It's the manager's job to provide regular direction, coaching and feedback. We all know this; it's management 101.
So when and how does this coaching and feedback occur? It should happen all the time.
Ah but the question wasn't when it should happen. The question is when does it actually happen? The reality is that performance feedback either doesn't occur at all or it gets delivered in a flash flood of information during the annual performance review.
How many HR professionals shout from the rooftops to managers, "Make sure you're giving timely and honest feedback to your employees. Don't wait for performance review time; there shouldn't be any surprises. Handle issues as they arise!"
You know in your heart of hearts that this isn't happening. Hoping and wishing managers heed this advice won't magically make it so. Yet we know there is communication occurring between managers and employees.
Three types of manager-employee communication
There are three common types of manager/employee communication settings outside of performance evaluation time. Let's take a closer look at three common settings, what get talked about and when:
1. Impromptu communication
Most employees and managers talk regularly about job responsibilities, project status, goals and all manner of work issues. This happens in spur-of-the-moment ways and places. For instance in-person, by phone, email, text, in the car driving to meetings, through open door practices and in the cafeteria.
2. Dumb questions = dumb answers communication
Most employees are dying for feedback yet have given up asking for it. That's because commonly asked "dumb" questions beget unhelpful non-specific answers. So what happens? We give up.
|The Dumb Question||The Dumb Answer|
|How am I doing?||You're doing great.|
|How's it going?||Everything's good.|
|Are you having fun?||Yes, it's all good.|
|Can I do anything better?||I can't think of anything.|
3. One-on-one meetings
It should be standard practice for managers to periodically and formally meet with employees on a one-on-one basis to review project goals, status reports, work challenges and talk through new ideas.
These meetings sometimes have a formal agenda but are usually more free-flowing. Employees appreciate this gesture by the manager since it communicates, "You are important enough for me to take 30 minutes of my valuable time" and focus just on you.
The key element missing from impromptu and one-on-one meetings
What impromptu or one-on-one meetings rarely are: a higher-level conversation about performance. Most managers think they are having these conversations but in reality they're not.
Case in point:
I remember when my boss, the CEO, would stop by my office once a week for a chat. Enter the dumb question and answer trap:
My boss: "Hey Jamie! How are things going? Are you having fun?"
Me: "Everything is going great, I'm just really busy.
"Busy" was putting it mildly. I was completely overwhelmed. We had 15 open requisitions that all needed to be filled yesterday, we were acquiring another company, and I was doing all the HR functions by myself. To get it all done I was staying until 11 pm some nights.
I was drowning.
I had hinted around during those weekly drop-ins that I could use some help but he just said "I know you'll find a way to get it all done". Yes I would work 13-hour days and get it done. All while losing my mind in the process.
After months of insane-pressure-total-burnout-mode my boss did the usual. He sat down in my office for the weekly chat, smiled, and asked "How are things going?" To this day I cringe at what happened next. I burst into tears. If you've ever cried in front of your boss then you know how humiliating the experience is.
In retrospect if earlier on he had asked questions like, "What's one way I can support you?" or "What's one way I could work better with you?" then I would have said I was nearing my breaking point and was in serious need of at least a part-time assistant or contract recruiter.
Instead it all built up. I felt like my boss didn't care and in the end I had a major melt down in front of the CEO. Mortifying and preventable.
Provide managers with a coaching and feedback framework
If you want managers and employees to turn vague interactions into insightful give-and-receive performance feedback exchanges then it's imperative to provide a framework and some training to do so. It must be seen as easy, informal, insightful, quick and humane.
If you want to learn more on how to help managers do this well, I invite you to check out this on-demand webinar where I share detailed guidance on how to use what I call the 10-Minute Conversation Guide.
In the webinar I'll walk you through the key steps to giving effective feedback to employees in 10 minutes or less.
Your turn: What do you think holds managers back giving effective feedback? How can we better support managers in this process?