Michele Goedde Coaching

Giving Feedback: How honest should I be with my employees?

I often hear from employees that they want more feedback from their managers. I hear from managers that the feedback they share doesn’t seem to land or they wonder how direct and honest they can be with their employees. How do we meet in the middle? This is part 2 of a 3 part series covering the following perspectives:
· Employee Initiative
· Management Instincts
· Coaching your Manager
Today I discuss Management Instincts which covers a frequent discussion I have with managers. They often ask me, “How honest can I be with someone?” My response is usually, “how honest do you want your manager to be with you?” which is an obvious answer: completely. However, I realize it is a bit more complicated in practice. I will go out on a limb with a couple of assumptions that address why managers are not boldly out there with the full on truth. And then I’ll make the case as to why you should work towards being transparent with a few guidelines for getting there.
In the movie, A Few Good Men, Colonel Jessup yells to the courtroom, “You can’t handle the truth!” Next, Jessup goes on to make assumptions about what he thinks others can/cannot handle. This is the unfair mistake many managers make related to their employees. They assume their employees cannot handle the truth about their performance, where they stand in the organization, their timeline to promotion or how they are viewed by leadership. There are three negative outcomes from this assumption: employees have no idea where they really stand, what they make up in the absence of information can be far worse and then they are left wondering how to get to where they want to go.
A common roadblock I hear from managers is “legal and/or HR won’t let me” or “I am encouraged to keep it general.” OK, I am a former HR person myself, and at risk of making all of my HR colleagues spin in their chairs I say these are guidelines as opposed to rules. From an employee’s perspective it is easier to internalize a specific message with examples than broad generalizations. Use your judgment based on what your instincts tell you is the right thing to do. Ask if your employee is getting the information they need from you. If you have particular concerns regarding how to best communicate something to an employee then certainly discuss it with your HR representative first. They should be able to provide you with helpful assistance and prepare for the discussion.

What is the cost of not being honest or being too general? A frustrated, disgruntled and complaining employee that may line up to talk to their HR representative because they can’t manage to get feedback from you or have no idea how to progress or improve their performance. Tell the truth to the degree you know your employees have the business maturity and capacity to handle the information. Most have a far greater capacity than you would expect and honestly, people have a right to know the performance related information that pertains to them. This way they can do something about it.
I have been asked many times, “What happens if I tell the truth and my employee(s) quit?” What if they do? They probably were not happy anyway or you finally told the truth about what was/was not possible for them. Again, I say they have a right to know, it’s their life. Be authentic.
What really holds a manager back from an honest conversation? I will go out on a limb here and say fear. What if she gets mad? What if he can’t hear the good stuff? What if she quits? What if it comes back to bite me later? Pay attention to your instincts here about how to best give direct feedback. Answer the questions your employee is asking. If the question is, “how long until you think I will be promoted?” Tell the whole truth, focus on what is in your control and clarify what is not. Example: “At your current rate of development I can see recommending you in 12 months. Keep in mind; what is outside of my control is the promotion budget for our department and how many other people are on the list.” By stating clearly what is outside of your control you prevent a conversation later that includes surprises about those factors that are truly not within your control. If the promotion does not go through because of them you have been proactive in setting expectations.
So if this is new, where do you begin? Start slow, test the waters and see what people can handle to build your confidence. You may also notice that the more direct you are, the more the feedback lands, the more performance improves as your employees have a clear sense of what they need to do to get what they want. Pay attention to your instincts about the best way to deliver the messages. Everyone hears, interprets and internalizes differently. Your instincts are your best guide. Finally, ask for feedback. “I am trying some new things, how is it working for you?” is a great way to get a sense of whether you are providing feedback that is hitting the mark and adding value.

We all want to know the truth about how we are doing and where we stand. Start today.

What managers of Generation Y can learn from the NFL

It was an interesting year for NFL Football fans. The year of the rookie quarterback, the year of the comeback, many surprise wins, an exciting Super Bowl (beyond the lighting issue). After watching the game, I still think my Seahawks would have fared well in the big game but that is a dream for next year, a conversation for another day.

A conversation emerged post game that I found interesting: how Generation Y has entered the football stadium. And as GenY has done in every other workplace, it’s been fast, on their own terms and with great results.

As quick reminder a few of the commonly discussed characteristics that mark this generation include: They are tech savvy, question authority, are very close to their parents, value relationships, are open minded, have high self esteem and possess great confidence.

What we saw in the NFL was a large number of rookie quarterbacks do really well in their first year vs flame out as has been the case in the past. It was the year of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson. In college football, we saw a freshman win the Heisman. What I am saying here is the game is now being led and dominated by some pretty spectacular young talent that seem to come out of college (or even high school) prepared for the game better than ever before.

Generation Y on the football field is not waiting for their turn to play. Out of the gate, they play with confidence and charisma and, with the right coaching, develop fast in their gap areas as needed. This is different than what we’ve seen in the past where confidence develops over time as experience is gained.

In the case of Russell Wilson, Pete Carroll wisely selected him over the more experience player. Why? I wasn’t there, but my hunch is Russell Wilson did not intend to wait a year or two for his turn to play. He approached training camp “ready to play” and Carroll likely recognized that he would develop better on the field in action with the right coaching and mentorship. We speak often in Seattle of Wilson’s leadership skills, his ability to connect to his teammates, how he is “football 24/7”. What else does Russell Wilson have? He has a coach that believed in him and was fully dedicated to his success.

As fans, we find it exciting to see what these young players can do. We look forward to seeing what year 2 holds.

What I often hear about Generation Y in the workplace is a bit different. We don’t get quite as excited about these same behaviors. We don’t embrace this same kind of confident storming of the workplace, this winning my position no matter what it takes. We also often do not provide the same kind of training ground. What if we approached onboarding our new GenY recruits entering the workplace like Football?

Are you interested in seeing Rookie of the Year results from your GenY recruits? Surround them with NFL-style resources.

Imagine if we provided the same kind of robust “coaching.” This means surrounding new GenY’s with every resource needed to be successful. In the NFL it is coaches, assistant coaches, mentorship by experienced players, doctors, trainers, special practice sessions, constant feedback, etc. I suspect the feedback Russell Wilson got all season was 100% focused on how he could improve. I bet his coaches didn’t spend much time analyzing the problem with a bad throw but how he could improve a similar opportunity in the future to produce a different outcome. I would imagine that every resource behind him was designed to ensure he would improve. And wow did he. The second half of the Seahawks season was fun to watch and Seattle fans are excited for next season.

What if managers and leaders provided the same kind of structure and support for their new GenY employees in the workplace. This would include clear roles and responsibilities, an explanation of how the organization works, what success looks like and active daily management. Feedback would be constant and focused on improvement. Experienced and committed mentors would support managers by taking the time to help new hires learn the environment and have a place to discuss business goals and ask questions. Additional resources could be arranged as needed if something was not going well that was focused on improvement and learning (think workplace ‘doctor’ here) with the full expectation that with the right support and dedication on the part of the GenY, a new kind of success is possible.

The truth is that Generation Y wants this kind of support and structure to learn how to work in a business environment whether they ask or not. They also value relationships with people they respect. Imagine what year 2 would look like for your Generation Y workers if they got the resources they need. My guess is it would be pretty easy to re-sign them to your company.


In the manager and development world one of the most important pieces of the puzzle is ongoing and robust feedback.

In my sessions with managers and employees, it is a frequent topic.

I often hear from employees that they want more feedback from their managers. I hear from managers that the feedback they share doesn’t seem to land or they wonder how direct and honest they can be. How do we meet in the middle? February kicks off a 3 part series covering 3 perspectives:

  • Employee Initiative
  • Management Instincts
  • Coaching your Manager

Today, I will discuss Employee Initiative.

From employees I hear: I wish I got more feedback from my manager. My manager says that I am doing great but I want to know more. What does great mean? How am I really doing?

There are 2 parts to this issue to be addressed:

  • What is it you really want to know to be satisfied?
  • Are you leading this discussion effectively?

To get what you want you need to know what you want and then you need to lead the conversation. It is quite possible your manager believes that you are in synch and that you know where you stand.

First, start by thinking about what it is that you really want to know. How you would know it if you heard it from your manager. What it would feel like. What it is you need to hear.

Be specific. Do you want to know if you are on track to get promoted in the timeframe you desire? Are you being considered for a key project that you know is being staffed? Has your manager noticed some really hard work you have been doing to improve in an area of development? Be prepared to ask specific and targeted questions that align to exactly what you want to know. This gives your manager a clear understanding of the exact feedback you seek. If you ask: how am I doing? you will likely leave the discussion dissatisfied, without much detail or clarity.

Second, do some good self-reflection. Where do you believe that you are strong and performing well? Where do you know you have room to grow or are not delivering at the level expected? In what areas do you think you are ready for that promotion? What is the timeframe that you hope for? Then share your assessment with your manager and ask: In what areas would you agree? Is there any where you have a different perspective? What is that based on? Your goal is to gather specific information. Your personal assessment may not be the same as your managers, however for the areas in which you are not aligned you can discuss the differences and use the information to create your own plan for improvement.

The goal is to get specific, targeted and relevant information because with information you can take action. Always assume that your manager has the greatest intentions for your success and development. It can be easier for your manager to be candid with you when you have shown a good amount of self-awareness and done solid pre-work. It shows you are open to feedback and seeking the input for further improvement.

Worst case scenario? You learn where you and your manager are not in synch. You find out where your perspectives do not align. You can explore why.

What is the result? Now you know! You have specific information you can work with! You can go do something about it! Wouldn’t you say that is a pretty good outcome?

Employees: don’t wait for great feedback. Create the environment for your manager to provide it.


Why Management?

In the organizational and leadership space there are a lot of things that get me excited. Yet there is nothing as juicy for me as considering what is possible for an employee when they have a great manager. Managers, more than anyone have the power to impact the lives of every person in an organization.

Managers are often the un-sung hero’s of organizations. Often an extra-curricular job that you are not thanked for, given credit for or rewarded for.  You invest in management because you enjoy it or perhaps you are on to the big secret. Great management leads to extraordinary results.  If you are lucky you work for a leader that gets it – they perhaps are also a great manager and value and respect the role a manager plays in creating a thriving workplace.

As employees, we consider it an exception when we have a manager we’d consider outstanding. A chance to be on a steeper trajectory, to really be rewarded, to be seen or even to work on some things that have been holding us back without fear of impact to our career. Great management also means that you have an ally in your development process. Someone that believes in you sometimes more than you believe in yourself.

I once worked with someone that said about her manager, “I’d follow her to Safeway to bag her groceries.” Her manager was that good. The content of her job was less important to her than how she was growing and evolving as a person within the organization. We all want that, as managers we are all capable of creating that, and as employees, if you ask me, we are all entitled to it.

We know that employees do not leave companies, they leave bad managers (OK I don’t have the data or reference to prove this – it is just something we former HR folks know) so why don’t we place more of an emphasis on keeping the talent we have and working on improving the managers?

Being great is easier said than done. Management is more than a checklist yet that is how it is often approached. There are a lot of things in our workplaces that are outside of our control. What we do control, is how we treat our people. How we celebrate their potential, their capabilities, their strengths.

What inspires me is working with managers to bring forth their talents so that how they approach management is more about what they believe in and who they are. And, working with employees to co-create relationships based on what all employees know they need to be successful.


3 step approach for making a difficult conversation easier

Let’s face it. My guess is that the least favorite part of your role as a manager is when you have to deliver a tough message. Whether you must tell someone they will not get what they want, you realize a direct is not performing as well as you thought (new information is tricky business) or something has changed with a previous strong performer. No matter what the situation, you find that you face a difficult conversation. It happens. Even for the most experienced managers, it is rare for it to feel natural or that you do it often enough to get good at it. I bring you good news today: a 3-step technique that will make it easier.

This technique is based on my overall approach to managing – that this is a relationship, a shared responsibility between both involved parties. Try this out and let me know what you think.

Step 1 – employee pre-work: self-assessment:
At your next 1-on-1 or at a regular check in, tell your employee you are going to have a conversation about whatever the topic is at hand – how things are going, progress against goals, progress towards a promotion, etc. Ask them to come prepared to discuss:

  1. Their self-assessment – how do they believe they are performing, progressing against goals, citing specific examples.
  2. In what areas do they believe they have room to grow or are not performing, progressing as they would like with examples. Rather than why, (does it matter?) ask what would they would do differently if they could do it again? This gives insight in to problem solving capability and engagement.
  3. Have them describe what is next, what they want and what do they need from you to be successful.

Tell them you will be preparing the same.

Step 2 – manager pre-work: employee assessment:
You probably already guessed, as you are calling the meeting, prepare your assessment on the same topics:

  1. What is going well, where is the employee progressing from your perspective and what your observations are based on.
  2. What is not going as well as it should, why the employee is not meeting expectations, not going to receive what they want, etc. It is essential to provide behaviorally specific examples and outcomes that include what was expected, what was delivered and what was missing/not meeting expectations.
  3. What is needed going forward to turn things around, reach their goals, etc. This will be fluid depending on what happens when you meet.

Step 3 the conversation:

  1. Have your employee start – this gives you a sense of whether you are in synch or whether you are not giving you time to adjust your conversation before you even begin.
  2. If you find you are in agreement you can move to discussing next steps to get things back on track. Let your employee do the talking. What do they think they need, what does success look like how do they plan to get there?
  3. If you find your assessment varies with theirs, you can ask “why do you think we have such different perspectives?” It does not change your assessment but you can be prepared to accept some of the responsibility for the disconnect but not the performance.

Ideally you get quickly to the place where you are in agreement about what needs to change to achieve the desired results going forward. An employee may not like the outcome of the discussion or where things stand but at the very least they know the information so they are empowered to do something about it and see you as a resource for making the changes.

Why it works:
Allowing an employee to self-assess gives you a chance to see where they see themselves, how bought in they are and what you are facing. Are they engaged? Motivated? Are their expectations realistic? Do they have a healthy sense of their own performance? Essentially you know what you are up against before you say a word giving you time to adjust your approach. More often than not, you avoid hammering someone over the head needlessly causing them to shut down with feedback they kind of already knew. Plus, I found as a manager that employees were almost always smarter, more self-aware, self-critical and took more personal responsibility when I structured the conversation to allow it.
This approach can work for any conversation you have with an employee. Transitioning a new employee to you, a new hire, high performer and managing a struggling performer. It can become your framework for all of your check in and performance based conversations.

Try it! Read More→