What Great Bosses Know about Doubling Their Feedback

In my last column, I listed 5 resolutions for aspiring great bosses: double your feedback, lead strategically, do a systems check, learn something scary, and build your emotional intelligence. I also promised to devote my next columns to each of those five, to provide advice on how to make good on each resolution.

So today, we work on doubling your feedback.

I listed it first because:

  • Feedback is a recurring request from employees.
  • Providing more and better feedback, while highly valuable, doesn't take a dime out of your budget.

What feedback does take is a little time, at least as you set up your feedback strategy. But it can soon become something you do automatically, integrated into your daily interactions. Here's how to get started:

1. Take inventory. Think about the people who report directly to you. Pull out the staff roster if need be. Ask yourself: when was the last time you had a conversation that the employee would consider to be helpful feedback? This is important because bosses tend to overestimate the amount and frequency of the feedback they provide. In the book, "Give to Get Leadership: The Secret of the Hidden Paycheck," the authors cite a survey of 3,000 managers and a sampling of their employees. The bosses were asked to rate themselves on a scale of 1 (never) to 5 (always) on the statement: "I let my subordinates know when they are doing a good job." The bosses' average response was 4.3. Their employees, however, gave them a 2.3.

As you take that inventory, look closely for patterns in your feedback. Do you tend to pay more attention to high or low performers? Do you spend more time with certain types of employees -- those you hired versus those you inherited, staffers who do jobs you once did, people who seek you out, people you personally like? After taking the inventory, you need to set up a new and improved delivery system for your feedback connections.

2. Know your goals for each person. Think of this as a prescription for each person's success. What do you want more or less of from them? What habits would you like them to make or break? What would you like to make certain they don't change at all? What are your overall goals for the team's quality and innovation and how can they help contribute?

3. Know their goals, too. Knowing what you want for and from your staff members isn't sufficient. You need to know their aspirations as well. Each member of your staff has long- and short-term goals, some hopes and probably some fears, too. You can't effectively and realistically provide feedback without understanding what's in their heads and hearts. It helps you frame your feedback for maximum impact.

4. Watch the work with your "feedback glasses" on. Bosses often look at their staff's work through the lens of quality control alone. They look first for the Bad Stuff, which they have to eliminate, then for the Big Stuff, which is the performance on major projects. Great bosses, those who provide top-notch feedback, look at their staff's work through a different set of lenses. They look for things like: What am I seeing in today's project, this story, this performance that gives me an opportunity for feedback? What do I see that connects with my goals for the person who produced it? What can I take note of, however small, that demonstrates with specificity what this person is doing well or could do better?

When you adopt a "feedback glasses" mindset, you look for every opportunity to gather useful performance information and then to share it as quickly as possible. As noted in this recent article in Fast Company magazine, feedback is best served when it is specific and timely. Go ahead, keep a notebook handy so you can jot down your ideas and observations lest you forget them!

5. Deputize more eyes and voices. You're a busy boss. You can't review everyone's work at all times, even if your employees would like you to. So ask for help from other managers or trusted and talented staffers. Tell them about your goal of doubling your feedback. Get them fitted for feedback glasses, too. They can be an excellent source of information on employee performance. You can also deputize them to provide feedback on your behalf, if you're not available. Just make certain that they're on the same page as you about your standards of quality and an understanding of each person's goals.

One more thing: It's more important for feedback to be frequent than formal. I'll share more information on pacing your feedback and integrating it into daily interactions in today's podcast: What Great Bosses Know about Doubling Their Feedback."

Poynter's "What Great Bosses Know" podcast is sponsored by The City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. Poynter's leadership and management expert Jill Geisler shares practical information on leadership and management that's valuable for bosses in newsrooms and all walks of life.

You can subscribe to this podcast via RSS or to any of our podcasts on iTunes U.

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    Jill Geisler

    Jill helps news managers learn how to lead her favorite people in the world - journalists. Good journalists, she points out, question authority and resist "spin." It takes exceptional leaders to build trust, along with the systems and culture that grow great journalism.


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