Essential Management Tool

By Sirajuddin Aziz

Should managers and supervisors give feedback? Does it help? How frequently should feedback be given? The answer to the first two interrogative sentence is a loud ‘yes’ and to the third interrogative remark, it depends upon requirement to do so but most commonly it is associated with annual appraisal exercise. Doing this exercise once a year, is an approach full of pitfalls.

Invariably all organisations set up goals and KPIs for a calendar or financial year, at the start of the year. These are cascaded down the hierarchy and every individual gets to know what basic level of performance is expected. Between these two dates of opening and closing of financial performance, it is imperative for every manager to measure achievements and review them with his reports. This should be an all year-round activity and not on a fixed date when the manager has to necessarily write the annual performance review (ACRs) in compliance with organisational goal, to complete the promotion and increment exercise.

Measurement of financial performance is easy. It is a quantitative judgement, so can be precise and accurate. Managers run into choppy waters when feedback has to be given on non-quantitative aspect. These areas of vital importance can range from acquisition of knowledge, skill and expertise to quality of interpersonal skills, communication ability, personal reputation management, etc. These harbour around emotional quotient, hence can be challenging.

Feedback to any function, designation and business initiatives is critical. It is through feedback that corrective and remedial measures are instituted. Feedback on the intangibles of the management function must be given speedily if not instantaneously. Lack of initiative to give response can be lethal to the organisation, its human resources and ultimately to its financial performance.

Most managers rush to give feedback if it is in the positive zone. They give recognition and plaudits to performers. No time spent on failures. The supervisor will visibly give time, attention and demonstrate obvious interest in any individual who is perceived as a performer. Dealing with positives in life is relatively a walk through the cake, but it is a real test of management skill, when asked upon to give negative feedback…actually it is positive from the standpoint of the giver ie supervisor, and very negative when evaluated by the recipient. The receiver refuses to accept anything negative about him.

In his book, ‘The business of BS’ (Yes, that is the title and yes you have deciphered the BS abbreviation done by me, correctly and accurately) by Graham Edmonds, the writer has commented on what is the implication of a straight answer. I will alter the contents to make them suitable for this piece. Generally you would find a manager at the start of meeting with his co-workers, remark, “I wish to give the honest truth without gloss. Now the listener should know that whatever will be said, would be without and devoid of both qualities- honesty and truthfulness. All managers or to be kind to a rare breed, most managers avoid giving straight answers or make straight, candid and forthright statements because invariably it gets them into trouble or it hurts someone they may personally like on the shop floor, all managers lie regularly without even knowing it…!”

In a negatively filled content meeting, the manager must possess quantum amount of patience towards his report. It is expected of him never to lose shirt while doing the scenario analysis. One can expect rude and violent behaviour too; or the report may just storm out of the meeting. A man on trial has very little to lose but a judge deciding the case has everything on ‘the line’.

An experienced and intelligent supervisor will consciously avoid commenting other than on the issue at hand and will ensure that there is no ‘clash of emotions’. I have seen supervisors who when giving the feedback, lose their marbles, they will huff; they will puff, bang the table and would rise from their seats and start pacing to and fro in the office. Here the supervisor is the victim of feedback and not the report.

In giving feedback, never use threatening language or even use words that are inherently double-edged swords. An enlightened manager invokes his commitment to listen and to consider the point of the supervised. Never fall into the trap of semantics and also never get embroiled with use of abusive language for it is bound to create vast distances.

Good management practitioners suggest that a feedback meeting should never be impromptu- it must be well planned or else it is bound to rent asunder any leftover trust. There is a school of thought that feedback meetings must be preannounced. Facts cannot be had presumptuously. This thought also describes or presumes things like timing of the meeting- the sadist among this lot prefer to feedback meeting late or on Friday evening (this is done, to ensure that the colleague can sulk or commit suicide over the entire weekend). It is also preferred to time the meeting at exactly 5:30pm.

My views on feedback meetings are entirely different. These must be held on Monday mornings, so that the report gets time to have his ego nursed and bandaged. No colleague in my view can become the sole spokesperson of the group. If a colleague is battered with negative thought on a Friday evening meeting, then the manager is ensuring that his inabilities and insecurities are known and visible to all. I believe in most sincere terms that no colleague should be sent home on a working day, loaded with negative ridicule. It would make him look miserable and his family life will be ruined. That’s not the purpose of feedback. And hence should only be given within a day’s life, so that an individual has enough time to nurse his wounds before heading home, to his family. Feedback is to correct things and not make lives of families miserable.

Feedback must be based on reality – not hearsay. The right to give feedback stems from positional authority but what is unfortunately forgotten is that it also carries tremendous amount of duty of care, towards colleagues. The authority is not to be used towards carte blanche’ power to indulge in feedback laced with sarcasm or direct abusive indulgence with choice of words (expletives!)

Feedback is an obligation and duty of the supervisor. It must be based on reality not through the whispers in the corridors or through the medium of manipulative imagination. Feedback is to help, not to disown, not to discard, not to punish, not to insult, not to torture, not to maul and not to wound – but its sole purpose should be to help- sincerely and honestly.

The writer is a senior banker and freelance columnist

Source: Daily the News

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