Feedback – hard to give, easy to take

I’m a terrible manager.

Well, in fairness, I’m a great manager if you’re an independent go-getter who likes to work autonomously, is focused on self-improvement, and a hard worker. If you’re that kind of person, then I’m the boss for you! Not only will I encourage you to get on with the job without micro-managing, I’ll happily give you responsibility to fit your skill set rather than restricting you with something as tawdry as a job description, and you’ll get all the credit. I’ll have you up in front of the board of execs as soon as you string a sentence together without an “um”.

The first problem is, I’m very hands off. And while that suits some people, it doesn’t suit a whole lot more. I’m more than happy to give direction, help prioritise, and hand hold if it’s the first time they’ve done something – but they have to ask. I rely on people coming to see me and telling me what they need my support with. I’m not a mind reader – you have to tell me what you need so I can help you.

The second problem is my over casual, everyone’s a friend, attitude. Don’t get me wrong, you won’t find me out on the lash with my direct report during their first week on the job, but I’m a bit of an open book. Some might say, a bit of an over-sharer. As in, the whole office is going to hear about it if customer service at Southern Rail messes me around again (choice expletives included).

So when my direct report needs a little stiff handed guidance on a few areas where their performance might be a tad lackluster, how do I bridge the gap between “hands off mate” and “actual boss”?

Giving feedback is a bit of an art form. Anyone who has been on a management course will tell you that you need to lead with the positives and then focus on the development points. Come armed with relevant examples, suggestions of how to improve, and how you’re going to support them. Easy, right?

But what happens when you feel like you’ve given the feedback a couple of times and it’s not being implemented? They’ve sat in front of you multiple times, taken it on board, and promised change. But you’ve yet to see results.

This is the part I really struggle with. The bit where you need to put on your disciplinarian hat and lay down the law. No change, warning. Still no change, escalate.

Ultimately, I still feel like I’m in school. And I don’t want to be that kid who tells the teacher on the other kids. I’m left scratching my head thinking, why isn’t what I say enough to spur them to change? Not only do I not want to go telling the teacher, I also don’t want the teacher alerted to a potential flaw in my skill set  – I should be able to handle the situation myself.

And there’s always that niggling voice at the back of my head: “but they’re a nice person”. How can I not feel bad about making their life difficult?

The truth is, it doesn’t matter what kind of person they are. A person needs to be assessed on their fit with the job. Sometimes, they just aren’t the right person – and that doesn’t mean they’re bad at their job. It just means they might not be right for it within this particular organisation. They might thrive in a smaller / bigger, more / less autonomous, more / less creative, (the possibilities go on) environment.

A good manager should recognise when someone isn’t meeting their potential. And if they can’t unlock the best of them, they should recognise that too, and understand that someone else might be able to. Opportunity is what you make of it. And sometimes the hardest feedback to give, is the best feedback that someone can hear.


Image courtesy of stock.xchng.


One thought on “Feedback – hard to give, easy to take

  1. Pingback: Being a first time boss | Laugh Lots, Travel Often

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