is what is important to that employee. You will talk about those things with just as much enthusiasm. Building a relationship with an employee means building a relationship with their interests.
  • Actively participate in the discussion: You're having a conversation here, not having them deliver a 15-minute report followed by your 15-minute report. So discuss! Put energy into your side of the conversation. Think about what they are saying and respond. Dig deeper with follow up questions. Maybe they are telling you about that TV show obsession. Why are they obsessed? What draws them to it? What does it have for them that other shows don't? Match their level of candidness. What is your equivalent for their TV show obsession? Share a bit of yourself the way they are sharing themselves. 
  • Avoid taking over: However, that is a balancing act. The senior-most person in any conversation tends to do most of the talking. People defer up. Even if it is a casual conversation about their weekend, most employees will naturally allow a boss to take over the conversation. It is your job to stop this from happening. You should typically do less than 25% of the talking during their time.
  • Take notes (on paper): Taking notes is a sign of respect in work environments. It signals interest--this is important, so I'm writing it down. In the end, one-on-ones are work meetings. You will still need to take notes on plans for follow up, project details your employee is sharing, feedback you've given, etc. Now, some topics are a faux pas to take notes on. For instance, writing down the name of an employee's spouse comes off as anti-social. You should remember it without the aid of a notepad. That said, writing down the name of their TV show obsession would be well appreciated, especially if you say you're going to check it out. (Do not use a computer to take notes. That body language signals disinterest, not interest. A future post will explain the psychology of that difference.)

For those of you who are worried that you will be delving into the personal lives of your employees every week, that is not the case. The vast majority of your employees will want to talk about work the vast majority of the time. That said, you can hear them out in the break room talking with coworkers about weekend plans, TV shows, games they like, and all sorts of other non-work topics. Be part of the team by doing a bit of that with the employees who want it.

Follow these guidelines during your employee's time in the one-on-one. Your team will see that you are serious when you say that the one-on-one is about them and about establishing a trusting relationship. Even the cynical ones will come around eventually. Your team will get more work done, more effectively, with this little bit of investment on your part. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Answering Complex Questions - Part 2

Actions to take: When your employees ask relatively complex questions, do not answer with the first thing that comes to mind. Probe for more details. Delay making an immediate decision. In some cases, push that "thinking work" back onto them. To make this easy, follow the specific five step process described below.

In Part 1, we introduced the idea that managers should not always supply answers when their staff bring complex questions or ideas to them. Don't dive in with your opinion right away. Instead, engage in a process that 1) gathers data before coming to a conclusion, 2) encourages staff development, 3) discourages staff from expecting you to solve every problem for them. Here is a five-step schema for doing just that:

1) Ask the staff member for more details: Take a moment to think about how you personally operate at work. When you bring issues or ideas to your boss, have you usually thought about them quite a lot first? Think about the last time you brought something of substance to your boss's attention. How long had you been thinking about it before broaching the topic? I'll wager it was at least an hour on-and-off throughout the week leading up.

The employee who brings you a big question or big idea knows more about it than you do. They’ve been thinking about it and dealing with it. Don’t jump in with an answer when you’ve only had a few moments to process the problem. Instead, ask the staff member what they would do, why they would do it, what their reasoning is, etc. Whatever your initial reaction, spend at least 5 minutes keeping an open mind and considering alternative thinking.

2) Look for gaps in their logic: After you have heard enough to understand the problem (and proposed solution, if there is one), don’t stop there. Look for gaps in their reasoning, information that is still missing, perspectives that haven’t been considered yet. The staff member’s idea probably solves the problem for them, but does it solve the problem for their neighbor, or for you, or for your boss? 

Here is one way to test whether or not you have discovered gaps in their thinking on the matter: ask yourself, "Could I fully and completely explain this idea to my boss, addressing all of the potential concerns they could see with it?" If the answer is maybe or no, then there are gaps in the information you have.

3) Direct the staff member to fill in gaps: This step in the process is vital for developing your staff. It is natural to do the follow-up investigation yourself. Their new idea may solve problems for them, but you can see other problems it might create for various coworkers. You know this, so it is easy for you to discuss the idea with those coworkers directly. Stop yourself. 

You are a manager, and you are never going to have just one problem. If you take on the leg-work of every question or idea that comes up, you’ll quickly overwhelm yourself. While it would be more efficient for you to do this work yourself, you simply don’t have the time. Learning to work through others is perhaps the hallmark of becoming a manager.

This is where staff development happens. Logically, “it will be faster and easier if I just do it myself” could only be true if you think you are more skilled than the employee below you. That thought should be a signal to you, a red flag saying, “Here’s a chance for staff development.” Also logically, you shouldn’t expect it to go as well as if you had done it yourself. So don’t get frustrated when they don’t do exactly what you want. 

4) Repeat steps 2 & 3 as necessary: If you yourself went to collect information, we wouldn’t need this step. You would get everything you need to get on the first pass because you know exactly what you want. Your staff member probably will not. Communication isn’t perfect, no matter how hard we try. Even when both parties are putting in full effort, it is impossible to get an exact understanding from one mind to another. Accept that, and build enough time into your decision-making process to allow for iteration. 

5) Make the decision: If you have done the prior steps fully, you should have all the information you need to make a confident, certain decision. One way to tell if you are doing these steps correctly is by reflecting on staff reactions. When you make decisions contrary to what they were hoping, how do they react? Do they generally understand why that alternative was chosen? When you have enough information to make a confident decision that takes many perspectives into account, most staff members will be satisfied most of the time.

Try this process out next time one of your employees presents an idea or question of substance. I bet you will find yourself with employees who are more engaged in the "thinking work" of their jobs and who understand and appreciate your decision-making logic. You'll also free up time of your own for other work. If you do give it a shot, I'd love to hear how it goes. Comment here or use the contact form to say hello.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Answering Complex Questions - Part 1

Actions to take: When your employees ask relatively complex questions, do not answer with the first thing that comes to mind. Probe for more details. Delay making an immediate decision. Where appropriate, push that "thinking work" back onto them. 

Your employee just came to you with a new idea. She has a new approach for the back workroom inventory system that she says will make things simpler for everyone. After a few minutes' explanation of her idea, you are not at all convinced that it will be simpler. It seems to cater very well to her work and work like hers, but it is evident that she hasn't thought through the impacts it would have on coworkers who use the inventory differently from how she does. Further, this would be a complicated change. Even if it improved everyone's work as she describes, it is probably not worth the cost of the time spent transitioning to her new system. You thank her for her ideas and explain that it cannot be done at this time. You have just made a managerial error.

When staff come to us with questions or ideas, our impulse is to immediately answer with our thoughts. It is human nature and what we expect out of casual conversation--you ask a question, I try to answer. It is also what we presume a manager should be doing. People think the manager is the problem solver. We’ve been trained to believe that you go to a manager to get answers. They make the decisions and have the knowledge. Once you turn a critical eye on that presumption, you will see its flaws. 

There are three critical reasons why you should not jump in with your thoughts as soon as it is your turn to speak to an employee about their idea or question.

  1. The solution is the last step, not the first: Our brains constantly put the cart before the horse when trying to solve problems. We immediately consolidate the tiny amount of information we’ve been given into an answer. Stop yourself! If you do this, you won’t consider relevant (but unknown) information, and you will make bad choices based on limited knowledge. In any troubleshooting guide, the first step is always to identify elements of the problem. Forget about the solution at first and just gather information.
  2. You will fail to develop your staff: As a manager, a core part of your job is developing your people. That includes pushing them to solve problems on their own, develop critical thinking skills, and understand that complex problems sometimes require in-depth problem-solving strategies. By answering the question yourself every time, you rob them of any opportunity to find answers on their own.
  3. You become a firefighter: If you “take care” of every problem, you are teaching staff that they should come to you with all their problems. You are giving them the gift of dealing with it, so of course they’ll bring the next problem to you. Your job starts to be all about dealing with issues, metaphorically known as putting out fires. Those issues will become more and more mundane over time, since the answer to every problem is "see what the boss thinks." Some managers take a certain grim satisfaction in this (“This place would collapse without me! They’re so lucky I’m here!”), but it is not an effective way to manage.

You must actively stop yourself from jumping in with answers. When someone comes to you with a complex question, shift into mental overdrive. Listen to what they are saying and be thinking strategically about how you should respond. Probe for more details, don't make any immediate decisions, and look for ways to encourage them to analyze their own question. In Part 2, we walk through a specific process you can employ to do this effectively.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Rolling Out Feedback - Part 2

Actions to take: When you are ready to begin giving frequent performance feedback and use the feedback formula, follow the announce before you implement advice. Practice feedback on your own before the rollout. Do not roll out frequent feedback before rolling out routine one-on-ones. 

This is a continuation of Rolling Out Feedback Part 1. This post stands on its own, but will make more sense in the context of that post.

Do not suddenly change how you give performance feedback without notifying your staff first. Announce the change well in advance of your planned start date. Here is a week-by-week breakdown of how that looks.

Week 1, Announce the Change: Announce this change in a staff meeting. The most important changes are announced in person. You want staff to recognize this as a major departure from the way things have been done in the past. Here is a framework for writing the script of that announcement. A future blog post will provide a full sample script for announcing the feedback rollout.

  • Provide the bottom line up front. Explain that you will be changing how you give feedback, that you will be giving more feedback, and that you will be giving feedback about everyday performance, not just big things. Give an example to let them hear what it sounds like.
  • Explain why. Spend the bulk of your time on this part of your announcement. Make sure to explain "why" from their perspective as well as yours. That is, explain how this is valuable for them and for the team. Speak very plainly and honestly. It is beneficial in some cases to acknowledge that you have not given much feedback in the past. 
  • Describe the change. Explain what you will be doing in detail. Go through various elements of your new way of giving feedback (it will be small, it will be quick comments, it is meant to be casual & unalarming, you will ask if they want feedback, you will not do it in front of others, etc.). Use your judgment to determine how much detail to go into. It is not necessary to make this into a 30 minute lecture on the philosophy of performance feedback, but you want to make sure your staff knows what to expect. 
  • Describe the change process. Acknowledge that there will be a transition period where this feels strange. Acknowledge that you will not be perfect at it immediately. Reiterate that you will start in three weeks, not right away. Say that you will touch base individually to see what questions people have. Ask if there are initial questions now.
I encourage you to be as transparent as your comfort level allows about the fact that you are learning and trying new things as a boss. Bosses get better at their jobs over time, just like any other employee. Saying, "I found a better way to manage you, and I'm going to try it out" is a perfectly fine thing to do.

Week 2, Follow up: The easiest method for follow up is to ask how staff feel about it during one-on-one meetings. Most staff will be wary of this change. It is just a question of how many of them will be upfront about it. The purpose of announcing in advance is to get these thoughts and feelings on the table ahead of the change. Draw staff out, empathize, and demonstrate that this is genuinely about helping people succeed. Acknowledge concerns. 

There is a particular class of staff you will want to prepare for: highly independent types. You will get people who say that they "just don't see the point." This is not necessarily correlated to ability--some successful employees will feel this way. It is correlated to unwillingness to be managed. Those who resisted your one-on-ones rollout will also resist this rollout. They will say that they don't need a bunch of praise and will probably show a certain amount of distain at the idea of people who need affirmation of their work. With these people, be even more explicit about framing feedback as instruction. Explain that it is your job to ensure that work is being done successfully and on track. Firmly state that feedback is not praise. The purpose is to guide future behavior, which is your job as a manager. Yes, occasionally that means re-affirming that they are on the right track. After saying all this, these employees still will not like it, but they will have a tougher time arguing with it. Make a note a month after launching feedback to check in again on this issue with them.

Week 3, Respond: You do not need to hold off on responding to people until week 3. When someone expresses concern about getting more feedback during the one-on-one, engage then and there. The week 3 response is about responding to the team as a whole. After you have had conversations with each staff member individually, send out a follow up announcement to everyone. Thank them for their thoughts. Acknowledge any general concerns that came from multiple people, and make appropriate responses to minimize those concerns. If you do make changes to your plans based on their comments, mention that here.

Week 4, Begin: If you have fully prepared for the change, you should be ready to hit the ground running. Begin using your new feedback strategy in week 4. In addition, monitor the change. Here, that means self-assessment and gauging staff reactions. Do not draw too many conclusions in the first few weeks. It is going to feel a little strange initially, just like the first time you ran a meeting or spoke in front of an audience. 

Throughout all of this, remember that your negative emotions leak through more than you realize. You are probably going to be feeling significant anxiety about this change, since it impacts your work at least as much as theirs. The more relaxed and positive you can be in your announcement communication, the more relaxed and positive they will be.

This post is not intended to suggest you should be rolling out feedback based only on the few posts this blog has covered so far. Wait until we have covered more ground, or independently research effective feedback practices before launching it with your team.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Rolling Out Feedback - Part 1

Actions to take: When you are ready to begin giving frequent performance feedback and use the feedback formula, follow the announce before you implement advice. Practice feedback on your own before the rollout. Do not roll out frequent feedback before rolling out routine one-on-ones. advocates for casual, frequent performance feedback using the following formula: 1) ask if you can provide feedback; 2) provide feedback using the format "when you do X, it has Y impact"; 3) finish with a question asking them to change or an affirmation that they should keep it up. Feedback is short, simple, and can be about any work behavior. All posts about feedback assume this formula and strategy.

Do not suddenly change how you give performance feedback without notifying your staff first.

I once attempted to begin giving routine, casual feedback to a new team without explaining what I was doing first. I was a new manager in a new organization, and I didn't want to make too much of a splash by coming off as eccentric. I figured I could just ease into it. This was a bad idea.

People are used to only getting feedback about major problems or major successes. Years of being minimally managed have led us to think feedback from the boss is a big deal. Here is what happens when you begin giving feedback on routine things with no prior warning. Your staff will emotionally react the same way as they did with big feedback--there is no stopping it. They will not consciously question that emotional response. That reaction has made sense for years and years, after all. But they will feel that something is wrong with the situation. If it is not them, it must be you. "Ben is the only boss who feels the need to comment on such small things. Where did this come from? He has become micromanager! I wish he would just leave me alone." 

They feel this way because they still see feedback as a big deal. They see it as a threat. Prior to this, every piece of feedback they received ended up on a performance appraisal. You need to introduce the concept of feedback as a normal, everyday part of working in an organization. You need to make it clear that this feedback is just a small, casual bit of advice. Announcing before you implement is more important for this change than any other. 

In the next post, I will walk through the 4-week announcement plan in detail. Before that, there are a few things you need to do.

  1. Roll out one-on-ones first. You need to have a meaningful relationship with your employees before you try to give routine feedback on their work. People naturally see feedback as a "management authority" thing. We are trying to normalize it, make it come from a place of suggestion and encouragement. We want staff to be thinking "Ben suggested trying a different way" after corrective feedback, not "The boss told me to do it differently." You must help them see you as a person, not just the boss, by building a genuine relationship with each staff member. By far, the easiest, most efficient way to do that is through weekly one-on-one meetings. I recommend at least 6 weeks of one-on-ones before rolling out feedback.
  2. Practice on your own: A good initial benchmark is to give one piece of performance feedback to each staff, each week. Feedback eventually becomes as natural as breathing. Not so at first. For at least 2 weeks prior to launch, practice writing up the feedback you would give each staff. If you cannot find the time and energy to do this, you have no hope of successfully rolling out feedback to your team. Better to know before you start.
  3. Plan to start with positive feedback: This is going to be a tough change for you and for your staff. The transition period will be as challenging as any major process rollout. Make it a little easier on yourself by starting with only positive feedback. You can begin mixing in corrective feedback as early as 3 weeks depending on how confident you are in your relationship with your staff. Waiting until 5 weeks out is a safe bet.

In an effort to keep these posts a manageable size, we will stop there. In Part 2, we will walk through each week of the announce before you implement model for rolling out feedback.

This post is not intended to suggest you should be rolling out feedback based only on the few posts this blog has covered so far. Wait until we have covered more ground, or independently research effective feedback practices before launching it with your team.

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