Giving and Receiving Feedback
Create a Brave Culture and Be Courageous with Your Feedback
Too many coaching and mentoring conversations begin with superficial considerations. These can be demoralizing for the people contributing at a high level, because they so often sabotage culture. Especially in corporate America, there’s a desperate need for diversity rather than people who all fit a mold. Superficial considerations such as fashion or interests outside of work are often quick to destroy unique contributions that individuals can deliver.
In 2013, Deloitte released a research paper entitled “Uncovering talent: A new model of inclusion.” It provides detailed analytics on the concept of “covering,” a term used to describe how even individuals with known stigmatized identities made a “great effort to keep the stigma from looming large.” The report identifies that nearly a full two-thirds of all employees in a corporate setting are covering for some aspect — appearance, affiliation, advocacy, or association — of their authentic self and shielding it from those they work with, for, or around. And as for notions that covering is only a minority group issue, the report notes that 45% of “straight white men” reported covering some aspect of their authentic self.
This desire to cover some aspect of your true self isn’t just an issue for individual employees and their ability to feel comfortable within the organization and ultimately less fearful. It can have a profound affect on corporate performance. The Harvard Business Review published an article by Dorie Clark, a Duke University marketing professor, entitled “Help Your Employees Be Themselves at Work.” About the results of covering, she suggest that high performing companies recognize that diverse perspectives can strengthen their performance, and that homogeneity can cause blind spots (as with a team of right-handed YouTube engineers who realized 10% of videos were being uploaded upside-down because they hadn’t considered how left-handed users would maneuver their phones).
A culture of covering also hinders managers from giving constructive feedback. Having seen poor feedback modeled on them, they often think that superficial considerations are valid and even useful pointers. And yet they’re surprised when employees don’t respond well to feedback that’s superficial, not useful for career growth and personal development.
This contrast between the perceptions and expectations of management and employees is highlighted by this graphic from the Harvard Business Review:
Employees want feedback that can lead to improved performance, but managers’ fears stand in the way. Oftentimes it is managers without clearly communicated performance standards or measures of success that must resort to superficial attacks on individuality instead of focusing on quantifiable performance measures. Without a real understanding of their team members’ performance they are left with only superficial considerations that end up destroying culture and degrading performance.
Anxiety around performance feedback even enables cultural rot. With a fear of being unable to function without an “expert,” managers often will not address behavior that negatively affects both culture and performance. Gone unchecked for multiple performance review periods the bad behavior only grows and becomes an organizational cancer.
Brave leadership clearly communicates standards of performance with measurable outcomes. They assess that performance regularly and address concerns throughout the review cycle rather than getting pushed by the corporate calendar. These leaders support individuality as a means of playing to their team members strengths and foster a culture of innovation.