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Delivering and Owning Critical Feedback
If you’ve never seen Succession, just imagine if everyone in Ted Lasso was awful, irredeemably dysfunctional, and owned a media conglomerate. The second episode of the season culminated in one of the most awkward constructive feedback conversations ever captured on television, so I wanted to break it down further.
No one is perfect when it comes to giving feedback, but the more you own the feedback, the easier the delivery becomes. Let’s take a look through a few other tips to make owning feedback even easier.
Never Shirk the Ownership of Feedback
The Succession example sees Cousin Greg make the mistake of talking about a “focus group” that had opinions on Kerry’s newscaster audition. The focus group does not exist and the feedback is broadly the feedback of Greg and another individual, but Greg knows exactly what made it a sub-standard audition. Here’s a clip of the “focus group” conversation with Kerry and how Greg dances around the ownership.
The easiest way to lose trust, and have folks question whether you are lying to them is by shirking the ownership of feedback. As soon as you don’t own the responsibility, “well, I don’t feel that way,” you detach yourself from the accountability of its resolution. If you’re not willing to put in the work, why would your direct report want to put in the work?
There are two key elements to owning feedback:
Understanding the situation, behavior, and impact, and agreeing that it is a behavior that needs improvement
Understanding where and why the behavior fails expectations, as well as what to do in order to correct the behavior
This can be further boiled down to understanding context and resolution. From there, you should be able to own and craft your feedback to ensure a positive result.
Do the Legwork to Own Feedback
If an executive or someone at a higher level gives the initial feedback, it is on you as their direct manager to do the detective work to help contextualize the feedback. In doing the legwork you should be able to determine if a) you agree with the feedback and b) what you will do about it to support the individual.
As I mentioned in an earlier post (What Not to Do when You Have To fire an Employee), part of owning feedback is doing the detective work to know the full context of the situation. There will be times where someone comes to you with feedback about your direct reports for a situation you weren’t in, have very little context on, and on subject matter of which you may be unaware.
In these moments, do not go directly to your direct report, otherwise, your feedback will likely go as well as the above clip. Just like an animal can smell fear, humans can sense when feedback is insincere. Talk to the individuals involved and treat the situation like an ongoing detective case. Who was involved, what did they hear/see, what about the situation was good/bad, etc.
Remember that you and your direct report will be responsible for the outcomes of this feedback, so the only way to own the feedback is by understanding the full breadth of the situation.
Taking feedback at face value could lead to disastrous results, so put in the time to understand the situation, behavior, and impact of the events that unfolded.
Example: Boss comes to you and says, “hey, Hartley missed the deadline for this critical project.” You are unaware of what the project is, Hartley’s role in the project, or where the deadline came from.
What are your next steps? Let me know in the comments below!
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Plan The Delivery of Feedback
Delivering critical feedback can feel overwhelming. Whether you’re new to management or you have 10+ years of experience, it is never easy. With planning, and potentially some roleplay, you can feel more prepared for the conversation.
When I need to deliver a difficult piece of feedback to someone, I like to plan out three routes the conversation might go: Negative, Neutral, and Positive.
For the positive delivery, the individual is receptive and open to the feedback, so be sure to push forward on what the feedback means and what the next steps are.
For the neutral pathway, the individual might not be clear on what is happening. Reiterate with clarity what the decision is and have them repeat it back. Be clear on the “why” and double down on next steps.
For the negative pathway, the individual reacts poorly to the feedback and might become combative. This should not change the decision to deliver feedback. If it gets violent or verbally abusive (as the clip in Succession does), remove yourself from the situation and revisit later on.
Note the outcome of the feedback and determine the next steps. If the individual was neutral or receptive to the feedback, make sure you move on to outcomes and action items. If it was received poorly, be sure to revisit again in the near future to ensure the feedback was heard. Regardless of the outcome, be sure to set some time aside to look in on
Delivering feedback is rarely perfect. It’s difficult to know how an individual will react, so if their response is out of left field, it can throw off the rest of your conversation. Do your best to plan through the conversation, and at the very least plan through how you will deliver the key points.
Above all else, own the feedback you are delivering and then own the outcomes with the individual.