Help Your Manager Give Better Feedback

Many people don’t get the quality or quantity of feedback that they would like from their manager. It's time to change that.

One of the things I'm seeing right now is that many people don’t get the quality or quantity of feedback that they would like from their manager.

Our efforts follow our attention.

This is a core tenant of both business intelligence and behavioral change. It’s why we create data dashboards, senior leaders have annual strategic planning sessions, and why measuring billable hours can be a bad idea.

Feedback loops are how we know where to put our effort, and if we don’t get feedback from the right source, we risk having our attention drawn to the wrong things.

In coaching, I guide managers to identify the problem, figure out a simple course of action, observe outcomes, and adjust. Below, we break down the complex problem of unactionable feedback.  

Problem: Unactionable feedback

Have you ever received generic feedback like “work on your executive presence,” or “you need to improve your communication”? These are worthwhile endeavors, but they aren't specific behaviors. Consider yourself lucky if you get specific, behavioral-focused, actionable feedback from your supervisor (even if it hurts to hear it).

Try this: "What does that look like?"

Help your manager give better feedback by asking better questions. You can improve the feedback you get by asking, “What does that look like?” This simple question can provide the prompt they need to be more specific, and give them the courage to say exactly what they mean.

Repeat this question to identify as many specific behaviors as possible, then pick the one that you want to work on first. This idea – called “Swarm of B(ehaviors)’s” - comes from behavioral psychologist, BJ Fogg, in his phenomenal book, Tiny Habits.

If you aspire to improve your executive presence, some of the specific behaviors might be to “write more succinctly,” “interrupt less during staff meetings,” or “don’t participate in office gossip.” While these are all good changes to make, you and your manager should start by picking one and focusing on it specifically for a week. See what changes.

Expected outcome: Small wins

You'll get actionable, behavior-focused feedback when you ask for it, and your manager will get better at articulating their expectations.

Look for small, observable behavioral changes and the impact they have around you. Ask yourself and others if this new behavior is contributing to the greater aspiration.

This exercise also gives you practice working with qualitative data, which is what is so often missing from data-driven decision-making. If you still aren't getting the feedback you want, slightly adjust the question or seek feedback from someone else who can provide the perspective you need.

What I'm working on now 

When I'm not coaching, change management has been my focus for the past two months. I was featured on an expert insight series podcast with Blue Margin, co-hosted a training on resiliency through change for a future-leaders cohort within a global enterprise, facilitated an in-person half-day change management workshop for corporate leaders, and attended the Enterprise Agility World Conference where I learned from brilliant people like Paul Gibbons and Dr. Leandro Herrero about the myths plaguing the change management discipline.  

What I'm reading now

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

A fantastic discussion on the biases of intuition, how even the most experienced statisticians make poor judgments about statistical measurements, and why we can’t always be data-driven decision-makers (hint: we’re pretty good at making decisions without much information and we do it extremely fast). 


Disclaimer: The links in this post may contain affiliate links.

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