In my previous article, I discussed how it is important that a manager not act surprised – even when the manager is surprised. In many ways, this is the essence of a good manager – someone who manages the situation, even when the situation presents surprising results.
So here’s another place where you don’t want act surprised: When you see the status of something (whatever it is) reported as “Red” or “down” or “Needs improvement.”
Perhaps you are familiar with what I’m talking about: Many organizations have a structure where they are required to present status or metrics to the management team. On the report there is an indicator as to whether something is “Green”, “Yellow” or “Red”, or whatever the scale is (On track/off track, perhaps).
It has been observed that many managers seem to bristle, panic, obsess, get angry at, or demand action when they see the dreaded “red” on the status report. Or you may have observed a manager saying, “I don’t like to see that red on the status report.” Have you ever experienced this?
This is an example of a manager managing from a deficit – and creating a deficit that is much deeper every day. It is an indicator that your manager is trying to take short cuts, and identify ways to solve problems without solving problems. This starts a vicious cycle.
Here are some consequences of this behavior of reacting surprised or negatively whenever there is something that is listed as “red”:
1. You train your employees not to show “red”, and they will cease to provide you any bad news
If a manager reacts negatively or acts surprised when there is any hint of “bad” news, the manager immediately and swiftly trains the employees never to share bad news. They may resist this training and continue to give the manager bad news. But should the manager repeat this training, the employees will successfully hide from you anything that could be bad. Problem solved! Everything will be green now.
A lot of things go wrong in business and at work. One thing that shouldn’t go wrong is the manager being the one who is surprised when things go bad. In fact, it is the specific job of the manager NOT to be the one who is surprised when things go wrong.
Have you ever had a manager who yells, “What happened?” “How could that have happened!” Then the manager gets mad at whoever could be responsible, or perhaps mad at the messenger, “I can’t believe you did this!” “What kind of incompetent crap is going on here?” “Go fix it and don’t come back until it is!” “How come this project line item has status of red?!!”
Ah, these are symptoms of a manager who acts surprised when something goes bad. So much to say on this topic! I’ll start with this: It’s the manager’s job NOT to be surprised.
The manager is supposedly the one with the greatest visibility of the work environment and output, who understands the best who is on the team, and what the team ought to be working on. The manager is the one who should know the approximate quality of the team output and what aspects of it can be better.
It is the manager’s role to know the risks of the work activity and where it could go bad. When a bad event from one of these risks manifests — whether it was a known risk or an unknown risk — it is still the manager’s job to know that this kind of stuff does happen.
When the manager is surprised by events, this is a clear indicator that the manager is managing from a deficit. In my discussion of managing from a deficit in previous articles, the manager attempts to take short cuts to managing, thereby announcing to the team that he is no manager. He is, instead, someone who was given the role of the manager, but is not performing the role of the manager.
Now let’s take this to a new level. When giving performance feedback to an employee, you are in the position to specifically articulate what you want the employee to do. This is handy information, because it could be a clue that you never actually set this expectation in the first place.
Let’s say you are in charge of a team working on a significant systems delivery. The team has been working on it for a couple of months without significant issue, and the Vice President comes into your office saying, “I don’t know what’s going on with this systems delivery project!” OK, so this is a problem. Something needs to be solved. You determine that the VP wants a visibility to the project status, and you work out a format and timing for getting this info to the VP. Nobody wanted this crisis to happen, but it did.
One important aspect of providing feedback is that it is based on some sort of standard, a bar that has been set, or a series of expectations of performance. So let’s talk about it!
In my prior article, I offer providing expectations as an alternative to giving public feedback. But there are more advantages to setting expectations than being perceived as a forward, clear thinking manager who knows what she wants and how to get there.
I suppose that’s reason enough, but there are more reasons to hone your skills at providing expectations!
Providing expectations also give you the ability to give performance feedback more effectively.
The formula is simple: If you’ve set a performance bar in advance, when you give feedback to your employee you can now measure against that expected performance.
What’s amazing is how infrequently this is performed by managers. So I hereby set the performance expectations to managers: Have you set performance expectations to your employees? If so, great! You are now ahead of the game.
Let’s look at examples of identifying expectations for performance prior to having to give feedback:
I have written in the Manager by Design blog about the scourge of public feedback. Public feedback is when managers try to solve performance problems by addressing their entire organization at once. I make the case that doing this a) does not change the behavior of the one needing to change and b) could make worse the behavior of those who are already performing correctly. Public feedback is an example of a manager short cut and should be stopped.
So let’s look at — in a more positive manner — what a manager should focus on doing in a public setting: Setting expectations.
I would like to recommend to all of you managers out there to focus your announcements, all-team meetings and proclamations on the theme of setting expectations. Doing so will help you down the course of leading, and the more you set expectations with your staff, the more likely they will actually do the things that you expect. So let’s look at some of the things you can do to set expectations.
a) Start your presentations or announcements with “I’d like to provide you my expectations.”
Perhaps this is too simple of an idea to even document, but how often do you hear managers doing this? Not enough in my estimation, so let’s increase this introductory statement on the part of managers. By using the “I’d like to provide you my expectations” line, you are now forced to articulate what you do want.
In doing this, you can now embark on a project that allows you to identify the behaviors and values that you’d like to see on your team. Let’s try a few!
Many managers want things to just get done. Or they want their employees to just resolve the issue. Or they want their employees to just answer the question. Or they want their employees to just stop doing something they don’t like.
However, this could be more of a symptom of the manager’s poor behaviors and less a symptom of the employees’ inability to perform. In all of these examples, the usage of the word “just” implies a need to take a short-cut to better performance. It’s also an indicator that the manager is “managing from a deficit.”
It’s a great marker – the word “just.” Check yourself each time you use it. Let’s look at some sample situations:
–The manager receives a report and says, “Just give me the high level summary.”
–The manager sees people unable to come to a recommendation and says, “Just figure it out and get back to me.”
–The manager sees in the metrics that errors are up and says, “Just do what it takes to stop making these errors.”
In these examples, the manager is making a request to get something resolved – without making any effort to resolve it. What great management! Wouldn’t it be great to have this skill?
I have recently written a series of articles on the topic of how managers obtain feedback on how they manage. Conclusion: It’s spotty. I’ve also recently published a series of articles on how employees can give feedback to managers. Conclusion: It’s possible, but takes a lot of work. Even the people who would best be able to give feedback, the manager’s employees, have to go through many machinations just to get to the point of providing corrective feedback, and it still isn’t without the associated risks of recrimination over time. Boo to that!
This is an important topic, because receiving performance feedback on how you are doing a job is a critical component for obtaining minimally acceptable performance, and then — let’s aspire to this — accelerating to high performance. Getting better at what you do simply isn’t possible without some sort of systematic performance feedback mechanism.
So that leaves one more option to consider: Bringing in a 3rd Party.
Let’s take another look at the grid of options for how managers receive feedback on being a manager (initially published in How to give feedback to your manager: Some possible openings).
Step 6 for Employees Providing Feedback to a Manager: Phrases to use during the feedback conversation
This is the last in a series of articles designed to help you give feedback to your manager. In the previous articles, we discussed the previous steps:
Yes, it’s a lot of work to get to this point. But hopefully you’ve discovered that the very act of doing the previous steps will a) Actually solve problems you’re experiencing already and b) keep you focused on what areas you’d like to give feedback.
Today, I’ll provide you some phrases to help you perform the feedback discussion on behaviors you’d like to change in your boss.
1. The setup
Here you want to ease into the conversation with your boss based on your preparation. The more you are focused on the intent (provide feedback) and result (better results), the better the setup will be:
“I’d like to provide some feedback to you in regards to what happened last week. Is this a good time?”
2. The context Read more