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.

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