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The Value of Feedback

In a previous job as a senior executive with a market research and consulting firm, my boss once asked me how I’d react to a skip-level meeting. Unable to grasp the full import of his query, I asked him whether I should be coordinating one where my direct reports clear off and facilitate my interaction with their directs. But no! What my boss wanted was to have a meeting with my directs!

Without batting an eyelid, I asked him to ‘be my guest’ and have that interaction. For good measure, I requested him to take notes and share the feedback with me as a means of hearing another perspective about what, I believed, were my managerial strengths that helped me turn a good team into a great one. The skip-level happened and my hardworking boss actually took copious notes on the feedback from my directs.

The importance of feedback

I am the King of the Jungle... Meeoow!!

As expected, there were quite a few blips on the radar, including one that made me out to be a “God of All Things” who believed that only he could work the miracles! Another thought that I spent too much time with my junior colleagues who were reporting to my directs. Yet another gave me a left-handed compliment by suggesting that I always seemed to have solutions to problems and that in my absence the team frets and fumes and occasionally panics.

Of course, all feedback wasn’t all that bad. Thankfully, I was doing a few things right… For starters, my directs believed that I was good at grasping the gist of project meetings and convey it very legibly to the team. They agreed that I lent them a lot of space in terms of planning and executing projects, though I was a strickler for time. Most felt that I was easily approachable and quite a patient listener… So, it was not all that bad!

However, the real shocker came from my boss who had actually taken the trouble of organizing this skip-level. Almost two or three weeks after this incident, he called me over for an evening cup of coffee and told me that I was the only manager in his hierarchy who did not have to be coerced to hold a skip-level. And we were an organization of more than 3,000 people! My boss had five senior executives reporting to him.

Astounded at this revelation that instantly raised several nasty questions in my mind, I turned to my boss and asked him a very simple one… “So, is it good or bad?” Pat came the answer, “That’s for you to decide. From my perspective it is both good and bad. I am happy that I did not have to harass you for a skip-level, but accepting one so easily may not be a good thing as an unscrupulous boss can mess with your career.”

My immediate thought was why would any sane boss ever want to mess with a subordinate’s career? And suddenly an earlier blog post came to mind (Read it here). When Andy Grove wrote “Only the Paranoid Survive”, he wasn’t referring to managers who hijacked the careers of subordinates to ensure that the TINA (There is no Alternative) factor provided them a longer shelf life. Not to put too fine a point on it, I realized that there are ‘insane’ bosses out there too!

So, where does this insanity stem from? Methinks, it comes from their abject inability to introspect. And one cannot introspect without first accepting a viewpoint that is contrary to the one that one holds. This is where feedback plays a crucial role. Enterprises having 360-degree reviews often conduct it as a matter of routine to fix increments. It is for the employee to grasp its holistic relevance and value to the career.

As Marshall Goldsmith says, “One of the best ways top executives can get their leaders to improve is to work on improving themselves.” (Read the blog here). Self-assessment is the only way managers can get their directs to improve. And the moot point is that such assessment has to be absolutely honest. And one of the best ways to test our flaws is to get feedback from our loved ones at home – a wife or husband, a daughter or son, an uncle or aunt.

Of course, there are those that have an opinion about everything one does, but that’s a topic for another blog on another day.

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