Four more reasons giving public feedback backfires
In my previous post, I described some examples where a manager tries to give “public feedback” in an effort to change the behaviors of a few people through mass communication. The communication may be efficient, but the outcomes are not there, and could actually make things worse. Today, I discuss four more reasons why public feedback is rife with unintended consequences.
“Public Feedback” is when a manager notices or learns something he or she doesn’t like on the part of a few, and instead of addressing it with those individuals, addresses it with the entire team. Three simple examples are:
1) Employees not following a dress code. Manager: “Reminder to everyone: Follow the dress code.”
2) Employees late on their status reports. Manger: “Everyone, I need the status report by end of week, no exceptions.”
3) Employees gossiping. Manager: “I will not tolerate gossiping from anyone.”
In the previous post, I detailed what happens with the people whose behaviors are targeted. But what is the impact on those who are actually doing things correctly? Not good.
a) Those who are actually doing it right start to think that they are doing it wrong, and will actually change behavior.
A pernicious effect of public feedback is that the people performing properly will start thinking that they are underperforming, creating worry, angst, and bother where there really shouldn’t be. They’ll suspect their dress code isn’t good enough. They’ll fear that their productive conversations are actually gossip and stop collaborating, lest they are accused publically of gossiping. They’ll drop other things to get the status report in before the deadline. In all of these cases, the chances are actually quite good that their behavior will change – and in ways that are uneven and unpredictable. Imagine someone who is already in the dress code trying to get more in the dress code — that could create some odd fashions.
b) Those who are doing it right will make an extra effort to confirm that they are doing it right
You have 98 out of 100 people who are performing correctly. You give public feedback to change behavior for the remaining two. Now you have 98 people not sure if they are doing it right. These 98 people will be knocking on your door, asking if they are the one who is doing it incorrectly, and asking what they are supposed to do differently. It won’t happen all at once, but will be a steady trickle. You don’t have time as a manager to correct the behavior of people already doing it right.
c) The entire team will doubt your ability to manage—you have no courage.
With public feedback, you are actually hiding from the people who need the feedback. You don’t have to look them in the eye. You don’t speak to them directly. Your public feedback will readily be interpreted by your team that you don’t have the courage to confront someone directly or take on even an obvious managerial task. This begets a problem that undermines your ability to manage, as people learn that you won’t address issues directly. On issues such as dress codes, it may not have serious financial consequences, but on issues of strategic direction, it becomes a big deal.
d) It is inefficient and ineffective
Public feedback doesn’t work; it might make things worse; it might change behaviors of those doing it right; and it undermines your ability to manage. It is safe to say that doing public feedback in the spirit of efficiency is actually inexpensive and ineffective.
So don’t provide public corrective feedback. Always do your best to isolate the issue to as few people as possible, and start providing feedback from there. Save your team meetings and emails for positive intent areas such as strategy, successes, team forming, problem solving, and anything else that actually moves the team forward, rather than backward.
In my next post, I’ll discuss how public feedback causes more work for the manager.
Have you ever given or received “public feedback”. How did it work out? What are your stories? I look forward to hearing from you!