This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Making of a Manager" by Julie Zhuo. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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What are the different types of feedback? Why should managers ask employees for feedback?
You must earn your team members’ trust and create a safe, supportive environment for them. In The Making of a Manager, Julie Zhuo says that you can earn your team’s trust by giving and requesting feedback.
Keep reading to learn the two types of feedback that you should give and request.
Two Different Types of Feedback
Zhuo identifies two different types of feedback. First, micro-level feedback (what Zhuo calls “task-specific feedback”) relates to a specific task someone completed such as leading a meeting or conducting a financial analysis. Give this feedback as soon as possible, either via email or in person.
For example: “The team-building exercise you led in yesterday’s meeting was fantastic. You gave clear directions and got everyone engaged. Many people said the exercise helped them connect with their colleagues at a new level, and I have no doubt collaboration on projects will be even better going forward.”
(Shortform note: In The New One-Minute Manager, Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson describe techniques for delivering micro-level feedback efficiently. Use one-minute praising sessions to deliver specific, positive feedback in real-time when you see an employee doing something valuable that contributes to company goals. Use one-minute redirects to provide immediate feedback when you see an employee make a mistake, thereby helping them to learn from errors.)
Second, macro-level feedback (what Zhuo calls “behavioral feedback”) relates to patterns in someone’s behavior and performance that emerge over time. Give this feedback less frequently, but don’t wait for official performance reviews, so that people can make adjustments sooner than later. Zhuo says it’s better to deliver macro-level feedback in person so your report can ask questions and contribute their views.
Here’s an example of macro-level feedback: “When other people are talking, you consistently interrupt them. For example, when LaTisha was sharing her financial report, you cut her off before she could finish her projections for the next quarter. This disregarded the value of her contributions and made you appear disinterested.”
What Happens After You Give Feedback
After you share feedback, make sure you clarify what behavior adjustments you’re expecting going forward. For example, you might say, “When you deliver your financial report next Tuesday, I’d like you to focus on speaking more slowly and projecting your voice.” Zhuo says you can also ask your report what adjustments they think are needed, which helps empower them to think creatively and take ownership of their development. For example, you could say, “What do you plan to focus on to improve your next presentation?”
(Shortform note: As Zhou says, closing a feedback conversation with the next steps helps ensure alignment between you and your employee. However, she omits one simple action you can take to close a feedback conversation on a positive note: Thank your employee for their time and willingness to engage in the discussion. Your gratitude can go a long way in helping your staff feel appreciated and valued.)
Additionally, Zhuo emphasizes that great managers don’t just give feedback, they request feedback from their peers and direct reports. Getting feedback, Zhuo says, is the best way to constantly improve your skills as a manager, ensuring you’re doing everything you can to help your team succeed. Be sure to request both micro- and macro-level feedback, and ask people to be specific. For example, you might say: “I’m working on highlighting strengths and opportunities in our team rather than weaknesses. How did I do with that in today’s meeting? How can I improve?” No matter what people say—even if you disagree—thank them for sharing their thoughts so they’ll be more likely to give you feedback in the future.
Is Requesting Feedback a Bad Idea?
Zhuo doesn’t acknowledge the effect power dynamics can have on employees’ willingness to give you honest feedback. Your team members may hesitate to share critical feedback, concerned it may negatively impact your view of them and their standing in the company.
So, how can you put employees at ease so they feel empowered to freely share their insights? One option, proposed by Marshall Goldsmith in What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, is to request feedback confidentially through a third party. According to Goldsmith, people are likely to share only positive input if you ask them for feedback directly. However, if you request feedback indirectly through a third party, they’ll be more inclined to share their honest opinions because their input will be anonymous.
Others recommend that you stop requesting feedback altogether and instead ask for advice. Why? Apart from in the early stages of our careers when it’s beneficial to know where we went wrong or what’s lacking in our performance, research shows that feedback has little impact on our performance. Over one-third of the time, feedback actually negatively impacts performance, often because it’s backward-looking (based on our past actions). This makes it hard for us to focus on the future: Our minds latch onto how we “screwed up,” so the feedback tends to be less actionable.
However, when people give advice, they’re likely to share thoughtful reflections about how we can strategically improve, which helps us think about future actions we can take. Therefore, consider asking for advice as a way to help you think in new ways and move forward instead of lingering in the past.
Alternatively, implement Zhao’s advice above and insist on clarifying the next steps following feedback about past performance—this will help to keep your next move future-oriented.
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- How to build a team and motivate them to work together
- How to run productive meetings
- Tips on how to interview and hire the right employees