Monday, March 21, 2022

Feedback: When Employees Overcorrect

Actions to take: Prepare for the fact that employees will take your feedback too far in the other direction from time to time. When it happens, simply give them new feedback about the new issue it is creating. 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.

Let's say you've got an employee who never contributes during staff meetings. Totally silent. You know they have opinions. You've seen them express opinions and have ideas outside the meeting. You give them some feedback: "Hey Ben, when you don't share your thoughts during staff meetings, a couple things happen. We don't get to have as robust a conversation. Communication can drag out because you save your thoughts to share another day, which slows down decision making. And to be honest, it makes you seem a little disengaged from the team. Can you work on it?" 

Oh boy do they work on it. Next team meeting, your employee shares their thoughts. And shares. And shares. Maybe they are making a passive aggressive point at you. Maybe they're terrified of getting the same feedback again, so they go all out. Maybe they just think this is what you meant. Whatever the case, your employee has taken over the meeting. The pendulum got thrown in the other direction, and you've got a new problem on your hands. What do you do? 

The answer is obvious. When an employee overcorrects after receiving feedback, you simply give them more feedback. Bosses are uncomfortable with this answer for two reasons.

The first reason they probably wouldn't like to admit: the boss is embarrassed. "I told my employee to do this, and they did it, and now I have to tell them to do the opposite? I'll look stupid." I understand this feeling. We all get this feeling sometimes. The solution is to accept that communication isn't perfect and move on. You can play the hindsight game all you want, thinking through how you should have given the feedback this way or that way or had a longer conversation about what the employee should or shouldn't do, etc. Or you can just acknowledge that most messages don't make it from one brain to another perfectly on the first try. 

The other reason bosses don't like to give feedback after an overcorrection is that they're worried about how the employee will react. Maybe the employee will react badly. You give them feedback about how they need to make room for others' thoughts, and they get frustrated. "Last week, you told me to speak up more. I did! Now you're telling me I spoke up too much. Make up your mind!"

Be prepared for the possibility that an employee will respond to you in this way. Help them understand the situation with the analogy of the bowling ball. Imagine a bowling ball rolling down its lane. The lane is one of those starter lanes with bumpers blocking the gutters on either side. The bowling ball is rolling down, but it is off course. It hits the left bumper. The left bumper sends it back the other way as it goes down the lane. After the bowling ball crashes into the right bumper, it looks at the left bumper in frustration. The ball says, "It's your job to help me get to the end of the lane, but instead you sent me careening into the right bumper!" The left bumper responds, "It is my job to make sure you don't end up in the gutter. It is your job to get to the end of the lane." 

The left bumper is the feedback that the employee needs to share their thoughts more. The right bumper is the feedback that the employee needs to leave room for others' thoughts. The end of the lane is the sweet spot of effective behavior. When a bowling ball hits one bumper hard, we're not surprised if it ends up hitting the other bumper on its way down. It's just physics. When an employee gets struck with feedback, we should not be surprised if they go all out trying to correct it. It's just human nature. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular Posts