Our studies have found that, for most Manager’s, giving feedback is awkward and uncomfortable, particularly when there is a performance or behavioral need for improvement. In general, we believe the reason that many of us find it difficult to deliver unfavorable or unpleasant news is our perception of the hurtful impact on the individual, their disappointment or unpredictable range of responses. The reality is, in most cases, this is a misconception on our part. Most of us, if not nearly all of us, want to continue to improve and succeed at what we do, so the irony is, we often think that we are doing someone a favor by soft-peddling the news, when in fact, we are doing them a disservice and preventing them from further development, growth and achievement. They don’t know what they don’t know!!! And the only way they will know is if we are honest with our feedback and then partner with them to strengthen those areas in need of improvement.
In our programs, we provide an in-depth review of the seven Patterns of Behavior that exist in the workplace. And through our Assessments, we also identify for the participant’s their specific pattern of behavior. Over years of tracking the data from the assessments, we have found that the two most used patterns by managers when giving performance-related feedback are the Synergist and Strategist and neither are very effective. The Synergist is overly kind by smoothing over “constructive criticism” and the Strategist is overly vague. Ambiguity (double-talk) is their friend. Their motto is, if you do not have something nice to say, you can at least be VAGUE!
A Manager from a major Retail client of ours, Tom, a strategist, had the difficult task of having to fire an under-performing employee after a number efforts to improve her performance. Tom met with the employee at the end of the day to inform her of the decision. The next morning she returned to work not even realizing that she had been fired. Sadly her colleagues had to inform her of the truth.
Synergists on the other hand, procrastinate and refrain from confronting problems in a timely, truthful and decisive way. They fear losing the approval of both the individual receiving the feedback and as well as others on the team if they are confrontational. Again, the irony is, the opposite is true. Issues must be addressed with honesty and conviction to gain the respect of others.
An example that comes to mind is “Sarah, an incredibly kind and gentle person. She’s smart, hardworking, and loyal…However, she had one weakness and it was affecting her entire team. It’s a common weakness among leaders. At times, most of us will struggle in this area. Her weakness? She was being too kind!
To the detriment of her team, a noticeable underperforming and disruptive team member was being allowed to continue this divisive behavior without any repercussions and there was no apparent effort by Sarah to change this behavior even though the individuals behavior was clearly impacting team morale and performance with no accountability. In an effort to save the relationship Sarah chose to continue to exercise ONLY patience and not to confront the problem.
By ignoring the problem and failing to take corrective action, Sarah essentially abdicated her leadership role…Our management or leadership style or pattern, in this case, the kindest and non-confrontational Synergist, cannot be used as an excuse for our behavior.
If you are not careful, you can become everyone’s friend, but nobody’s leader.
We are not suggesting you be mean, but know that
“Leading is hard – some days harder than others. The sooner you handle the problem (and the problem people), the sooner things will begin to improve on your team for everyone.
We recommend the pattern that we refer to as the Actualizer Leadership approach. Actualizers not only transfer ownership to the individual; but also, removes the awkwardness and sometime difficult task of delivering unfavorable news when providing Performance-related Feedback.
First, Actualizers celebrate success and acknowledge the value the individual brings to the team.
Second, if and when improvement is needed, they clearly point out the areas that need to be strengthened, and then ask the individual, what can you do to improve and strengthen these areas? Since it is often human nature for us to be harder on ourselves than others can be on us, the employee will likely come up with more suggestions than we could address (although we can add additional actions at this time if necessary).
Third, after the individual has verbally outlined their plan for improvement, which needs to include any additional actions that may have been added, Actualizers ask them, “how can I partner with you to achieve your plan?” Once agreement has been reached, set a specific timeline to achieve improvements. Then, have the employee provide a written summary of the agreement for both to sign.
In essence, the employee creates and owns their plan for improvement with our partnership. And there is also accountability with a mutually agreed upon timeline.
This three-point method also empowers our employees by allowing them to play an active part in their own development and success.
Of course, many performance-related issues may only require tweaks and refinements and can be handled in a less formal manner through coaching and mentoring.