Giving critical feedback to an employee is the most difficult thing to do for any manager. Why? Because as human beings, our big egos prevent us from accepting our mistakes. Ironically, as employees, we expect to receive honest feedback from our employers or organisations.
A study on this subject by an American HR solutions firm found that more than 60 per cent of the 2000 people covered in the study accepted that they wanted a genuine feedback from their employers. But are employees capable of digesting honest feedback from their managers?
Saba Adil, chief people & risk officer, Raheja QBE, admits that not all employees have the capacity to handle critical feedback from their managers. “I have seen people defending themselves or refusing to accept their shortcomings,” states Adil.
“In feedback for improvement it is not the content of the message that hurts as much as the fear of the consequence. Hence, it is the job of the leader to remember that the receiver is in a vulnerable position, and therefore, provide direction and set expectations”
Amit Das, CHRO, Bennett Coleman & Company
In her experience, many employees react quite negatively to a critical feedback on their performance. They further try to escalate the same to the higher ups.
In his career, Rajesh Nair, executive president & CHRO, Polycab India, has seen many employees getting disengaged following negative feedback. They stop showing interest at work and eventually end up leaving the organisation. Some employees, according to HR leaders, are quite vocal and escalate things after such a feedback, while others go completely silent.
Even Amit Das, CHRO, Bennett Coleman & Company, agrees that most employees react negatively to critical feedback. They go through many cycles of denial and defence and then become aggressive and arrogant. At an extreme, negative feedback can have emotional and non-rational outcomes, wherein the receiver can deny and walk out of the conversation.
Why does this happen? Is it because employees do not have the capacity to handle critical feedback or is it because the managers do not know how to give constructive feedback?
Adil believes that the feedback providers, who are the managers in most cases, are responsible for ensuring a smooth feedback conversation or session with the employee.
Das also agrees that it is the leader or the manager who plays a larger role in the smoothness of the feedback session. “As a leader or manager, delivering the feedback in the right way, is a window to the future,” asserts Das.
Do managers lack proper training to give feedback to their employees?
“Many a time I see managers trying to sugar coat their feedback and hide the true picture from the employees. This only creates more problems”
Pradyumna Pandey, CHRO, Mother Dairy
“Many managers lack the skill or the art of giving feedback to employees. Why label feedback as negative or critical at all? We need an approach that talks about improving the performance of the employees,” suggests Nair, who believes that the ‘critical’ bit in the feedback is what employees dislike.
Pradyumna Pandey, CHRO, Mother Dairy, shares that in one of his past stints, he had to resort to having a third-party advisor being present during feedback sessions to make sure that the process was monitored.
Though Pandey refrained from making a general comment on whether its the manager who do not know how to give constructive feedbacks or the its the reciever who cannot take critical feedbacks. He believes that the smoothness of a feedback session is an equal resposibility of both, the employee and the manager.
But HR leaders seeking help of external mentors for feedbacks sessions confirms that there is a shortcoming, either from the manager’s side or the employee’s side.
Whose responsibility is it to ensure that employees have a good experience during feedback sessions? The unanimous answer is of course the managers.
“Many managers lack the skill or the art of giving feedback to employees”
Rajesh Nair, executive president & CHRO, Polycab India
All HR leaders agree that if the employee experience is not satisfactory during the sessions, the managers are to be blamed. “Many a time I see managers trying to sugar coat their feedback and hide the true picture from the employees. This only creates more problems,” explains Pandey.
It is essential for organisations to train managers to give constructive feedback to employees. According to Nair, the managers’ feedback should not be intended to criticise. Instead, it should take the form of a performance-improvement conversation.
Das also adds, “In feedback for improvement it is not the content of the message that hurts as much as the fear of the consequence. Hence, it is the job of the leader to remember that the receiver is in a vulnerable position, and therefore, provide direction and set expectations.”
HR leaders believe that the reaction of the feedback receiver depends a lot on how the feedback is given. “We need to create an environment of psychological safety and talk on data points rather than getting personal with the employee,” Adil advises.
Largely, the managers are responsible for how the employees react to the negative feedback. Things go wrong when either the managers get too personal and start judging the employees or sugar coat things.
“The larger share of having a smooth feedback session rests upon the leaders”
Saba Adil, chief people & risk officer, Raheja QBE
However, we should not look away from the fact that the receiver also has some responsibility. “If there is scope for recovery and improvement, it is a shared responsibility, but the accountability lies with the receiver!” concludes Das.