Thursday, July 29, 2010

Perceptions matter, so give & receive feedback on the difficult stuff

How many times have you received some feedback from your Manager, and you’ve thought ‘Really?’ or more likely ‘WTF?’?

Well, first you should turn right around and thank your lucky stars (and your Manager) that you actually received some feedback! Statistics show that many managers avoid giving feedback like the plague – sometimes for fear of retribution, sometimes because they just can’t quite find the right words, sometimes because the most important feedback is about ‘softer skills’.

Let me explain.  It’s easy to give feedback about missing a deadline:
 - Manager Millie: why didn’t you get that report to me on Friday?
 - Charlie: There was too much on my plate, I thought I’d get to it, but I didn’t
 - Manager Millie: It’s all about prioritization, you should have set expectations earlier that you were struggling. We could have worked together to figure out the best approach. Perhaps we can do that next time, yes?
 - Charlie: I guess that makes sense

But how about this one:
 - Manager Millie: you know when you walked into the meeting yesterday?
 - Charlie: Erm….yeah
 - Manager Millie: well, you didn’t seem very happy from the get-go
 - Charlie: Erm….
 - Manager Millie: was there anything wrong?
 - Charlie: Erm…no. What do you mean, “I didn’t seem very happy”?
Ok, so I've chosen simple cases to make the point, but you can hopefully see where I’m coming from.  No matter the reason behiind your action (personal or work-related, intentional or unintentional) it makes an impact.  And if it’s feedback around a BEHAVIOR, it’s often much more difficult to pinpoint. But, that’s exactly what the good managers watch for, and manage to address.

The key is that behavior often influences people’s perceptions of you more than deliverables and the work that you achieve. It’s the WAY you work, the WAY you show up and participate in meetings, the WAY you interact with others. And the tricky part of this is that sometimes it’s easy to naturally do things that ‘give-off’… do I say this? Less than positive vibes, without even realizing it.
Ever been sitting at your desk, reading a really frustrating email thread, when someone appears behind your desk and brightly says ‘Hey! Got 5mins!?’? Your sour face says it all as you turn around and see their smiles drain. Ever been waiting for a meeting to start and someone walks in with a face like thunder, slumps into a chair and says no more than a word or two the whole meeting? Ever read an email response from someone and gone ‘wow, hope I never meet him/her, he sounds like a ****!’?
Some people are more perceptive or more empathic than others – many of you may not even notice these types of things, but many do. Formal review processes (such as the laborious Annual Review at Microsoft) are designed to remove judgment calls and put in place commitments against which people’s performance can be measured, but they are not foolproof by any stretch of the imagination.

The bottom line is that it’s human nature to judge, and at work judgment is related to performance and ultimately determines success. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be you. I’m not saying that you should dance around with a silly grin on your face, slapping everyone on the back every five minutes, but do take care to see the way that you come across. Everyone has off days and that’s expected, but what if it’s that off day when the CEO or Director is the one who’s watching? I’m just saying.

So for Managers, if you have a direct who has quirky ways and you suspect other’s opinions may be negatively influenced by them….tell them. Tell them with concrete examples. Tell them what IMPACT it has. Tell them that you’re telling them ‘cause the soft-skills are the things that matter and you’re keen to make sure they are successful.

And for Individuals, if your Manager, or anyone else for that matter, calls you on something, gives you feedback on the way you came across in a meeting.  Take a deep breath, thank them and think about it. 

Because whether or not you agree.....the perception is there.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Microsoft Managers get a bad wrap...

....and rightly so in my opinion.

Stacking up ten years at Microsoft, with almost a manager for every year, it's no wonder we're in trouble.  Business is all about relationships - finding them, nurturing them and using them to the best of your ability so that both sides get a good deal.

Management is no different.  Really.

In my opinion, this is the number one reason that managers fail.  They feel the power, the control and the responsibility to get the job done - and forget that they were once in that position.  With only a number of exceptions, people want to enjoy their working day.   What leads to enjoyment is not only what they are doing, but who they are doing it with - and their manager is a key player in that mix.

If you are smart, you will understand that it's down to your manager whether or not you succeed or fail (especially in the corporate world).   This is true, and as someone doing pretty well in the management discipline I'd love to explain how I do it.  But there is a flip's also about how YOU build your relationship with your manager. 

It's about the good stuff, the often intangible stuff - how to communicate successfully, how to understand the impact of perception and let's face it, how to ultimately play the game.

So this is it, my first blog post.  I hope that I can impart pearls of wisdom, hear and learn from others who can share their experiences and help people understand that it is possible to have a positive and rewarding experience working with your manager - and being one.