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Giving Feedback, The Supervisorís Nightmare

A number of years ago Sally sat in her elementary school classroom painting a picture. For a little six year old, the picture was something for a parent to be proud of - a landscape with a large blue sky. As the teacher walked by, she saw the good work and complimented her, saying, ďSally this is very nice, but it is out of balance. This large blue sky needs something.Ē With that she took a brush and painted a seagull in the middle of the sky.

This upset Sally, she took her picture home and showed it to her father, who complimented her for her effort, especially the seagull. Sally broke out in tears. Finally, she told how the teacher had painted the seagull into the picture. To make a long story short, daddy went to the school to talk to the principal and the teacher.

The teacher explained her reasons, the principal stood by the teacher, and the issue ended up in court. The teacher told of her expertise, her masters degree in art, and how pictures need balance. The judge then asked Sally why she was upset about the seagull in the picture. Sallyís response, ďI donít see it there.Ē

People are a lot like Sally. As they grow up, their experiences end up on a picture they have of themselves and of the world. When a manager comes along and gives feedback, one of two things happens. The employee runs the feedback through a filter and either thinks that it matches their painting and accepts it, or that doesnít match the painting and responds, ďI donít see it there.Ē

You can probably guess that the information that is received positively is primarily positive feedback. The constructive, (i.e. negative feedback) is often rejected. The employee usually smiles, thanks the manager, and walks off grumbling about how their boss is out of touch with reality.

Most people donít think in the context of pure logic, they think in the context of their experiences, and their view of the world. Yet, the traditional view of management is that people care about learning the truth, people are capable of seeing things unemotionally, they will change their minds when you show them the facts, and that they are reasonable and will admit you are right and that they are wrong.

The reality is that most people care more about proving they are right, they react emotionally and defend their position. They will interpret information to support their beliefs and reject information that doesnít. Bottom-line, people prefer to see the world their way.

What does this teach us as coaches, leaders, and managers? We need a different approach to giving feedback, one that demonstrates openness to the views of employees, yet injects the rigors of objectivity and verifiability.

Utopia? Maybe, yet new research supports the effectiveness of such an approach.

What does this new approach look like? First, the supervisor and the team member(s) need to objectively define the results that are expected. This includes short and long term objectives and how the companyís values are to be demonstrated on the job.

Coaches should GUIDE team members. GUIDE stands for:

Gather examples
Understand results and actions
Identify development needs
Develop plans and goals
Exercise the competency

The primary responsibility for Gathering examples belongs to the team member(s). These are verifiable examples of the actions taken to achieve the pre-established goals. Understanding results and actions is a joint effort between the team member and the supervisor. The supervisor truly becomes a coach in a low stress interactive discussion where the team member shares the examples. The coach asks questions and guides the rating of both the results and the actions taken to achieve the results.

As examples are shared, development needs become apparent to the team member and the coach that leads to Identifying Development Needs and Developing Plans and Goals. Once new goals are established, the team member Exercises the Competency such as an athlete would in practice. The team member would then Gather New Examples, thus repeating the process and developing the new skill.

Moral: Using Sallyís story, the coach that gains the team memberís view of reality and works with that reality, will gain buy-in to improvements that otherwise would not have been possible.

Submitted by:

Stephen Moulton

Stephen Moulton is the Chief Consultant of Action Insight, author, software inventor, and competency guru. He can be reached at 303-439-2001 or http://www.actioninsight.com




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