How to give feedback: a framework for managers

The following is a framework presented by Kim Scott.

Helpful for: Managers who want to give valuable feedback to their reports.

Background: Guidance (a more humane term for feedback) is, in Kim Scott’s opinion, the single most important part of managing people.

Example: Kim had recently joined Google and was about to give a presentation to senior leaders on how the Adsense business was doing. It was an important meeting for her. The meeting went okay, Kim thought, because Adsense was crushing it, and that was what she told them.

After the meeting, Kim’s boss was giving her feedback — a bunch of positive things that gave the impression a “but” was coming. And there was: Kim’s manager said, “But, you said “um” a lot.”

Kim was relieved. So what, she said. The meeting went well.

Her manager tried again to show her that the “um”s were a problem, but Kim again brushed it off, saying, “I’m just really busy; it just doesn’t seem like the most important thing.”

“Kim, I can tell I’m not getting through to you here,” her boss said. “I’m going to have to be more clear. When you say “um” every third word, it makes you sound stupid.”

That got Kim’s attention.

This comment may seem unkind, but Kim thinks it was the kindest thing her boss could have done. If her boss hadn’t said it just that way, she would have continued to brush it off, and would never have fixed the problem.

Framework: Vertical axis is the “give a damn” axis. Do you care personally about your report?

Horizontal axis is the “be willing to piss people off” axis. Our parents taught us that if you don’t have anything nice to say, you shouldn’t say anything at all. But Kim would argue it’s your job — indeed, your moral obligation — to say it.

Read more at the First Round Review.

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