Many managers want to get great results. To do this, they seek and find high performers who drive toward these results. One way a high performer can achieve great results is through creating and implementing structures and processes that provide ongoing value and systemic improvement. Or, in other words, change.
The high performer is a change agent. This is what managers want. Managers want change for the better, and rely on the “high performers” to instigate and implement the change. That’s what makes them a high performer.
But there is a mistake that many current managers make in seeing this model through: They give feedback to the person instigating the change that there is resistance to the change. This is a flaw in current management design, and one that is all too common.
Here’s what I mean:
When change occurs in an organization, there inevitably will be complaints about the change. The complaints will be about whoever is instigating the change. It doesn’t matter if it is good or bad change, people somewhere in the organization will be resistant to the change. This is normal and part of the “change curve.” The complaints will be inevitably be about the person instigating the change. That was supposedly the high performer, who was encouraged by the manager to create the change.
This is the latest in a series of articles about how using perceptions in managing a team can be a recipe for disaster.
Think about the manager who says, “There’s a perception that you expect too much of other people” or “There’s a perception that you are not very well liked.” This is the manager attempting to manage perceptions and not behaviors, and is something that needs to be banned from the manager’s vocabulary. I provide reasons here, here, here, here and here (there’s a perception that this is a very thorough series!).
In today’s article, I discuss how negative perceptions are often a symptom of positive change:
In a previous article I discuss the scenario of Arnold, a team member that provided suggestions and helped implement changes on a team that produced greater productivity and lower cost. In the process, there were some negative perceptions about Arnold, “You’ve done a lot of things since joining the team, but there’s a perception that you want to change things too fast, and that you expect the team to do too much.” Let’s take a look at what this means:
Citing perceptions often reveals change agents at work and then undermines them
If a manager can cite only negative perceptions of someone as the negative impact, then this could be an indicator that the person could actually a positive change agent in the workplace. Many people are resistant to change, and when someone brings it to the organization, that resistance will manifest as undifferentiated negative perceptions that quickly propagate through the organization. The actual change may be good and improve things, but with any change the initial perception is that the change is bad in some way.
Using perceptions to manage: An example of how to transform a perception into improved performance feedback
In today’s article, I take an instance of when a manager feels compelled to use the line “There’s a perception that. . .” as a means to give performance feedback. For example, a manager may intend to “help” the employee by saying, “There’s a perception that you are difficult to work with.” The implied notion is that the perception is the negative impact, and “being difficult to work with” is the behavior that needs to change.
However, this is badly given performance feedback, and there is an alternative!
Citing perceptions as feedback is the reverse order of good performance feedback, so let’s turn it around.
Here are the (compressed) steps for giving performance feedback:
- Start with the context
- Describe the observed behavior
- (Only if it isn’t clear what the impact is) cite the impact of the behavior
- Offer alternate behavior.
Let’s take the example of a manager who attempts to give feedback by saying the following:
“There’s a perception that you’re difficult to work with.”
By leading with the perception, manager reverses the order of feedback and eliminates the other steps. It starts and ends with the so-called impact: The negative perception of being difficult to work with. Aside from the generalization of the employee being difficult to work with, there are no cited behaviors that lead up to the perception. The impact, however ephemeral, is the feedback.
Today I continue my series of articles on the impact of a manager using perceptions to manage. Frequently, managers start feedback by saying, “There’s a perception that. . .” For example, “There’s a perception that. . . you need to improve your communication skills.” Or “There’s a perception that. . . you are not confident.”
When a manager adds the perception line, it creates all sorts of chaos. Check here, here, here, here and here, for some reasons behind this chaos. But it also give us insight on how performance feedback can be improved by understanding why a manager wants to use the “perception” line in giving feedback.
Here is what we can learn about the actual feedback being provided when the manager breaks out perceptions as the key ingredient to the feedback.
17. The feedback is not specific and not immediate
Using the line, “There’s a perception that” is automatically a modifying clause that takes you one step away from the specificity and immediacy of whatever behavior is being discussed and asked to be modified.
The feedback is by definition not immediate since a time lag is generated: There was a behavior, then there was a perception.
The feedback is by definition not specific, because the discussion is about the perception and not the behavior. The discussion centers around the non-specific perception and distracts away from the specific behavior.
In order for feedback to be effective, it needs to be specific and immediate.