Using perceptions to manage: What does this tell us about the manager’s feedback providing skills?
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.
18. Citing perceptions is not enough impact
One could argue that perceptions are the impact of a behavior, and citing perceptions as the impact of a behavior is part of performance feedback. Indeed I do encourage that anyone attempting to provide performance feedback identify the impact of the behaviors in question. To learn more, see here for what should be documented on a performance log.
But here’s the issue: If the only negative impact of a behavior that you can cite is negative perceptions, then perhaps the impact isn’t worth correcting. Here’s an example:
Arnold joins a team and identifies many inefficiencies in the work processes. Arnold proposes new processes that are more efficient and generate higher quality. Some of these processes are put in place and indeed, the team operates at a higher level and key performance indicators are improved.
Now the feedback from the manager, “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.” The positive impact of Arnold’s actions have been to improve team efficiency and effectiveness, but the negative impact is that there is a perception that Arnold drives the team too hard.
OK, if that perception is the only negative impact that the manager can cite, is this really a negative impact?
I would argue that if you can identify something that Arnold said or did that actually hurt the team, then it should be cited. If Arnold did indeed display a negative behavior, such as yelling at the team members, this impact does not need to be tied not to perceptions, but some other impact: The yelling undermined the team expectations for how people work with one another, caused a flurry of discussion about Arnold’s temper which distracted from getting work done. In an upcoming article, I’ll elaborate more about Arnold’s situation as a change agent.
If, indeed, the negative impact of Arnold’s behavior was “driving the team to change too fast, the actual negative impact would be lack of adoption of the change, or a decrease in ability of the team to get work done.
So when a manager uses what I call “the perceptions line”, this means that the manager has more work to do prior to giving feedback.