One of the most common concerns I hear from leaders, especially at the executive level is, “I never get any feedback from my boss.” Clients tell me if they get a performance review, it’s via e-mail and if they are lucky they have a quick conversation about it. It is an annual “non-event” versus what it should be: an ongoing conversation about how you are doing against expectations and ideas for how you can develop and grow.
I have worked with a CEO for the last 8 years who I know does a rigorous job providing ongoing performance feedback to his team. His efforts cascade to his next level and their next level so he role models what he wants to see throughout his organization. He is not the norm. There are many reasons for this. One is that it takes planning time and that is in short supply for many leaders today. The other is that it can feel like a conflict if the feedback is perceived as negative and delivering it can be very uncomfortable for some leaders. Though there are no real excuses for leaders to not provide timely, valuable and actionable feedback to direct reports, it is easy to understand why they don’t. But it is far too important to employee development and engagement to write off. So my recommendation is to make it easy for others to give you feedback.
To do this you have to create an environment and experience that makes it more likely others will want to give you feedback. Here is what I recommend:
“One thing I am working on is being more collaborative in meetings. I tend to push my agenda and forge ahead due to time constraints. I am working on being more patient in meetings and interactions, asking open-ended questions, listening more fully to others and demonstrating through my presence that I value their input.”
“I would appreciate if with important meetings, we meet for 5 minutes directly after so that I can hear your feedback on how I did on my development goal. Honest, specific feedback about what you observed, both positive and constructive, is what I need from you.”
Then follow through after a few meetings where you both have time. How you receive that feedback will determine if the experience is positive and more likely to be something the feedback provider will want to repeat. So your responsibility is to make sure your presence is signaling that you are ready to listen and receive what they say. You do not need to do anything at this point. You only need to relax, listen and finish with a heartfelt appreciation for their willingness to take the time to share their observations. Then make sure that there is a return on the investment by putting the feedback to good use at the next opportunity.
Feedback is vital to continuous improvement. Each time a leader gives you feedback, it is an investment of their knowledge, time and care. Each time you receive feedback, it is an opportunity to expand your awareness and become more skillful. If you aren’t getting the feedback you need from important stakeholders, maybe you need to make it easier.
Whenever we start working in a new organization, with a new boss, on a new team, or new project we all need to know what is expected of us. It is a simple reality but for some reason harder to come by these days. “I have no idea what is expected of me” is not an uncommon refrain I hear from clients.
When I discuss the need for clear expectations with executives, I often hear push back: “they know what I expect”, and “I covered that day one”. Yet when I meet with the team reporting to the executive they are often less sure about the expectations for their role. Though there are probably numerous reasons for this, one of the top reasons is that leaders universally have less time for reflection and planning and setting expectations requires both. It is a practice worth the time because it is strongly linked to strategy execution.
In the June 2008 Harvard Business Review Article by Gary Nelson, Karla Martin and Elizabeth Powers, the authors report Bain & Company’s research that found the number one trait for strategy execution was, “Everyone has a good idea of the decisions and actions for which he or she is responsible.”
For me it is clear. If you are not sure what is expected of you, or the decisions and actions for which you will be held accountable, find out.
I created a process for leaders and teams to take charge of setting their own expectations. In my experience this is better than “top down”, especially at the senior level. Expectations created by the leader, in their language and about their business unit are more realistic and clear. They still need to find out what really matters to their boss, but this gets the process started. The first draft they create provides enough information for the boss to more easily and quickly provide feedback. The discussion about expectations is more collaborative (which is the way it should be) and the team or direct reports take greater ownership, always a good thing. This process is best when done at the start of a new role, project or team. It is also useful when there is a big change in leadership, strategy or business priorities. But anytime is a good time if you feel you aren’t clear on expectations.
It is so interesting that this elegant process is so often overlooked or undermined. Yet the disappointment of unfulfilled expectations diminishes trust between leaders and their teams at every level. Once trust is diminished it is harder to fix. This is easily avoided by taking charge of the expectations conversation. If you are waiting for someone else to do it, it might not happen.
As a leader you are seen, heard and known whether you want to be or not. Your team sees and experiences your strengths and they also know where you need to grow. It’s also likely that they openly discuss all this. Leaders are generally a source of great interest.
I know this based upon a plethora of data and conversations. For the last 20 years I have worked with hundreds of leaders and their teams. 360-degree assessments and qualitative interviews are a standard part of the leadership development programs I design. There is often a strong correlation between the quantitative data, verbatim comments and qualitative interviews. There are always a few contradictions as well, which is understandable given the diverse needs on a team. But mostly there is a lot of agreement; the ratings and comments align well. This makes it fairly easy for the client to choose a few important development goals related to their team, work and business priorities.
I often advocate for leaders to be thoughtfully open with their team (and select others) about their development topics. I say thoughtfully because it’s important to share the goals that most impact their team’s engagement and make a positive difference on the climate they experience. There will also be topics that are best to work on more privately. When a leader is transparent about their own development they model self-awareness, confidence and vulnerability. This also makes it more likely that their team will take greater ownership of their own development needs.
Of course, if you decide to share important development goals with your team you need to show progress on your goals. It doesn’t have to be perfect to make an impact. You need to demonstrate that you are trying and your team needs to be able see and experience the changes you are making.
It should sound a little daunting. Changing our leadership habits and behaviors is challenging. They helped us achieve in the past but they may not be as effective in our current context. As a leader, you are already vulnerable. By owning, sharing and working on your development goals you are embracing reality. I call that courageous.
Welcome to Moira's blog. I write about the work of building better work places: people strategies, systems, teams and leaders.