I’m frequently asked the question, “Is there such a thing as too much candor?” Clients ask this question when an employee or coworker is telling anyone who will listen exactly what she thinks of just about everything. Incidents like these make managers and leaders hesitant to ask employees for feedback, not knowing how to turn off the well.
Yes, there can be too much candor. The truth is one ingredient in the recipe; it’s not the whole meal.
A few guidelines of when to speak up:
1. You have a relationship with the feedback recipient, and he will be able to hear you without becoming overly defensive.
2. You’ve been asked for your opinion.
3. You feel very strongly about an impending decision that has not yet been made.
When not to speak up:
1. The feedback recipient can’t change what you’re concerned about.
If you’re concerned about a policy that isn’t changing, expressing an opinion is just complaining, which will negatively impact your reputation.
The person you have feedback for can’t change that aspect of herself. For example, you comment that someone has a high, squeaky voice. That’s just an insult. And an insult isn’t feedback, no matter how hard you try to persuade yourself otherwise.
2. You don’t have a relationship with the feedback recipient and thus your message is likely to go on deaf ears.
3. You have not been asked for your opinion.
4. A decision has been made and at that point you’d just be talking to talk.
When managers ask me, “Is there such a thing as too much candor,” I suspect what they’re really asking me is, “How do I get my employees to be more discerning with the feedback they share, to whom, and how.”
Here are a few ways to guide employees who over communicate:
1. When you ask for feedback, tell people specifically on what you want feedback, in what format, and during what time horizon.
For example, tell employees, “We are looking for feedback on the new time-off policy. We’ll be asking for input at Friday’s town hall meeting. Please come to the meeting and share your thoughts. This will be the only opportunity to provide input.”
2. Tell employees who have a tendency to overwhelm with feedback or violate some of the guidelines listed above, “Your input is valuable. The more feedback you give, the harder it is to discern what’s important. Pick your battles. Give feedback on the things you feel really strongly about, and perhaps save other feedback for future opportunities.”
3. Tell employees who have a tendency to insult people with critical feedback, “How you deliver feedback influences whether or not people can hear your feedback and take action. No one likes to be told that she is wrong. Be careful not to attack people. Focus on the problem, not the person. Ask questions and make requests versus telling someone why what she is doing is wrong. Then, of course, tell the person to read chapters nine through twelve of my bookHow to Say Anything to Anyone.
Just because you can say something, doesn’t mean you should. None of us wants to damage relationships by insulting people or be labeled as a complainer. Pick your battles. Give feedback when you feel really strongly, a final decision has not been made, and you have a relationship with the recipient. And if you find yourself talking to talk, stop.
Many organizations spend more money than they have to on employee recognition gifts and appreciation programs that often involve bonuses, paid time off, contests, gifts, and other expensive forms of compensation. What employees want most is to know they’re doing a good job.
Giving feedback in the workplace is the cheapest, most effective, and often overlooked form of employee recognition. Employees want to know how they’re performing, and most employees get little to no positive or constructive feedback at work. They may not want to hear negative feedback, but employees want to know if they aren’t meeting expectations.
In one of Candid Culture’s training programs, I give participants a box of questions to help coworkers set expectations and improve workplace communication. Some of the questions include:
Do you prefer to receive information via email, voicemail, or text message?
Are you a big picture or a detail person?
What are your pet peeves at work?
What type of work do you like to do most? What type of work do you like to do least?
What do you wish I would start, stop, and continue doing?
I am consistently amazed at how often training participants ask what their coworkers wish they would start, stop and continue doing. I assume employees will be hesitant to ask for constructive feedback in front of a group of peers. But training participants consistently tell me that they get almost no positive or constructive feedback at work, and they’re desperate for the information.
If you want to engage, retain, and motivate employees without spending a lot of money:
Give clear, specific, and timely positive and negative feedback. Employees want to know how they’re performing.
Ask what type of work employees really want to do, and let them do that work most of the time.
Ask what skills employees want to learn, and give them a chance to attain those skills.
Write hand written notes of appreciation.
Employees at Candid Culture get their birthdays off paid. We often buy employees lunch, give bonuses, and have a generous time off policy. Those perks are important and do help retain employees. But monetary rewards never replace or supersede the value of being aware of employees’ performance and caring enough to tell employees the truth.
There is one job interview question recruiters and hiring managers must ask. And the answer should be a deal breaker.
The most important job interview question for any role and level, in every organization: Tell me about a time you received negative feedback.
This is NOT the same question as tell me about a weakness. Or tell me about a time you made a mistake at work. Those are also important job interview questions to ask. But they’re not the most important question.
Let’s assume everyone you interview is age sixteen and older. Unless your candidates live in a cave, never speaking to anyone, it’s not possible to arrive at age 16 without having received negative feedback. The feedback can come from a friend, teacher, or parent. It doesn’t need to be work related.
The point of the question is to discover whether the candidate is open to feedback. People who are not open to feedback are extraordinarily difficult to work with. They aren’t coachable. Any type of feedback they receive will result in resistance and defensiveness.
Employees who aren’t open to feedback won’t change or improve their behavior, regardless of how effective a manager is. Instead of listening to feedback and taking corrective action, employees who are not open to feedback will tell managers why they are wrong.
Everyone you interview has received negative feedback at some point. The question is whether or not candidates were open enough to listen to the feedback. People who aren’t open to feedback won’t be able to answer your question.
If candidates can’t tell you about a time they received negative feedback, ask a follow-up question. Your job as the interviewer is to give candidates every possible opportunity to be successful. If you don’t get the answer you’re looking for, ask the interview question in two different ways, until you’re certain the candidate can’t or won’t answer the question.
If candidates can’t tell you about a time they received negative feedback, ask what their reputation is at their current job or was at a previous job. Candidates probably won’t be able to answer this question either. Most people don’t know their reputation at work.
Even if a candidate doesn’t know with certainty his reputation at work, the answer he provides will give you a sense of how self aware he is. People who are self aware are more open to feedback and are easier to coach and manage than people who are not self aware.
I really do eliminate candidates who demonstrate that they aren’t open to feedback –whether I’m hiring for Candid Culture or for one of my clients. I don’t care how credentialed or experienced the candidate is.
Last week I had lunch with a client. When I returned from the lunch I saw a friend who told me I had something stuck in my teeth. I was embarrassed and wondered why my client hadn’t told me.
It’s quite possible he hadn’t noticed. In fact, knowing this guy and how much work I’ve done with his firm on being candid, it’s probable he hadn’t noticed. But we all know people who notice and say nothing. We could walk around all day with toilet paper on our shoe, lipstick on our teeth, or our fly down, and the people around us won’t tell us.
If you read my blog weekly, you already know that people have been trained not to tell you the truth.
But I think there is more preventing people from telling us the truth. Complete this sentence: “If you have nothing nice to say, _________________________________. Who told you that? Your mother!!!
I do think there’s something to this. We’re raised to believe that it isn’t nice to say something to another person that isn’t positive. And in the past, when we did speak up, it’s likely the other person got defensive. So it’s no wonder that we don’t readily give people bad news.
Here are five tips you can practice to get the people around you to tell you when you have something stuck in your teeth.
Establish a core team of people who will always tell you the truth. These can be friends, coworkers, clients, vendors, you boss, etc.
Give people permission to be honest with you. “Let’s make a deal. I always want you to tell me the truth. If I have something stuck in my teeth, or I’m inappropriately dressed for a meeting, or I’m doing something that damages my reputation, I want you to tell me.”
Make it easy to tell you the truth. “I promise no matter what you tell me and how hard it is to hear, I will say thank you. I won’t get defensive. And if I do, I’ll apologize and try to do better next time.”
Offer to do the same for them. “And if you want me to do the same thing for you, I’m happy to do it.”
Periodically check in with people and ask for feedback. “A few months ago I asked you to tell me anything I said, did, or wore that got in the way of my success. Is there anything you’ve seen that you want to tell me?”
Every time you ask for feedback and take it graciously, you train the person to give you more feedback. On the contrary, every time you get defensive, you make it hard for people to give you feedback, making it likely they won’t do it again.
If you don’t want to walk around looking silly all day, make it safe to tell you the truth.
Sue: “I shouldn’t have to tell him what I want. He should just know.”
Bob: “She expects me to read her mind. I’m not a mind reader.”
This age-old romantic relationship complaint is as common at work as it is at home.
Several years ago, before I started Candid Culture, I wrote down my annual goals, and asked my manager to approve the goals, which he did. But we didn’t weigh the goals. Neither I nor my manager articulated what percent of my bonus should be dedicated to each goal. The company practiced pay-for-performance and paid bonuses based on goal achievement.
At the end of the year, my boss reviewed my goals as part of my performance appraisal. There was one very small project that I didn’t finish. And when I say small, I mean, really, really small. So small, that detail-oriented me shouldn’t have included the project on my list of goals. My boss dinged me 15% of my annual bonus for not completing that one very small project. Apparently he thought the project was important. And I lost a chunk of change.
I was really upset. But it was my fault. I didn’t work with my boss to weight my projects or goals. So when it came time to determine bonuses, the decision was subjective, which is not what you the employee wants.
When evaluating performance, Managers don’t really want subjectivity either. When there are no clear criteria for awarding bonuses, pay increases, or company stock, managers can have a hard time making decisions, and employees often feel treated unfairly. Written guidelines for how compensation is allocated reduce the feeling that compensation decisions are unfair and subjective.
Your manager may or may not verbalize his expectations for the year, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have expectations. A professional athlete would never get on the field without knowing the rules of the game, and neither should you. Don’t go to work without knowing what, specifically, is expected of you.
Ask your manager these questions each quarter. Don’t guess!
What projects are most important this quarter?
How is my work being evaluated? What are the criteria for a good job?
How often would you like to review work in progress so you can give feedback, and I can make adjustments as projects progress?
The bottom line is:
Don’t wait for someone to tell you what to do at work.
Like speeding limits, not knowing the rules doesn’t mean you’re not subject to them.
Write down your goals and get them approved in writing by your manager, even if your manager is difficult to schedule with. While it’s not ideal, you can write your goals down and email them for edits and approval, without discussing live.
Review goals quarterly, at a minimum. Monthly would be better. Bring your goals to your one-on-one meetings with your manager and discuss progress regularly. Don’t make your manager ask you for updates.
If you’re not having one-on-one meetings with your manager, start. Employees are accountable for asking their manager for feedback.
Make changes, in writing, to goals that change or become irrelevant.
If your compensation or annual performance rating is tied to goal achievement, write down specifically how each goal contributes to your compensation or annual rating. Giving each goal a numerical value (a percentage) is ideal.
These guidelines may sound like a lot of work or overly formal. In my experience writing agreed-upon goals give employees a sense of control. When I know what I need to do, and I know how I’m being evaluated, I feel like I am in charge of where I put my time. If I elect not to finish a project, I know how I will be affected. And that makes me feel like I’m running the show.
Most managers write performance appraisals from a blank page. They sit at their desks trying to remember all the good things employees did throughout the year. But it’s hard to remember a whole year’s worth of events. So the appraisal ends up being a review of the last quarter, which is all they can remember.
Don’t let this happen to you.
The time to start preparing for your performance appraisal is now. Not in January, now.
Two months ago I wrote a blog encouraging you to ask your boss’s permission to give him/her a list of your 2012 accomplishments. Just in case you didn’t do it, I’m reminding you again.
Most of us are not great at self promotion. We think that if we do great work, the right people will notice, and we’ll get the recognition – status, money, responsibility – we deserve. In fact, many people critique others who are good at self promotion thinking that they’re suck ups, who make themselves look good at others’ expense. And we don’t want to be like that. So we decide, “I’ll quietly do my job well and eventually I’ll get the recognition I deserve.”
You can promote yourself and the work you do without appearing arrogant, self inflated, or trampling on others.
Think about it this way, no one knows the work you do better than you do. Your boss doesn’t follow you around. S/he doesn’t know all the great stuff you do every day. It’s your job to tell her.
Create a one-page sheet of your projects and accomplishments. Bring this sheet to your one-one-one meetings with your boss, however frequently they occur. At the end of the year these sheets become the cheat sheet from which to write your review. Aggregate all the information you’ve captured during the year and ask your boss’s permission to provide it to help him/her write your appraisal. S/he won’t say no. Writing appraisals is time consuming. If you can make the process easier, it strengthens your relationship with your boss and makes you look good. But you must ask for permission to send the list.
If you haven’t been assembling a list of accomplishments, create one for 2012 now. And start creating a list in January of 2013, and add to the list regularly.
It’s your job to tell the people you work with what you’re doing. Simply say:
“Here’s what I’ve been focused on…”
“Here are a few projects my team finished…”
“Here’s something I’m working on…”
“I’m really proud of…”
Any of these phrases will do the trick. Don’t make your boss guess. Make it easy to promote you.
Unless you work in a cave, you know that people have a tendency to talk about you, not to you.
Often employees have no idea where they stand performance-wise, in their organization, because for the most part, people don’t tell them. This lack of information leaves employees in the dark, not knowing what to do more, better, or differently.
People we interact with peripherally, if at all, talk about us to the powers that be in our organizations. And we have no idea. We often don’t know what is said about us, by whom, and to whom.
I learned this lesson several years ago, before starting Candid Culture.The most senior woman at the company where I was working, the President of a division, told my boss she’d like to mentor me. Doesn’t that sound nice? The funny thing is, beyond saying hello to me in the hallway, I didn’t even think she knew who I was. We never worked together, and our paths rarely crossed.
During our first meeting, the first thing my new mentor said to me was, “I think you’re checked out. So get in or get out. But decide.” Holy _____!!!! I was shocked. She was right, of course. I was already planning to quit and start a business. But I didn’t know that it showed.
I’m not telling you this as a lesson about how to manage your professional reputation, even when you may be looking for your next opportunity. Not that that isn’t important. It is. It’s just not my point here. The reason I’m telling you is this: My new mentor was the most senior woman at the company. She reported to the CEO. My boss was her peer. She told me she thought I was checked out. Do we think she kept that observation to herself. It’s doubtful. I’m SURE it came up in a leadership meeting with all of her peers –the C-Suite.
If you don’t know who whispers in your boss’s and his/her boss’s ear about you, find out. And the person to ask is your boss. S/he knows and will most likely tell you, if you ask.
Here are a few questions you can ask your boss:
What skills do I have that the organization values most?
What contributions have I made that the organization values most?
What mistakes have I made from which I need to recover?
Who in the organization should I have a good relationship with?
Who/what departments should I work closely with?
Who impacts my reputation and the opportunities I have?
Yes, you can ask these questions. No, you won’t die. Yes, your boss will answer them. No s/he won’t be annoyed. I assure you, your boss has had few if any employees who asked him/her these questions. It will be a refreshing change.
Just remember, the right answer to feedback is “thank you,” regardless of what you think in your head. The easier it is to give you feedback, the more you’ll get.
Read more about how to manage your reputation and get more feedback in my new book.
The people in your life are not inclined to tell you the truth. In fact, they’ve been trained not to. Every time your friends, family, and coworkers told the truth (as they saw it) and the recipient responded defensively, their brains got trained –it’s not safe to tell the truth. So they stopped doing it.
Gossip damages relationships and tears families and organizations apart. But gossiping about the things that frustrate us feels easier and safer than talking to the offender directly when we anticipate resistance.
We have all watched our friends at work wear clothing that wasn’t the best choice, over speak in meetings, and make other career-limiting moves. And we said nothing. Because we felt it wasn’t our place to say something, or the input was not invited nor welcome.
If you want to be successful at work and for your career to grow, you need to surround yourself with people who will tell you the truth. These people don’t need to be your direct supervisor, the leaders in your organization, or your customers, although they may be. They can be your friends, family, and coworkers.
If you are consistently late, wear clothing that is not appropriate for work, or make commitments and then break them, your friends and family know that. Some people say they are a different person at work and at home. I don’t know that I buy that. We may exhibit different communication methods at work and at home, but our bad habits are the same.
The coworkers you sit near see and hear you work. They witness many of the good and not-so-good things you do at work that either help or damage your reputation. But they won’t tell you what those things are if you don’t ask. And even if you do ask, they still may not tell you. You have to ask for feedback and make it easy (safe) to give.
I recommend assembling what I call a Core Team of five or six people who will always tell you the truth. These are people who like and care about you. They are not the people you distrust and are struggling to work with. They may be current or past coworkers, friends from high school, college or today, and family members. These are the people who really know you and want you to be successful, and will thus tell you the truth –if you ask.
Here’s how to ask for feedback from the people in your life who care about you:
Pick a few people, using the criteria above, to be on your Core Team.
Tell them you want to get a better sense of the positive and not-so-positive things you do that may impact your reputation at work.
Here’s how you could ask for feedback:
“I am committed to my career and I want to eliminate any blind spots that may limit me. You know me well and watch me work. I would really appreciate your feedback. When you see me do anything that may limit my success, I give you permission to tell me. And if you’d like, I’ll do the same for you. I promise that no matter what you say and how hard it is to hear, I will make it easy to give me feedback and I will say thank you.”
Ask for specific feedback.
Examples of questions you could ask:
What is the first impression I make?
What’s my reputation in the office?
What do I do that makes me good to work with?
What do I do that makes me challenging to work with?
If I could change one thing that would make me more successful, what would it be?
What strengths do I have that I should use more and leverage?
Promise that no matter what they tell you and how difficult it is to hear, you will say thank you. And tell them you may come back to them with questions and to discuss further after you’ve processed what they said.
Saying thank you and nothing else, as you react to the feedback, which you will, makes it safe to give you feedback and more likely that you will receive feedback more than once.
I received lots of emails last week about performance appraisals gone wrong. Some made me sad. Some made me sigh. And the ‘best of’ the worst was so outlandish it made me laugh out loud. Really laugh out loud. Not that LOL thing we overuse.
The ‘best of’ the worst examples are below.
Bad example #1: Giving mixed messages.
• Giving an employee working on a long project gift cards as a reward and then during the performance appraisal telling her she did the whole project wrong and had to start over.
Bad example #2: Waiting too long to give feedback.
• Giving an employee a performance appraisal six months late.
Bad example #3: Being lazy.
• Using the employee’s self appraisal as the final appraisal, without the manager adding any of his or her own comments.
Bad example #4: Never awarding the highest rating possible, to anyone.
• If a one is the best rating and a five is the worst rating, no one ever earns a one.
Bad example #5: Holding people to expectations and standards but not sharing those expectations.
• Not clarifying at the beginning of the year what the expectations are and what a good job looks like.
Bad example #6: Never giving employees feedback about their performance.
• Writing appraisals and documenting performance issues, but giving none of the written or verbal feedback to the employee.
Bad example #7: Giving small amounts of vague feedback.
• Giving little to no data in the review because the manager didn’t work closely enough with the employee to observe performance directly and didn’t ask others in the organization to provide feedback.
Bad example #8 (I received this example SEVERAL times): Providing only a written appraisal.
• Handing an employee a written appraisal while in a meeting with other people and never having a conversation.
This is just hilarious:
“During my annual performance appraisal I was asked if I was manic. After a moment or two of trying to understand what my supervisor meant by the comment, I finally asked. My supervisor replied, “Well, you are so upbeat about your job all the time, I just thought you were manic. Nobody can be that happy about working here.””
The winner for being the ‘best of’ the worst:
My manager tossed my performance appraisal on my desk saying, “Just look this over and sign it. I want it back by the end of the day.” Of course, the appraisal was full of feedback and expectations that I had never received.
I told my manager, “There is a lot of information here that was never discussed with me. I would have liked the opportunity to discuss these issues before it showed up in my review.”
The manager replied, “See this is why I didn’t want to meet with you! I knew you would react badly! Just man up, take the feedback, and sign the thing! It’s due to HR today.”
You can’t make this stuff up.
Managers: If you do a little better than these ten examples, you’re outperforming your manager peers. Sad but true.
Employees: You are responsible for your career happiness, success, and satisfaction, not your boss. Ask for expectations at the beginning of anything new and for regular feedback.
Take your performance into your own hands:
1. Don’t wait for your boss to set expectations. Ask your boss for his/her expectations. Get very clear on what a good job looks like, before you start working on a project and/or when the year starts.
2. Write annual goals and review them with your direct supervisor at least quarterly. During your regular one-on-ones, ask for feedback. If you don’t have regular one-on-ones, start. Ask your boss’s permission to schedule a one-on-one at least quarterly to update him/her on projects and to gather feedback.
3. Ask for regular feedback on pieces of work as you complete the work. Don’t wait until the end of a project to get feedback.
4. Ask for feedback about your overall performance once a quarter.
Ask these questions:
• How am I doing so far this year performance wise?
• What mistakes have I made from which I need to recover?
• What aspects of my work have contributed most to the organization?
• What do I need to do between now and the end of the year to ensure a positive performance appraisal?
The performance appraisal system doesn’t have to be rife with challenge and lead to disappointment. Take more control over your conversations and thus your outcomes.
I’ve never had a performance appraisal that didn’t make me want to quit. Throughout my 15-year corporate career, before starting Candid Culture,I had some great bosses. And I always got good ratings and positive reviews. But there was always some comment or piece of feedback, in every performance appraisal, that frustrated me or impacted my raise or bonus in a way that felt unfair.
And each time I got feedback that felt unfair, I looked for how I contributed to the situation.
Which means it’s our job to ask the expectations of the people we work with and collect their feedback throughout the year, so we’re not blind-sided at year end.
Below are some tips to ensure you give and receive a useful and trauma-free performance appraisal.
If you read my last blog post,you know that your boss may not know all the good and not-so-good things you do on a daily basis. It’s your job to let her know about your accomplishments.
Assemble a list of things you’ve accomplished this year. This list might include emails and feedback from people you work with both inside and outside your organization. Ask your boss’s permission to send her the list. And tell her the information is intended to make it easy to write your appraisal.
If you don’t have feedback from your peers and internal or external customers, ask for it. I define customers as anyone you need to get your job done and anyone who needs you to get their job done. Send a short email to five or six people with whom you work closely, and ask them to send your boss some feedback about your performance this past year. If they’re comfortable sending you the feedback directly, all the better. Guide your customers by asking specific questions. That way you’ll get specific feedback, versus, “Dave did a good job this year.”
Ask questions like:
What’s one thing I did this year that made the most difference to you or your department?
What’s one thing I could have done differently this past year?
Don’t be scared to ask for feedback from your customers. Most people are so hesitant to give negative feedback that they’ll typically be easier on you than you are on yourself.
Most performance appraisals only contain feedback from the last few months of the year. As managers sit in front of a blank appraisal form, it’s all they can remember. It’s your job to help your manager remember all the good things you did throughout the year. And I don’t know of a manager who won’t appreciate having written, bulleted data from which to write appraisals. Bullets are easier to read than paragraphs. Make it easy to scan your list of accomplishments.
Writing performance appraisals doesn’t have to give you a headache. Receiving appraisals doesn’t have to make you wish you stayed home that day. Plan specific, useful feedback conversations and then move on to planning for 2013.
Managers, here’s a videoI created on how to give a useful performance appraisal. And my new book How to Say Anything to Anyoneis perfect preparation for both managers and employees. The book won’t be in bookstores or on Amazon until January, but we have advance copies on our website.