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When Feedback is King

A typical problem that comes up when I analyze jobs in an organization is that the client will say, “I know what this person’s job is but I am not sure exactly what he does.” In effect, the lurking suspicion is that this person represents dead weight. Not unusual would be the next comment, “but they have been here so long.” Although the knee jerk recommendation might be to clarify performance goals, the truth is that managers achieve goals through the efforts of others and their most important contribution has more to do with the way they get things done, not what they do.

One of the most instructive demonstrations of the 360 feedback approach that I witnessed years ago was in a workshop with Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis , both leaders in the field. They shared the results of a leadership assessment for a manager in the form of a graph with different color lines for different stakeholder responses, including subordinates, peers, and higher level management. (And family members incidentally, which I don’t see often today but think it is valuable as well.) The effect was astounding, a line across the top showed a very high assessment by the top managers, a rather dismal line from peer reports, and a woefully low level line from subordinates. Our workshop leaders pointed out, “this is what managing up looks like.”

In another example, the results were flipped, so that the top management reported middle of the road assessment responses, peers somewhat higher numbers and subordinate responses were the highest. This, they posited, “is a team leader”.

If the goal is to know the way managers manage, feedback tools can provide important insights into the focus of their attention and this can lead to more productive discussions about the job. If a manager actually is dead weight, feedback tools provide a more direct route to pinpointing the problem. If upper management is fully aware that the manager is not liked by subordinates, but gets the results desired, well, this is a topic for another time.

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