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.

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