The Other “F” Word

A Valentine’s Day special…

We’re well into the normal annual performance review process. Add to that the fact that many companies have implemented “continuous feedback” mechanisms via HR technology, and chances are good that right now people in your organization are sharing feedback with their direct reports, their peers and in more progressive cases, their managers.

Which, if you paid attention to the title and image of this post, also means that it’s more than likely that somebody is really pissing somebody else off…on Valentine’s Day no less.

Anecdote 1

Two months ago, I took the bait.

Me: “I have a bit of advice if you’d be open to hearing it.”

Person: “I would love to hear the advice, always looking for feedback, so anything would be much appreciated.”

That response was literally copied and pasted. Sounds like the person was quite open to feedback, correct? I took the bait. This wasn’t a Hive Tech HR team member but I’m reluctant to give specifics (happy to share in person). The bottom line is that was carefully concocted so as not to come across too harsh. In fact I was intent on making it constructive, and included a compliment.

What followed? A month of silence. Literally, one full month of zero communication from someone who had been nothing but responsive to that point. How do I know that the silence wasn’t coincidental? We’ve since resumed sporadic communication, and both times I checked in to make sure the feedback wasn’t poorly received, the question was unequivocally ignored.

Anecdote 2

Flipping things a bit, just a couple of days after the incident above started, this dialogue happened at the end of a phone conversation with another colleague:

Person: “Let’s talk tomorrow. I received some feedback I’d like to share.”

Me: “Sure, always open to feedback.”

For about a week, we didn’t connect despite my attempts to do so. Oh boy, I thought, this isn’t good. After all, good feedback is typically something people are eager to share.

The bombshell hung out there another week. Despite my normal self-confidence, anxiety started to build, so I sent the following message. “If your feedback relates to anything that I can assimilate into any improvements that could better impact results, I’m all ears.”

This loop was never closed. I literally have no idea what the feedback was, and it was from somebody whose opinion matters to me. That said, I don’t take this incident personally (see suggestion #5 below) and still greatly respect this person.

What This Points To

These are 2 instances where the concept of feedback delivery failed. But people love to hear how they’re doing, right?

The truth is, the majority of us really only want to hear the good things, and if there’s anything constructive, we only want it delivered as a footnote.

Most people have yet to learn that lesson, and continue to make the same mistake. Alternatively, a smaller population have learned it, such as in Scenario 2, and perhaps it has made them more gun shy about offering feedback at all.This isn’t news to me. I’ve written about it for Wekudo, and even created my own performance plan at my former employer called 2C4P (Commendations and Constructive Feedback for Performance). We use a system tool called Small Improvements at Hive Tech because it allows us to focus more on specific objectives rather than generic commentary. Plus, the concept of badges provides the option for an occasional pat on the back that people appreciate. We’ve even used Teambay to allow employees to recognize their peers and provide ideas to the company.

That’s the point. If these situations are happening to those of us who do this for a living and recognize them as pitfalls, what’s happening across the board? How much employee morale is being significantly damaged by feedback?

The truth is, you may already know the answer to that question. Colleagues like Dr. Michael Moon have spent part of their careers evaluating the negative impact of performance management done wrong. In functional organizations, these situations still happen, and in dysfunctional organizations, they’re rampant. How many of you have received a “3 – Meets Expectations” on a review, which included specific feedback that alienated you? If you can relate to that, how do you think the 1’s and 2’s are reacting to what they’re being told?

The situation has only worsened with social media. Like my posts, pat me on the back in the commentary, but don’t make me look bad…ever. Our limited ability to take constructive feedback when I entered the workforce 20 years ago is at an all-time low in 2017.

Considerations for a Solution

Truthfully, there is no magic bullet. However, here’s some advice:

  1.  Build or modify your technology solutions to take this challenge into account. For example, in addition to the talent management solution recommendations above, on the overall HCM front, Fairsail allows a point in time “recognition” as part of their performance module. Ceridian also has a really cool feature embedded in their DayForce product called Team Relate. Among its features is the ability to see how different people react to different types of feedback. In Scenario 1 above, I might have learned something about that person, like “while I do like feedback, just be a bit cautious when you deliver it as I tend to be sensitive.” Other software handles the problem in a variety of different ways…find one that mitigates the feedback risk, or ask someone for help.
  2. When creating your review processes and forms, consider avoiding traditional “open text” reviews that provide more chances for the reviewer to put their foot in their mouth. Perhaps the ability to measure the percentage achievement of objectives with specifics about what was met and not met could possibly lead to less alienation.
  3. Consider throwing the 1-5 scale out the window. Of course, you’ll still need a way to translate performance into compensation (merit, bonus, etc.), but you aren’t the first organization to figure that part out, and again there’s software you can use to help.
  4. Discover more about your overall organization. For example, I just met with a colleague of mine Friday who has created an amazing tool that assesses corporate culture, and part of that speaks to the willingness to give and receive feedback.
  5. From the receiver’s perspective, try not to take things personally. This bit of advice might put me on shaky ground. It’s like giving feedback to the masses about how to take feedback. To deflect a bit, my former colleague once introduced me to The 4 Agreements, and “not taking things personally” was one of those agreements. The concept of “Kaizen,” continuous improvement, is more likely to be achieved if you’re aware of the ways that you can improve. If you’re willing, take this advice with you into both your personal and professional worlds.
  6. Until the tide has turned (which may never happen) the giver should focus even more heavily on the positive than he/she thinks is necessary. For example, read what you’ve written, or consider what you plan to say, and then ratchet up the ratio of commendations to constructive commentary even further than you planned.

There you have it. I’m out there solving HR technology problems, so there’s some cross-over on the talent management front in terms of how to address this challenge. However, feedback is a very human topic with psychological pitfalls lurking around each corner. You may not actually realize how often you give feedback. For example, I used the word 25 times in this post. If not managed properly, you might end up thinking you’re helping somebody, while what they’re actually seeing is you giving them the finger…on Valentine’s Day.

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