The specifics of how this plays out vary from manager to manager, but most managers fall in one of these three categories:
- Managers who excel at giving positive feedback but don’t talk nearly as much as they should about what staff members could be doing to do their jobs better. Managers in this category are guilty of sitting on critical feedback way too long, if they ever give it at all. Usually it’s because giving critical feedback can be hard – it feels like a tough conversation to initiate, and they’re often worried about just how to present it and what the person’s reaction will be. While this usually stems from a place of good intentions – wanting to be kind and not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings – it results in teams and employees who aren’t performing at the level they could be. And at its worst, it can result in employees being blindsided by negative performance evaluations, low raises, lack of advancement, or even being let go.
- Managers who are very comfortable giving critical feedback but don’t regularly give praise as well. This can be a particularly toxic combination, because staff members feel constantly criticized without having positive feedback to balance it out. If all you hear from your boss is about things she’d like you to do differently, it’s easy to conclude that you’re doing a poor job – which often surprises this type of manager, who frequently think that people know they’re doing well without being told. Reality check: People need and want to be told.
- Managers who don’t give much feedback of either sort, positive or negative. These managers are abdicating one of their basic responsibilities as managers, which is to evaluate and provide input to staff members on what’s going well, what could be going better, and how they can develop professionally. As a result, their teams generally just muddle through without much direction. Ironically, this type of manager often has a number of complaints about their staff (no surprise, since the staff exists in a guidance-free zone), but doesn’t funnel them into actionable feedback.
Here are some questions to help you spot whether you fit the profile of one of these types:
- When was the last time each person on your staff heard specific praise for you about something they had done well?
- When was the last time you talked to each person on your staff about something they could do better?
- When you’re unhappy about an element of a staff member’s performance, how long does it take you to talk to them about it? By the time you have the conversation, have you let yourself grow frustrated?
- Is there anything that you think staff members do particularly well that you haven’t told them about?
- Do you have any concerns about staff members’ performance that you haven’t discussed with them?