Are You Investing in Feedback to Grow Your Business?

For the duration of my executive coaching experience many of my clients have demonstrated an aversion to conflict. Instead of correcting flawed performance, managers often hope employees will identify their own mistakes.

Take the example of Justin, who works hard but doesn’t meet the desired outcomes determined by his manager. Justin is always busy, but his efforts are not prioritized and he doesn’t address the strategic goals for his department. How is this situation typically handled? Having worked with hundreds of executives over 20 years, I’ve seen many managers, in the best companies, resort to discussing the problem with their peers, but not with the employees who need the coaching.

Counterproductive outcomes abound due to this lack of feedback. In this real example, Justin’s manager, Beth, complains to another manager that Justin isn’t doing great work. The second manager agrees and starts to observe lackluster performance in Justin. The second manager then tells other members of her team, either directly or indirectly, by insinuating that the team needs to go around Justin to get things accomplished. Beth still hasn’t resolved her problem, but has now given others a negative impression of Justin. Justin feels a lack of connection with others who now respond differently to him. Next, Justin pulls away and has less communication with his manager and other employees, which results in a long term, self-fulfilling prophecy for Beth, his manager.

Discussion of Justin’s performance is prevalent, but little is said to him that would help him change his behavior. I have seen these types of situations go on for six months, a year, or two years, and still not be addressed. This is a cultural issue and culture is the driving force in business. It is unwritten and hard to describe for many people, yet employee behavior follows a predictable pattern at work. Companies typically have either a culture of transparency, or one of avoidance. A culture of avoidance can lead to crisis. When faced with a crisis, giving feedback becomes more emotional for both the manager and the employee and conflict arises. The discussion is no longer about the one performance issue, but about all of the feelings and emotions that both people have been avoiding.

The key is to develop a feedback-rich culture so that this scenario is not repeated in your workplace. If only a few people have the skills to deliver good feedback, the company culture will revert back to talking about an employee, rather than talking to them and giving that person the coaching they need to close performance gaps. It’s not an overnight change, but a game changer for companies who are serious about staying relevant to their customers, differentiating themselves from their competition and growing their business.

How do you handle feedback in your organization?

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