Insight gained through giving and receiving timely and specific feedback is how we and others get better. Sometimes we need to be on the receiving end and other times we need to initiate feedback to help others learn and grow. The question is how to go about exchanging meaningful feedback at work.
As more and more companies realize managers are unwilling or untrained to give employee feedback more technology is trying to worm its way into the equation. Online tools and apps are claiming to be the holy grail:
-Hppy Enterprise (no that's not a typo) claims their automated tool "makes feedback management easier, faster and more dynamic. Because feedback is anonymous, employees are much more inclined to share valuable information and give actionable feedback."-Amazon uses a tool that allows employees to provide anonymous feedback to an employee's manager. In a New York Times article on work practices at Amazon, "The internal phone directory instructs colleagues on how to send secret feedback to one another’s bosses. Employees say it is frequently used to sabotage others. The tool offers sample texts, including this: “I felt concerned about his inflexibility and openly complaining about minor tasks.”
General Electric, considered by many as a management practices innovator, began a pilot project last year in which a smart phone app was used to give workers instant feedback from bosses and colleagues."
Feedback can be positive - this is easy to talk about yet most comments are too general:
- "Good job"
- "Great presentation"
- "You were great on that call"
But what about negative feedback or "constructive criticism"? I bucket workplace problems into three categories:
- Someone has failed to meet our expectations, partly or in full.
Our needs are unmet and we feel frustrated, disappointed, angry or irritated.
- Assumptions about the motives of others
We've misinterpreted events and have told ourselves the worst case scenario.
- Unexpected behavior such as a putdown
Someone put us down and we're feeling pretty crappy about what happened.
Workplace problems can be solved with feedback yet most people don't know what to say and are afraid of making matters worse. Is technology the key? To answer this let's look at a real world work problem:
No matter what is being discussed or worked on, Brian has negative comments to throw in. He shoots down ideas he thinks are dumb, hampering brainstorming sessions. Rather than help find solutions to problems, he seems to enjoy pointing out things that are problematic. The consistent stream of negative comments is creating a dynamic that's sucking the energy out of the team.
Let's say you work at Amazon where you can send secret feedback to Brian's boss. Your feedback messages says "Brian is negative in meetings and only focuses on what is wrong and he brings the whole team down".
So what is Brian's manager to do with this information?
- Have a conversation and say something like, "It's gotten back to me that you've being negative in meetings".
How does Brian react?
- "Thanks for letting me know - I'll be more aware of that in the future."
- "What do you mean, who said that?"
- Save it up for performance review time. According to the NYT article, Amazon employees report managers cutting and pasting comments into the annual performance review; also known as the "full paste"
Will any of these actions help Brian learn and provide an opportunity to modify his behavior? Likely not. Michael Shipman, Vice President of Talent, at Rockland Trust says, "Negative feedback about colleagues shared anonymously through online tools [and 360's] creates a drama triangle: Victim (offended employee), Victimizer (offending employee) and the Rescuer (the manager). The person who had the issue in the first place is too far removed".
Would you rather someone send feedback to your boss or approach you first? What would your choice be? Who reading this article would first want to learn of an issue through the drama triangle - you are essentially a victim and are now in a position to start defending yourself. You feel attacked and blindsided. Nothing screams mistrust like an anonymous feedback system. Anytime we need to give feedback in secret we move ourselves further away from a real solution.
An anonymous feedback system isn’t going to tell you that Joe Worker is having trouble at home, thus his work life is suffering. Nor should the opinion of one busy body submitting anonymous information about his/her coworkers give you the full picture of someone’s performance.
The reality of workplace relationships and communications doesn't support the logic of utilizing online tools to give and received feedback. Whether at home, in life, or at work, our problems with others cannot be solved with a hands off technological approach.
The only way to grow, both from the perspective of a leader and from that of the employee, is to provide the skills and framework to start holding person-to-person conversations.
How is feedback given in your organization? Are you comfortable giving others feedback? Is your organization considering or using an online or social tool to give and receive feedback?