What to do When Feedback from Your Manager is Lacking

by Jamie Resker | Posted | Performance Management

What to do When Feedback from Your Manager is Lacking

I was struck by a brief conversation with a colleague, Andrea Kourafakas, who had spent 10 years as Director of HR at Envirotrak. She was leaving for another job - which wasn’t the surprising part.

What was surprising was that the CEO sent an email letting staff know Andrea was leaving and how valuable and instrumental she had been in growing the business. When telling this story, she was still amazed to learn about the positive impact she had and how valued she truly was.

Her manager was a stoic, man of few words type and she had no idea he thought so highly of her contributions. Andrea said, "Had I known I probably would have stayed."

Employees value feedback

People want to know two things: "What is expected of me?" and "how am I doing against these expectations?" As a manager, do the most valued employees know how much you appreciate their contributions? Are there blind spots relating to what they do well and should be aware of? On the flipside, when an employee’s behavior is off-target, have they been redirected?

While most managers think they are having conversations about performance, the truth usually falls short. Communication typically centers on projects, status updates, issues, etc. There is a place for these conversations which are commonly referred to as one-on-ones. At a minimum, monthly one-on-ones should be scheduled and include conversation about expectations and how the employee is performing.

According to the 2013 Mercer Performance Management Survey, only 6% of managers are skilled at having candid conversations about performance. Managers want to do the right thing but often struggle with where to start. Employees want to know what is expected, where they stand and have opportunities to learn and grow.

Unfortunately, there’s a 94% chance you’ll be working for a manager who lacks the ability to provide this information on a regular basis. The good news is there is something you can do to change this dynamic.

Why some managers aren’t giving employees feedback

First let’s look at some of the reasons managers hold off on giving performance feedback:

  • Drowning in their day-to-day workload and unable to provide guidance.
  • Has not been trained to provide feedback (sometimes these skills do not come naturally, but they can be learned).
  • Takes a hands-off approach to high performers assuming they’re "all-set."
  • Has yet to make the transition from individual contributor to a manager of people.
  • Waits for performance review time to fill employees in on how they’re doing.
  • Has an "I’ll do it all" attitude versus helping others to learn, grow, and do for themselves.
  • Is too nice and thinks that holding back feedback is the best option.
  • The area for growth relates to a hard to quantify and discuss behavior.

Next, we must accept the inevitable: There’s only a 6% chance that the managers throughout your career will provide you with candid feedback about your performance on their own. We can talk all day and protest, "But this is the manager’s job!" however that’s no way to take charge of developing your performance and potential. Instead, let’s accept the fact that for a myriad of reasons managers cannot be solely responsible for providing the critical insights we need to grow and learn.

Getting feedback from other sources

The bright spot: Managers represent just one source of information. Key work relationships are another source. Here are some tips on how to get feedback from others to help you grow:

People You Work Closely With are Sources for Insight

Team members, those we work with on a daily basis, know the most about our contributions to making the team successful. They are in a position to give meaningful feedback. Others (including peers, managers, direct reports, internal customers, etc.) can also provide us with valuable insight.

Ask the Right Questions

Learn how to ask powerful questions of managers, colleagues, and customers that provide you with insightful, actionable responses. Taking advantage of everyday work interactions offers the best opportunities for on-the-spot insights.

Think about the people that depend upon your work – this includes your manager. Do you understand what is working and should continue and what you could do to provide more support? To find out ask these questions:

1. What’s one thing I’m doing to support you that is working and I should continue with?

2. What’s one way I could support you more?

3. What’s one way we could work better together?

Open-up To New Insights

Asking about the "one thing" that is working and "one way" to provide even more support or work better with someone is a quick and effective way to access information that can help us learn and grow.

When Kathy Jameson asked her manager, "What are three things I’m doing well and should continue with?" and "What are three things I could do to be more effective?" his response was an enthusiastic, "Great questions."

It’s not that managers aren’t capable of giving feedback; it’s more a matter of giving him or her opportunity to do so. And remember, your manager represents just one point of view - tap into your professional network of people who can help you learn and grow.



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