Managers better be careful with feedback

November 30, 2021 by No Comments

It is an important dogma among managers: feedback is valuable. Regularly providing feedback on what is good and bad about someone’s functioning helps the person concerned to get better. But is that true? And how do you give feedback when everyone is working from home?

First the question: is feedback really that important? Opinions are strongly divided on this. In some successful companies, such as Netflix, there is a belief that strong, candid criticism makes people better. But in the Harvard Business Review researcher Marcus Buckingham recently made a fuss about this idea.

Yes, there are jobs with objective quality criteria, Buckingham says. Think of the checklists in the cockpit of an airplane or the operating room. But in most cases, giving feedback revolves around a manager’s subjective views of one’s work. A manager who believes that his criteria for good work are the right ones, that he can observe and communicate how someone scores on that and that this helps the other.

According to Buckingham, the evidence for these beliefs is lacking. Psychological research, for example, shows that it is almost impossible to judge others without being clouded by unconscious biases and other fallacies. In addition, there is ample evidence that criticism on the part of the receiver mainly leads to defensive reactions and thus undermines learning.

As a manager, you’d better be careful with feedback. Especially with negative

The standings: as a manager you better be careful with feedback. Especially with negative. And in this working-from-home time when it’s hard to see colleagues in action and many people are under a lot of pressure, that’s especially true. Anyway, what can you do to help someone get better at their job today?

First option: ask employees to rate themselves. During work or afterwards by viewing the results or a video of himself in action. Sometimes this can be done on the basis of a checklist.

A nice approach is to collect all kinds of examples of good work with colleagues. This also does justice to the fact that quality is usually a subjective concept. The advantage of measuring yourself against self-chosen criteria is that there is no social discomfort.

A second, classical learning-theoretic approach, is to accentuate the positive. Put the spotlight on someone’s best work and say: more of that! When you notice that a colleague is achieving good results, organize a short conversation and ask how she has handled this. Ask about specific behavior and praise it. It is not only about a nice conversation, but also about the learning process that stimulates you. Here too you give someone space to be effective in their own way and you keep the contact positive.

The question that managers almost always ask after discussing these two approaches: what if an employee is underperforming and doesn’t realize it? Well, then of course you intervene. But realize that you are only doing this to avoid worse. Don’t expect your colleague to suddenly magically understand how he should do his job from now on. You have to use the methods above for that.

Ben Tiggelaar writes weekly about personal leadership, work and management.