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.
Today I continue my extended series on managers using perceptions to manage. Have you ever had a manager who leads feedback with “There’s a perception that. . .”? As in, “There’s a perception that your projects don’t come in on time.” Or “There’s a perception that you don’t know how to manage your budget.”
In previous articles, I’ve listed 12 reasons this behavior should be removed (here, here, here, and here). If you find this entertaining reading that may resonate for both employees and managers alike.
So let’s continue this list, this time focusing on what managing using perceptions reveals about the manager.
13. The manager is exposed to similar tactics, indirect and direct back to the manager
The manager says, “There’s a perception that you don’t deliver.” This encourages the employee to think (in most cases) or say (in fewer cases) in response to the boss a similar kind of feedback:
“OK, there’s a perception that you’re a terrible boss and don’t know what you’re doing.” Or perhaps, “There’s a perception that you don’t know how to give performance feedback.”
By using the “there’s a perception that” line, it essentially trains the employees to think and use back at you the same damaging rhetoric being used on them. In fact, upon training the employee to think perceptions first, this is probably the thing in the employee that will most likely change.
The employees will start creating “perceptions” about the manager, and most likely they won’t be directly to the manager. Instead, they will extend the negative and difficult perceptions around the workplace about the manager.
Here’s where employees can do this:
1. One-one-discussions with the manager’s manager:
“There’s a perception that my manager is having a lot of difficulty managing the team.”
2. On 360-feedback forms:
“There’s a perception that my manager struggles a lot.”
3. To each other:
“There’s a perception that our manager isn’t comfortable giving feedback, no matter what we do or what results we get.
4. During exit interviews:
“There’s a perception that this is the worst-run team in the organization.”
Using the “There’s a perception that. . .” line reveals that you are a manager who wants to receive feedback via the veil of perceptions.
14. It demonstrates that the manager is not committed to the feedback and changing behaviors
When a manager uses the “there’s a perception that” line, it indicates that the manager himself is not sure as to what is true and what is not true. The manager is ultimately non-committal to the actual events, yet still feels comfortable giving “feedback.” This reveals the manager as a “gutless wonder” (thanks, “Strictly Ballroom!” for this term) who wants something to change, but is not committed to that change. As such, this reduces trust with the employee. Without the manager commitment to changing the behavior, this means that the manager will likely undermine either the changed behavior, or the unchanged behavior, creating an overall untrustworthy work relationship.
Today I continue my extended series on managers using perceptions to manage the team. Imagine a manager who starts a performance feedback session with “There’s a perception that. . . you don’t actively participate.” Or “There’s a perception that. . . you’ve fallen behind on your work.”
But I have more reasons! Today I examine why positive perceptions are not cited when managers manage perceptions.
10. “There’s a perception that. . .” is rarely used for positive things, underscoring the absurdity of the line
Have you ever noticed that a manager never sits down with an employee and says, “There’s a perception that you deliver on time with high quality and exceptional teamwork”? or “There’s a perception that you bring talents to the group that no one else has.” Or “There’s a perception that you designed and created an infrastructure that increased productivity by 40% and reduced costs by 60%”. Or perhaps a more pedestrian example, “There’s a perception that you’re always on time.”
Hmm. . . as soon as it’s positive things, the “perception” line seems to be unnecessary and weird. . .if the perception of the thing is a the positive thing. Managers who can articulate the positive thing don’t need to add the “There’s a perception that. . .”
11. It twists positive feedback into negative feedback even for positive behaviors and perceptions!
Let’s take a look at the below chart. In it we have an example of a manager giving negative “feedback” and positive “feedback” while inserting the “there’s a perception” line.
Normally, when you give positive feedback on something, it means that you want the employee to keep doing that behavior, or do it with more frequency. But in this chart, you can see that by adding the “there’s a perception” line to the positive feedback, the implication is that something is wrong – that the perception is false in some way and the perception needs to be adjusted to a more realistic perception. (Ironically, when the perception is a negative one, that perception is widely believed to be true.) On top of that, the implication is that the underlying behaviors that created that over-inflated perception also need to be changed so that future perceptions will be the more realistic perception.
So by adding the “there’s a perception” line to a positive behavior, it turns it into a negative perception and a negative behavior. Now the employee has to change both perceptions and the underlying behaviors – on something that is being praised!
In short, it becomes twisted when a positive perception implies that things need to change. Read more
Using perceptions to manage: Three unintended consequences, or, how a manager can create a gossip culture in one easy step
Today I continue my series on managers managing perceptions, and how attempting this creates difficult situations and doesn’t resolve problems. When I say, “Managing perceptions”, I’m thinking of when a manager attempts to use perceptions as the basis for what is being managed, rather than using observed behaviors to manage the team.
Imagine a manager who attempts to give feedback by saying, “There’s a perception that you are easily excitable” or “There’s a perception that you easily get confused.” That’s using perceptions to manage.
In previous articles, I discuss how this deflects from actual performance and creates confusion as to what is real and not real. In today’s article, I discuss some more unintended consequences of a manager relying on perceptions to manage the team – how it creates an instant culture of gossip.
7. Citing perceptions confirms that gossip, innuendo, and back-biting is acceptable and encouraged, if not the default
When a manager says, “There’s a perception that. . .” it confirms that gossip, innuendo, and back-biting is an acceptable and encouraged behavior, both by employees and the manager. By definition, invoking the perception concept is gossip, since it does not rely on any sort of fact or evidence. The only fact that is confirmed is that there is gossip, innuendo and, most likely, back-biting that is occurring. On top of this, gossip and innuendo is now the default mechanism for understanding what is going on with the team. Read more
Using perceptions to manage: Three more reasons “There’s a perception that. . .” should be removed from a manager’s vocabulary
This article is a continuation of a series on a common manager mistake: Using perceptions to give feedback to employees. Think about a manager who says, “There’s a perception that. . . you are having a tough time at work” or “There’s a perception that things don’t come easily to you” (and all of the other perceptions that may or may not be out there).
In my previous article, I described how this doesn’t meet the standard of performance feedback, it shifts performance to a phantom job of managing perceptions, and it transitions the manager away from the role of setting the tone for the team.
In today’s article, I cite more reasons using “there’s a perception that. . .” is hazardous. This time with the focus on the inherent difficulty of managing perceptions, or managing to perceptions
4. It doesn’t really matter if the perception reflects what is true
One of the impressive things about the line, “There’s a perception that. . .” is that it doesn’t matter if the perceptions are true. In fact, if a manager is resorting to the “There’s a perception that. . .” line, the perception is by definition a candidate for being false. Because if the perception were true, then the manager wouldn’t have to use the “there’s a perception that. . .” line. For example, compare the following:
a) “There’s a perception that you are always late.”
b) “You are always late.”
In option a, it doesn’t matter if the employee is always late or not. That’s not what’s being debated. In option b, the employee can (and should) debate the actual frequency of being late (since it is highly unlikely that the employee is always late). However, the perception can be true. So if the manager uses the “perceptions” qualifier, it shuts down the ability to pursue what is true.
Today I start a series of articles on managers using perceptions to manage. A common way that managers attempt to do this is to use perceptions as a way of giving performance feedback and starting conversations with “There’s a perception that. . .” This is an indicator that the manager is attempting to manage perceptions. Here’s what I mean:
Have you ever had a manager give you feedback that starts with the words, “There’s a perception that. . .”? It may sound like this:
“There’s a perception that you aren’t delivering.”
“There’s a perception that you aren’t keeping up.”
“There’s a perception that you’re always late.”
“There’s a perception that you aren’t a team player.”
Managers who use the phrase, “There’s a perception that . . .” are attempting to manage perceptions. Here are the reasons that the phrase, “There’s a perception that. . .” need to be removed from a manager’s vocabulary and the effort to manage perceptions need to be refocused to other pursuits:
1. This may be feedback, but it isn’t Performance Feedback.
Managers attempt to manage perceptions via giving feedback on the perceptions. Using perceptions as the basis for feedback means that the feedback is on a phantom job external to the actual job. The performance of the employee — what the employee has actually done — has been removed from the feedback. The new implication is that the employee needs to manage perceptions in addition to doing the job. By giving this feedback, the manager has actually removed the duties of doing the actual job, and has inadvertently assigned new, and presumably more important duties to the employee: manage perceptions.