Cracking the Culture Code

with Kim Malone Scott

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Incorporate feedback into your daily work in a lightweight way.

Kim Malone Scott

CEO Coach, Management Manager, Author

Lessons Learned

What is your team not working on that they want to work on?

It is not the managers job to set direction; it is your job to get your team to set direction.

Create a culture of feedback.


Lesson: Cruel Empathy with Kim Malone Scott

Step #4 Frameworks: Incorporate feedback into your daily work in a lightweight way

I think that one of the things that people could do to incorporate feedback into their daily life in a way that's light weight is either create a map or put a piece of paper up by your desk with a smiley face, frowny face, unclear to clear, and let people just stick little stickies on “Were you brutally honest?” Maybe I was frowning, but it was really clear and I'm going to learn from it. Were you cruelly empathetic? Were you sort of mincing your words and it wasn't clear? Maybe you were saying nice things, but I don't know what you meant.

Maybe you were an asshole that day and let people put the little sticker on the asshole quadrant. Maybe you built trust over time with somebody and you told them something that was very clear, maybe it was extremely harsh criticism, but they know you and trust you, so it makes you smile automatically. I think that's a lightweight thing that doesn't take any time. People would just be more conscious of it.

There was somebody who I taught who did that, and people would walk into his office and say "Oh, I'm going to be down there, aren't I? You're about to be brutally honest with me," and somehow that made it easier for him to be more clear and to be more brutally honest. I think that's a good idea.

I also think that having a lightweight once a quarter feedback review process is worth doing. But I mean seriously lightweight. So many companies where I work it's like everybody is in a bad mood for a week during performance review season. It doesn't need to take that long. Check, check plus, check minus. If there's a plus or a minus, put in 140 characters, and have the conversations. But I think it's worth doing once a quarter.

Another thing that's worth doing maybe twice a year is thinking about your team and saying, okay, if this is low to high performance and this is sort of a steep growth trajectory and a gradual growth trajectory, put people in the different quadrants. The people who are on a steep growth trajectory who are performing really well, you better start thinking about how to promote them, or how to give them the next harder assignment.

People who are great at their job, performed really well but on a gradual growth trajectory, don't promote them, that's not what they want. It's not going to be good for them. People who are in the middle don't accept that and definitely don't confuse those people in the middle with the people who are great at their job but on a more gradual growth trajectory.

In fact, get those people who are great at their job on a more gradual growth trajectory to train those people who are in the middle; see if you can move them over to the right. If they're here for more than call it eight quarters, they're not getting better, you've got to do something else with them. If you can't move them to the right, you've got to move them to the left.

If somebody ought to be great at their job but isn't and you don't understand why, figure it out. Maybe you need to change their job; maybe you need to change their manager. If somebody is bad at their job and getting worse, they're a low performer and they're on a negative growth trajectory, fire them, get rid of them. They're going to be better off somewhere else and it's not fair to your top performers to carry these people. So do that, put the names in the boxes, and take the appropriate actions, and come up with the plans, and force your people to come up with the plans.

Those are some things you've got to do. I think there are a couple of different ways to answer the question about how long you let something go on. The first is that if you see an issue, you address it immediately. Don't save it up for a one-on-one. A one-on-one is not the sort of parking lot for all the issues you're seeing but not addressing in the moment. If you see a problem, you address it in the moment and you give the person an opportunity to fix it. If you don't see any improvement quickly, then the feedback gets stronger.

There are a few exceptions of course. If somebody is going through some sort of personal situation, you give them a break. If they're going through a personal situation that makes them impossible to deal with but that you believe is temporary, ask them to leave the office for two or three weeks, go on vacation. You want to be humane and in those cases you're going to let things fester, but as long as you're seeing improvement and enough improvement, then you keep working. When you see no improvement or things going the wrong direction then you take action.

I believe that a weekly one-on-one meeting is really important. But I don't think that weekly meeting is for feedback. Feedback should be more impromptu, in the moment. The purpose of the weekly one-on-one, I believe, is more around direction setting than it is around giving feedback.

I think the weekly one-on-one should be the employee's meeting. The employee should set the agenda. What the manager ought to do is listen to the person. Don't let it be just an update meeting; they can email that to you. Not just what is the person working on but what are they not working on that they want to work on? What are they working on that they don't really want to work on? How can you change it? What are the blockers they have?

We've talked a little bit about the importance of setting direction; again, it's not your job as the manager to set direction. It's your job to get the team to set direction. Part of that is listening and that's your goal in the one-on-one, to listen to the person who works for you.

I do actually think it's a good idea to praise in public, criticize in private whenever possible. Having said that, once you've developed a relationship with a team it becomes more possible to criticize in public. You want to create a culture of feedback and that means sometimes it has to happen in public. But I try to open myself up to criticism in public first, so I've worked with people who are very likely to criticize me in private and I've asked them next time say this in public so other people can learn, so that if I'm making this mistake, other people are making this mistake.

Another thing that I've done with sort of public criticism in an all-hands I used to run both at my startup and at Google, I would ask people to criticize themselves in public. And I actually bought a stuffed monkey called Whoops the Monkey, so people would nominate, “Oh, I screwed up. Here's what happened,” and the point was other people would then learn from the other person's screw-up and the person got automatic forgiveness. It became a great way to make failure safe and to help people learn from their mistakes, but again, it was self-criticism in public.

I have been embarrassed by public criticism, but I also am so aware that it's beneficial for the whole team and that if I cop to it and if I learn from it, that it's a good thing. When I've been criticized in public, certainly there have been moments when I'm in that lower right-hand quadrant where I'm unhappy but the criticism is very clear. But if I realize that I've learned something, then I'm in the end more happy than unhappy about it.

For example, there was a guy who worked for me. I had always been told I move too fast, “Kim you move to fast.” I knew what that meant, but I didn't exactly know what it meant. I had sent a boneheaded email out to the team, and he said, “Kim, you're awfully fast to hit send.” That was really helpful feedback and it saved me from 1000 mistakes; prevented me from sending out a bunch of other boneheaded emails. So that's an example of some public criticism that I found helpful and since I find it helpful, I assume others do, but you want to be gentler in public.

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