Sunday, December 30, 2012

Getting and Giving Feedback in the Office

Each Sunday morning, I get my coffee and turn to the “Corner Office” column in the New York Times. Today’s was an interview with Karen May, VP for People Development at Google and written by Adam Bryant. It deals with a favorite topic of mine …getting and giving feedback in the workplace.

From the column:

Q. Many C.E.O.’s I’ve interviewed talk about how hard it is for people to give direct feedback. Have you seen that, too?

 A. Absolutely. I would say it happens for a couple of reasons. It’s simply harder to give difficult feedback than positive feedback or no feedback. It’s harder because it can be an uncomfortable conversation. It creates tension. You might be disappointing somebody or potentially leading them to feel worse about themselves.

If you’ve identified something that isn’t going well, then you’re likely to be asked, “How do I fix it?” If you don’t know the answer, you might not want to start the conversation. I think that’s the primary reason managers don’t give feedback. They’re willing to give the feedback, but then they won’t know how to help fix it, so why start the conversation?

As a coach, I was often in the position of giving people feedback they hadn’t heard before, after I interviewed a bunch of people they work with. It was always difficult for me, too. Just at a human level, it’s difficult to tell somebody that something that isn’t working about them. But I came to find that people are incredibly grateful. If I’m not doing well and I don’t know it or I don’t know why or I can’t put my finger on what’s not working and no one will tell me, I won’t be able to fix it.

And if you give me the information, the moment that the information is being transferred is painful, but then I have the opportunity to change it. I’ve come to realize that one of the most valuable things I could do for somebody is tell them exactly what nobody else had told them before.

Q. How often does that have a positive outcome?

A. People can do something with the feedback probably 70 percent of the time. And for the other 30 percent, they are either not willing to take it in, it doesn’t fit their self-image, they’re too resistant, in denial, or they don’t have the wherewithal to change it. And the reality is that most change happens in small increments. So if you’re watching to see if someone’s changing, you have to watch for the incremental change. It’s not a straight line.

We have people sit in chairs and they’re knee to knee. Then we start the speed-back and say, “You have three minutes to answer the question, ‘How have you experienced me during this learning program?’ ” Then the bell rings and the person giving feedback hears how the other perceived them. Many people say it’s some of the best feedback they’d ever received. We’ve experimented with different questions, like, “What advice would you give me based on the experience that you’ve had with me here?”

Here’s the link to entire story:

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