Magazine article Training & Development

To Fill the Feedback Void

Magazine article Training & Development

To Fill the Feedback Void

Article excerpt

Senior-level employees need feedback, too. But top management doesn't always give it to them. Here's a way to provide feedback to executives by using three different assessment instruments.

Dave was stunned. After eight years as a corporate vice-president, he was suddenly out on the street. Dave had thought that he was doing OK, though he had picked up on some negative cues. Still, he had asked the CEO if there were any problems and had been reassured that all was well. But by the next Monday morning, Dave was packing his office coffee mug - and, perhaps, his future.

Dave's story is common. Every day, without warning, executives are let go, phased out, and just plain fired. No one is immune, even those who occupy corner offices. But like many others, Dave was angry. No one had warned him that his performance wasn't up to par.

In fact, many executives function within a "feedback void." Typically, their managers hint at performance problems and hope they'll go away. When the deficiencies don't disappear, an executive may be fired on the spot mainly because his or her manager's patience has run out. That can be devastating for the fired executive. It can also be costly for the company, in terms of executive-search and relocation expenses for a replacement, and in terms of lost opportunities while a new executive adjusts. There is also the risk that the suddenly fired executive will initiate litigation.

The fact that many executives function in a feedback void is understandable. Early in their careers, they tend to receive glowing performance appraisals. As they climb the corporate ladder, the flow of feedback ebbs. By the time they reach the Ivory Tower, the feedback well has dried up. The people above them are busy with big-picture planning and don't take the time to discuss performance issues. And the people below them don't feel comfortable offering criticism.

That's how the feedback void is created.

The void becomes particularly critical for managers who have become less effective as they've moved up the corporate ladder. The skills that made some rising executives effective as middle managers can actually become drawbacks as they move up. For example, a detail-oriented person may flourish at lower- and middle-management levels, because the focus in those jobs is on day-to-day activities. But at the top-management level, attention to detail may appear over-controlling. The people who work for a micro-manager may feel distrusted and disempowered.

But without feedback, the manager may not even realize that there's a problem.

A three-pronged approach

Some executives actively seek feedback. But many don't. The ones who risk negative feedback tend to be star performers; those who avoid feedback because it may be negative tend to be mediocre managers. There are ways to embrace negative feedback as an opportunity to become one's best. And there are ways to give negative feedback without being harsh.

Learning how to give and receive feedback successfully requires a strong commitment to change. It also requires strong coaching. One effective method uses a survey that combines three feedback tools:

* a 360-degree assessment customized to measure specific problem areas

* the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator instrument

* 16 Personality Factors, a test designed to be administered by a licensed psychologist. (For more information, contact the Institute for Personality and Ability Testing, Box 1188, Champaign, IL 61824-1188; 800/225-IPAT.)

Most training and development professionals are familiar with the MBTI instrument. (For information, contact Consulting Psychologists Press, Box 10096, Palo Alto, CA 94303; 800/624-1765.) See the boxes for examples of the items included in the other two tools.

Start by sending the survey to 25 to 40 people who work with each executive who is to receive feedback - including his or her manager, peers, direct reports, and "high-potentials" (people who are likely to advance in the ranks). …

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