February 10, 2022
If you have ever been to a live concert, you might have noticed the singers or band members wearing an earpiece in their ear. This earpiece serves an important purpose providing the performer with a direct source of sound. The speakers at any venue are facing the audience, which means that without a direct source, the performer ends up hearing whatever sound is bounced off the walls of the venue. This delayed feedback makes it extremely difficult for the performer to do their job well.
That earpiece gives an immediate, direct, and clear source of feedback.
During the past few years, our workplaces have become more split. Our physical locations have moved further apart, and while the benefits of increased engagement have risen with the flexibility, you must consider the ramifications of receiving delayed or inaccurate feedback. Is your “sound” taking days or weeks to bounce off a wall and get back to you? Or have you established a direct framework and pathway of giving and receiving the feedback you need regardless of your work location?
Feedback is a classic double-edged sword. If done properly, feedback has enormous benefits for both parties involved. But the other side of the sword is that when not done properly, it has negative effects. One meta-study that analyzed the outcomes of feedback concluded that in 38% of the cases, the results were negative. How can you increase the likelihood of obtaining a completely positive outcome?
A common view is that feedback refers to communication coming from a manager to a direct report. That feedback falls roughly into two categories. The first is commendation and praise. The second is providing suggestions for a new or better way to handle some project, interaction, or process.
We are introducing an entirely new dimension. It is the practice of the manager seeking feedback from an employee. We submit this has profound effects on:
To test the impact of feedback in the pandemic, we examined 360-degree assessments from 3,422 managers assessed during the pandemic. We then identified those managers rated in the top and bottom quartile on their effectiveness at asking for feedback and giving others honest feedback in a helpful way. We found that 408 managers were in the low quartile group and 573 in the top quartile group. These managers were, for the most part, managing direct reports who worked remotely. The graph below shows the results comparing employee engagement scores of direct reports for those managers in the top quartile on asking for and giving others honest feedback, compared to those in the bottom quartile. The difference is highly significant (e.g., T-Value 17.65, Sig. 0.000).
In addition, we found that those in the bottom quartile had direct reports where 41% were considering quitting their jobs compared to only 18% in the top quartile. We also found that only 21% of the employees in the bottom quartile were willing to “Go the Extra Mile” compared to 55% in the top quartile. This data shows the motivational impact associated with asking for and giving others honest feedback. While we know that it is not these behaviors alone that create the negative impact, it is important to recognize that both behaviors contribute.
Comparing those with top quartile scores to those in the bottom quartile on asking for and giving others honest feedback, we discovered that every one of the other 58 behaviors measured in our 360-degree assessment was negatively impacted. In the graph below, we show the top 11 items with the greatest impact. While we do not believe that poor performance on asking for and giving honest feedback directly causes each of the behaviors below to be negative, these behaviors appear to be strongly connected. Think of these behaviors much like friends that those in the bottom and top quartile hang out with. We all recognize that the friends we hang out with strongly influence how we behave. Below are the “friends” that had the strongest impact on these leaders’ behavior:
Those in the bottom quartile on “asking for and giving others honest feedback” also tend to:
We conclude that improving your effectiveness at asking for and giving others honest feedback can be a very effective first step at improving your ability to manage remote employees. It should also have an impact on the above list of negative issues. Here is the process we would recommend.
We believe that asking for and giving others honest feedback is a super-power. Those who learn to do these two behaviors well will inevitably be much more effective leaders. Having better skills at this powerful practice will also positively impact a variety of other critical behaviors.
—Jack Zenger & Joe Folkman
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