Feedback – it doesn’t need to be a difficult conversation

by | Mar 30, 2021

I have been prompted to write this article after three recent conversations which began very differently yet coincided on the topic of feedback. The first began with a progress update and an individual client talking about a distinct lack of tangible feedback after an interview. To compound the challenge, this particular (senior level) client is well-versed in good management practice and all things HR. So much time and energy invested in the organisation’s recruitment process, only to hear that another candidate’s experience was more relevant did not encourage or motivate my client.

It was an unscheduled chat with a longstanding friend and previous HR client, which provoked the second meaningful conversation. The key focus was how well managers are managing the performance of their remote teams. In this new world of team meetings by Zoom, how easy is it to raise development areas without creating discord? We have been hearing that some managers would rather avoid such challenging situations until “things get back to normal”. What is normal and will these mentoring partnerships ever exist “across the desk” as previously? Can performance discussions really wait?

A third conversation emerged from a coaching session with a director who was challenged by a feedback opportunity she had inherited. Differing performance expectations had put my client and her new team colleague in the “needing a difficult conversation” category. My client was preparing to readjust her team member’s promotion hopes. It would not be appropriate to dwell further on the more confidential detail of my conversations here, although all three continued to grab my attention. Why do some managers:

  • Find it so difficult to provide accurate feedback after interviews?
  • Appear to avoid meaningful feedback conversations with team colleagues?
  • Feel uncomfortable having development discussions remotely?

I concluded that some managers believe that their role is to keep their teams (and candidates) motivated and for them, this sometimes translates into positives only. This can be an unrealistic mantra. It may not encourage improved performance or help an unsuccessful candidate who has just heard that they were “pipped at the post” by another candidate. The difficulty arises when a colleague, who is not particularly self-aware and who believes that they are doing a good job, needs to hear a quite different message.

Consideration switched to the role that the New Horizons Careers team play in realigning and readjusting individual’s perceptions of their strengths and capabilities. Many of our clients are shocked that their role is redundant or that they have been selected, over a colleague, while others appear to under-estimate their impact on a situation or a challenge. My sense is that managers who keep the dialogue open with their colleagues appear to have the greatest impact on self-awareness and team performance.

Likewise, the organisations who shortlist candidates for the next stage of the recruitment process based on tangible and constructive feedback. All too often it seems that candidates are involved in a second interview without any meaningful feedback on how they performed at the first interview. Then, at the point of deselection, it transpires that they were always the “wild card” because they did not meet the fundamental experience criteria. Once again, we encounter disappointment and a very real case of “too little, too late”.

It may be difficult for an individual to accept long overdue feedback that a lack of buying experience lost them a new role or promotion when this was obvious from the outset. In other words, from their employment application or previous performance management conversations.

What approach should I take?
The principles of balanced feedback applied regularly, will reduce for the better the impact of tough or demotivating messaging. On occasions there may be a need to tackle a problem head on. In both cases feedback should be factual, unbiased and fair with clear examples of the behaviours that are unacceptable or need improvement.

A team member who sees themselves as “manager material” yet finds influencing and supervising others difficult will greatly appreciate hearing that:

  • Their subject matter knowledge is sound
  • Their ambition is widely acknowledged
  • You are keen to help them to develop their skills
  • You will coach them to inspire great performance

How we can help
The New Horizons Careers team can put together a tailored coaching programme which supports your individual and organisation needs. We will help your managers who are staying to develop the skills that they need and to adapt to new ways of working. We are equally keen to support your people who are leaving with their career transition.

Why not get in touch for a chat in confidence? Call us on 0044 (0)207 831 9843 to let us know how we can help, or send us a message now.