Feedback Is the Ultimate Leadership Sucker Test

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I think I might be on the cusp of the next great employee feedback mechanism for leadership.

I’ve been thinking about this concept for a long while. You see, for years I’ve had the opportunity to test out my various theories on employee feedback. I’ve watched my own feedback theories change over the years, but they always were grounded in people truly want feedback about their performance.

That is mostly true. People do want feedback about their performance.

What do you really want to hear?

Here is what also is true:

  • People want feedback about what they’ve done well.
  • People don’t want critical feedback. Someone asking you for critical feedback is really just testing you to see if you are either:
    • Upset with them for how bad they did;
    • Just seeing if you have the guts to them how bad they did.
  • People really just want you to tell everyone else how great you think they are.

I think a better, more effective way of delivering feedback to employees should start with this one question:

What do you want to hear about your performance?”

What you really want to say

At this point the employee will say stuff like, “I just want to hear how well I did,” or “Tell me that you appreciated my work,” or “Tell me I’m the best employee you have.” This will then drive the conversation appropriately and keep everyone fully engaged.

“All right Timmy, you are doing really well. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate everything you do. You are the best employee I have.”

Timmy leaves feeling great and satisfied. You don’t have to deal with someone losing their mind about how they are really performing. Everyone goes back to work with minimal disruption.

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Yeah, I know what you really wanted to say was, “Timmy, you can do better. While I appreciate the work you do, I wish you would actually do more of it. You are like most employees hear, nothing special, but you could be.

How does that conversation end? Timmy is pissed. He creates a scene. He usually ends up disrupting the work environment and kills productivity. He might even go out and find another job with someone else.

Make it easy on yourself

Is that what you wanted? Probably not.

So, make it easier on yourself. Just remember to start every feedback conversation out with that one question: What do you want to hear? They’ll tell you. They’ll be happier. You’ll be happier. Everyone can get back to work.

Feedback is the leadership sucker test. No one really wants to hear what you think about them.

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.

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