Friday, November 14, 2008

Feedback? Thanks but No Thanks

If you had to pick one word that strikes fear into the hearts of both the boss and the subordinate or the candidate and recruiter, "feedback" just has to somewhere near the top of the list.

Sure, all the books talk about how great getting feedback is, how important it is for our development, how much candidates want it so that they can learn from it going forward, and how much the recruiter wants to share it in order to try and help those involved in the interview process. Yada, yada, yada.

That, of course, is the ideal world. In the real world if you talk to most people, no matter what side of the feedback desk they are on, giver or receiver, most would tell you that they would rather have a root canal without Novocain.

All that said, the fact remains that no one has yet to come up with a reasonable substitute inside corporations for the performance appraisal process. To be sure, there are scores of different models both alpha and numeric most of which have ranges that go from 1-5, 1-10, and with all sorts of wonderfully descriptive terminology that goes from "walks on water" to "is drowning," to "should be drowned." Okay, usually much more diplomatic than that, but I am sure you get the point.

What got me on this kick recently was a post by Gerry Crispin one of the co-founders of CareerXRoads. The title of Gerry's rant was: Who is responsible for feedback? Certainly not the Lawyers. Gerry, among his many talents, has a gift for expressing things in writing, and it doesn't diminish when he's ticked off as he was here.

Of course Gerry has been around as long or longer than I have, and so he is very much aware of the "feedback" dilemma. We all want it, we all need, and most of us hate it. On the other hand, I think there are a lot of us who are much better at what we do and how we do because somewhere along the way someone had the courage to tell some stuff that we really weren't all that excited to hear.

If we work in organizations of any size, then most of us get some formal feedback because, as I say, no one has come up with a better system to try and distinguish between levels of performance in a formal fashion. We all also know, of course, that the informal systems have been doing stack rankings of their own long before there were more structured ways.

My point in all of this is simply this: Given the degree of difficulty that any organization I have ever been associated with has had in providing feedback when there is a structured system in place, expecting the recruiting world to provide it to people they basically don't know is a dream that is not likely to come true any time soon.

At the very least, it makes the giver of feedback uncomfortable trying to share what at the end of the day is their subjective opinion and at worst, they don't want to do it because they are worried about law suits or God forbid someone going postal.


Sathi Vanigasooriar said...


First thing that comes to my mind when I think of feedback is relationship. It is a strugle for sure, especially when it the first time. I love providing and receiving feedbacks. It helps a ton in building relationships. What has worked for me in the past is, starting with a small dose. Your thoughts?


Dave Opton said...


Even before the "small dose" (with which I agree)I think it starts with defining the relationship from the very beginning so that both parties know what to expect.

More importantly, it's about TRUST. If you have built trust with each other (which comes about based on behaviors, not words) then the feedback will be more readily accepted because your behavior (and support) will have shown that you care and that what you have to say is offered to help, not to hurt.