August 9, 2021

Brutally honest feedback

When I started working no-one offered me real honest feedback, every manager was talking in circles and avoiding the real problems.

About 20 years ago I started working, my biggest flaw I had then was that I was to confident. I jumped right in convinced that my first idea that popped in my head was the right idea.

Obviously I was wrong 99% of the time. Up until I finally figured that out myself, no one addressed this to me. No one asked me to take a step back, analyse the problems in a different way and guided me in my own growth. It didn't take me long though to understand, but from day one I would have appreciated the following message:

"Jochen: Stop! Did you investigate whether this is actually the right way? Did you even consult your peers or more experienced people?"

My biggest advantage back then was my direct approach, and it still is even though that makes me an extremely difficult person to manage.

In my first job I was direct and brutal in the wrong place at the wrong time, which lead to me understanding that I blew my opportunities there and searched for a new position.

Now the problem was not that I was direct but that my management was not able to handle criticism. One of the hardest things apparently is being able to openly state things and have your manager work on them.

The value of feedback.

When I started managing I started using my 1:1 rules and thriving on the feedback I was given. I noticed that by adapting quickly and taking a step back I was able to change my behavior and my job actually became more interesting and easy.

The value in feedback lies in my opinion in 2 parts:

Putting the finger on the wound.

When you get feedback that is honest and to the point most of the time you will be surprised. You might have known that you behaved in that way but you probably did not understand the impact of your behavior for that person.

It can be very eye opening as well. It allows you to see yourself through the eyes of someone else.

The option to grow.

Getting that feedback immediately opens a door to grow. It gives you the insight (at least the starting point) to understand and improve that behavior in order to remove the negative impact.

I have been lucky in my last management positions that I was able to put this feedback loop in there from day 1, but it does imply the following:

  • Don't lie, be honest even if it makes you look bad
  • Never go in defense mode, when you get criticism listen, don't react (this is one I still struggle with sometimes)
  • Return the favor: Really give honest and straight to the point feedback to the individuals. I spend probably half of my time following up the communications/actions of my direct reports and keep notes to help them grow. It's time consuming but very rewarding.
  • Own it, embrace it and try to understand what the impact is, whether it's feedback you give or receive. Accountability is the most important element of good management.

Lastly as a manager you need to be able to manage in different styles, some people thrive on direct approaches, some need more considerate messaging and gentle nudges towards the right path.

Know that this isn't exact science and that making mistakes is accepted, but don't repeat the mistakes, that will push people away.