Magazine article American Banker

Viewpoint: Don't Be Afraid to Give Subordinates Feedback

Magazine article American Banker

Viewpoint: Don't Be Afraid to Give Subordinates Feedback

Article excerpt

Many bank executives don't like to admit it, but they have a problem when it comes to holding subordinates accountable for performance: They tend to avoid or delay the "tough conversation."

All too often, the greatest performance roadblock is the manager who is uncomfortable with and reluctant to have a candid conversation with an underperforming employee.

Much of this reluctance can be rooted in a fear of confrontation, but the fact is that most bank executives have never been trained in productively critiquing subordinates. Further, they often don't recognize the huge potential payoff from giving employees a clear focus and direction through timely and candid feedback about their performance, along with specific steps for improvement.

Why is this reluctance to critique so prevalent? The reasons expressed by executives tend to fall into four categories:

* Managers have not been trained to have these difficult conversations, so they are not confident about what they should or should not say, and they avoid the potential conflict altogether.

* New managers may encounter an awkward and uncomfortable dynamic when they critique former peers who disregard the new reporting structure and continue to expect favorable treatment based on prior friendships.

* Managers may be apprehensive about a possible employee complaint to human resources, leading to a time-consuming review. Therefore, managers often speak with extreme sensitivity, obscuring and diluting their intended message to the point that the subordinate is left confused.

* Managers worry that a valued employee may take exception to a critique and leave the bank, resulting in additional problems, such as pricing concessions to keep clients, the time and cost of finding a successor, etc.

Since many managers tiptoe around these discussions, subordinates often silently struggle, because corrective measures were never explained in crystal-clear terms. Too many executives simply defer their most rigorous assessments until the annual performance review. By then, it's too late. It's hard to blame subordinates who cite a lack of guidance and leadership when they learn about their deficiencies only once a year.

Goals should motivate employees and influence their behavior to focus on achieving individual targets that contribute toward team objectives. This would seem obvious, but many performance scorecards continue to allow an individual to fail on individual goals and yet still receive bonuses because of an overweighting of components where they have no direct influence or control. Is it any wonder why managers are left scratching their heads when their team doesn't meet a plan, but their employees all receive bonus checks? …

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