Giving Feedback A Chance

“How can I get rid of someone as painlessly as possible from my team?”

My initial internal reaction is ‘Ouch’, followed by an out loud question: “What seems to be the underlying problem here?”

My client’s replies, depending on proximity of the question to the next full moon, vary:

• They don’t listen

• Everyone is unhappy with them

• They don’t show me any respect

• They have said some negative things about the way the business is being run

• They keep speaking up when I just want them to do their job

• They just don’t have anyone’s trust or respect

• They keep going off sick

• They’re too slow

• They don’t have the confidence of the team

I will press for more details: “Yes, but what specifically are they doing or not doing? Give me examples and how this is impacting the business.

The leader will produce a frown, which reads “didn’t you just hear what I said?”.

They will pause (if the Patient Pausing-type), process the question and refer to further vague representations of ‘attitude’ or behaviour before we finally reveal some specific actions or inactions of the one-foot-out-the-door team member. Once this shimmering nugget is mined from amongst the murk of the employment relationship I hold it up and show it to the leader, offering a solution:

“How about we tell them exactly what you told me.”

Howabowdwedowad? A confused expression flashes across the leaders face.

The impatient leader, who just wants the problem out of their sight (not realising they are a key ingredient of the problem), will dismiss my suggestion with statements like:

• This is a business, not a crèche.

• When will I have time to do this?

• I really don’t need this right now.

• I’ve already told them what I expect.

• They won’t listen.

• I just want them gone, make it happen.

The learning leader will ask for more information.

Reviews, restructures, realignments, and other fancy names for making changes to a business (often with the loss or ‘realignment’ of jobs) is a rescue remedy the impatient leader reaches for, time and time again, aided and abetted by their experienced employment lawyer or Human Resources practitioner.  Yes, this is a relatively simple solution, painless only to the impatient leader.

Besides being a sham, patently dishonest and illegal (in New Zealand we talk about the need to act in good faith), this does little to truly unleash the potential in people (whether inside your business or someone else’s).

OK then Mr.  Goggles, Let’s give feedback a chance.

The thought of conflict, being ineffectual, and receiving a negative reaction, all prey on the minds of those who agree to provide feedback to their team members.

The learning leader will be hesitant but willing to be coached to ensure they are able to provide specific, timely, unemotional (not quite detached, but as neutral as possible) feedback with the sole intent of developing the one-foot-out-the-door individual.

Marshall Goldsmith, a leading Executive Coach, is a huge fan of ‘feed forward’ – talking about future expected behaviour.  The approach has proven successful in his use with two-feet-firmly-inside-the-door team members, needing tweaks to their leadership, not a shove towards the exit.  I agree it is essential to set the scene for the future relationship, however recent examples of behaviour or actions and their impact, in my experience, need to be shared upfront, in order for the team member to appreciate why a change in behaviour or performance is needed.

By having a go at being a learning leader, giving feedback a chance, helps:

• reset expectations, you ‘draw a line in the sand’

• build accountability for you and the team member, and

• people realise their potential in your business, or that they have more potential elsewhere.