Many managers believe that they are in charge of giving feedback to their employees, but Cameron Morrissey feels that it should go both ways. Morrissey is the author of The Manager’s Diary: Thinking Outside the Cubicle and runs a blog called TheManagersDiary.com. He has a business career that spans over 20 years and includes Management positions in Fortune 500 companies, government organizations and small companies. In this brief interview, Morrissey talks about feedback in the workplace, management mistakes he’s made, managing poor performers and talks about managers that he admires.
Dan: Can you explain why feedback should go both ways at work?
Cameron: To cut right to the chase, we as managers are not nearly as smart and clear at communicating as we think we are. Our staff has a wealth of knowledge on what is working and what isn’t, both from a customer perspective and from a company perspective. If you aren’t tapping into that, you’re not going to be remotely as effective as you should be. So while we focus a lot of our energy on directing feedback to our staff to ensure that they understand expectations and goals (and that IS very important), it’s the feedback from them that will help us make a determination as to whether those expectations and goals are realistic, or even worthwhile.
Also, I wanted to highlight the fact that most companies do a horrendous job of listening to their customers (the other area of receiving feedback). Listening to employees consistently helps them become the voice of the customer, but the tools and methods of getting customer feedback are archaic, if even in existence. If you aren’t getting customer feedback, you will miss the next change in customer demand/behavior, and that leaves any business in a precarious position.
Dan Schawbel: What are some management mistakes you’ve made and what did you do to correct them?
Cameron: LOL! What mistake haven’t I made will be the shorter answer. The costliest mistakes are almost never with the customer, they are with the employees because those mistakes echo much longer in an organization. I’ve jumped to conclusions about employees, provided too few tools to do their job, empowered them too little, and empowered them too much without proper direction.
The first key I personally focus on to correct mistakes is to actually look for them. Sure, you’ll know you screwed up right away with a bunch of your mistakes, but there are so many mistakes that will slide by if you aren’t actively looking to see if the results mirror what your expected outcome was. And if you haven’t built a culture that is ready for mistakes, they may be hidden by staff members, so the searching is made all the more difficult.
The next step is to find alternative solutions that take ego out of it. Ego can play into whether you admit a mistake in the first place, but can really hamper your ability to fix it if you let it. Going hard on the issue and soft on the person is a great philosophy for managing your staff, but also applies to managing your own mistakes.
Dan: How do you manage poor performers and how should you praise high performers?
Cameron: First of all, I’m glad to see you give a nod to the high performers who are often left out of this sort of discussion.
My approach to poor performers is nothing earth shattering. It involves bringing them in, discussing expectations, providing feedback on where they are falling short AND where they are meeting/exceeding expectation, then coming up with a plan for getting them to the next level. The trick, and where this often goes astray, is in the plan and the follow up. You MUST meet with that person every week and build metrics into the plan to track performance, and both of those are often difficult as time is short and metrics are not readily apparent. In those cases, if you absolutely cannot come up with metrics, then you must go through real world scenarios from the prior week. Hopefully over time metrics will present themselves, but at a bare minimum you are one-on-one coaching the employee and giving them every chance to be successful.
High performers want three things: recognition, more recognition, and some more recognition on top of that. They want to be treated DIFFERENTLY based on their high performance. The worst thing you can do as a manager is to not come up with a way of publicly acknowledging performance, both good and bad. If you do this one thing, the high performers will be satisfied. Incentives, promotions, etc are nice, and you should do those where it makes sense, but just recognizing their efforts amongst their peers is all the praise they need.
Dan: How do you go about managing yourself and why should you consider it?
Cameron: Fantastic question! So many of us are so busy managing others we are missing a huge opportunity to improve our own performance, which likewise has a benefit for the organization. Just like we expect our staff to grow, we need to “model the way” and seek growth ourselves. To do that effectively you need a plan for your development, not just your staff’s development. My struggle like many managers is time and focus. For me it is all about lists, goals, and scheduled “meetings” with myself to manage those challenges.
There are as many ways for managers to manage their time and focus as there are managers out there. Lists are how I keep track of what is on my plate. Currently I’m using a spiral notebook, but I’ve used Outlook Tasks, Franklin Planners, and even Post-it notes in the past. During my day I’ll add and cross off, then review and prioritize at the beginning and end of each day.
The second thing is to move past short range tasks into medium and long range goals (which I then break down into tasks) and begin aligning your work. You have to have specific direction or you’re “lost at sea” being swept around by the current of whatever is the priority of the moment. These goals can also be specific to me: learning pivot tables and macros in Excel is one that is currently on my list for this month. Yes it has an application for the company, but it is focused solely on myself, not working through my team.
Lastly, you must schedule a meeting with yourself to review the above. I look at my list every day BEFORE I look at a single e-mail, then I am more apt to appropriately prioritize what comes in from that point forward. I found when I looked at e-mail first, it was those items I was tackling since they were staring at me though my Inbox. I also review my list about an hour before I am looking to leave for the day. I don’t do it at the end of the day so that I still have time to address the “Oh S#@% I needed to get that done!” items that invariably are still there at 4 and 5 o’clock. Also, I review the whole thing along with goals every Friday so I can lay out my next week.
I am lucky in that I am a natural socializer with my staff, peers and boss, so feedback is not too much of a problem. For those who don’t have that skill (yet), a 360 degree review can be a helpful starting point in seeing what challenges others see you go through. But again, the question is fantastic because you really do need to manage yourself as much as your staff, if not even more.
Dan: Can you name a few managers that you admire and explain why they are so effective?
Cameron: First I’ll answer the question, then I’ll sidestep it a little bit.
Alan Mulally, the CEO of Ford (and possible new CEO at Microsoft) is a practical manager who simplifies the complex, whether it was airplane production when he was at Boeing or turning around a 100 year old icon that was floundering at Ford. Great managers simplify the complex to be able to get everyone aligned towards the goals of the company.
He also knows that you need to apply the old Stephen Covey Rule of “Seek to Understand, not to be Understood.” There’s a famous story about him taking his leadership team to Consumer Reports to discuss what they were seeing in Ford vehicles and why they were getting scored so low. Once feedback from CR began, almost immediately the leaders began explaining and finding excuses for the “issue.” Mr. Mulally quickly explained that they were there to listen, the explanations could come later back at the Corporate Office.
Elon Musk is the new cliché visionary like Richard Branson, but it’s just remarkable what he and his team are able to accomplish. He would seem to be the best right now at creating a compelling vision and then empowering a team of some of the smartest people on the planet to plot the course there. Rarely are you able to match those two skills together in a manager.
Many leaders don’t understand the micro aspects of their vision, they only understand the macro. When this is the case they end up misallocating time and resources and end up in scope creep and other wasteful efforts that ultimately undermine the goal. Mr. Musk seems to have a frightening understanding of his vision, and is able to manage his team and their resources to accomplish things most didn’t think possible.
With that being said, I think that both managers above are (and would probably tell you) flawed in some way regarding their management expertise. I’ve worked for some great managers and each of them had their faults, some small, some large, some they recognized, and some they didn’t. What I am absolutely convinced of though, is that there is something I can learn from any of my managers, and something to be admired. So if you think you don’t have a great manager, look for the individual pieces of the whole package. Odds are there is something to learn.