How to Give Feedback that Really Hurts

Today's guest post is written by Leila Machiavelli, determined to make the world of work a hellish place.
She has un-advice for managers who are struggling to give feedback to their team members. Please consume at your own risk.

If you’re on Twitter (a great way of wasting time while you’re pretending to “learn” or to “network”) you will have come across numerous articles on Giving Effective Feedback or Giving Constructive Feedback or even, please help us, How to Give AND Receive Feedback.

There seems to be an obsession with asking other people how we’re doing at work. For me it’s very simple: When you make a mistake, I tell you you’ve made a mistake. If you make too many mistakes, you’re fired.

But now managers, as part of this trend towards "coaching" and "self-organisation", are being asked to give feedback to team members.
What’s worse, even managers of virtual teams are being asked to give feedback. I thought one of the advantages of people not being in the office together was that we didn’t have to have useless conversations around “performance” and “development”… Oh well… I think the only way to get around this waste of time is to have the conversation in a way that’s of no value, so that nobody asks you for feedback ever again.

Here’s what I’ve been doing so far…

Leila's Three Feedback Tips

Give feedback once a year.

As I said, the great thing about “virtual” is that you don’t see each other often, so it’s easy to say that you’re busy and don’t have time to give feedback; or if you don’t want to be too harsh you can say that you’re busy this week, but will get back to them next week when you have some time… They will probably forget anyway.

You probably need to fill in some paperwork for your company, so you will need to have a talk once a year. What I would say, is make sure that you take notes of people's mistakes all year round, so that when you finally have your annual talk, you can show them everything they’ve been doing wrong. That will signal that you still have “the power”, that you’ve been observing, that nothing passes you by…

Keep the good stuff brief.

Apparently you also need to discuss what people have been doing well. I’ve never understood this one, if they’re doing it well, what’s the point in talking about it? It'strue that if people don’t feel “valued”, you run the risk of people leaving their job and then you have to go through all the hassle of getting in someone new, which is always a waste of time.

So make sure you have a few things ready that will make people feel pleased with themselves, just so that they stop thinking about finding a new job. (Apparently there are companies which give people rewards for doing their work… I don’t know what the world is coming to…)

Don’t go into too much detail.

You need to keep your conversations brief. If you go into too much detail about what someone is doing badly, people might start to figure out how to get better and then they might want to leave their jobs and go to the competition. Even worse, they might figure out how to get so good at their jobs, that they start to go after your management post. We all know that everyone just wants to be a manager, that’s why we have to be so careful in our work.
That's my best practice, what I've figured out works best over the years.Now for two new things that I haven’t quite worked out yet.
Peer to Peer feedback.

Apparently there’s now this thing called Peer to Peer feedback. That means that you tell me what you think and I tell you what I think, even if you're not my manager and I'm not yours.

Yes, you read right, we’re supposed to comment on each other’s work.

I don’t know how that would work, I don’t know what you do at work, it’s not my job to know and it’s definitely not my job to know whether you’re doing it well or badly. I look after my subordinates and you look after yours, but I don’t understand why I have to keep track of your work or why you need to know what I’m doing.

Hopefully this is just another fad, like “leadership” or “collaboration”…

Feedback loops

Along these same lines, there is talk of receiving feedback. Something like threehundred and ninety feedback. That would mean that my subordinates tell me how I can improve my job. Well, all I can say is, if they start to criticize my work, I’ll just increase their work load so that they don’t have time to waste being distracted by what I’m doing. That’s why I’m the boss.

Don't be like Leila. If you're developing yourself as a team leader or manager of a virtual team, have some fruitful conversations as part of the new Mentoring Group for Managers and Leaders of Virtual Teams starting this September 2016.

Or have a listen to our podcast episode on Giving Feedback in Virtual Teams.