Cultivating Rockstars: avoid the BS feedback

Copyright Dilbert

In my last post on cultivating rockstars, I alluded to the all too common BS feedback we often give like, “you need to be more strategic.” I consider it BS because it’s too broad and unspecific. If you’ve ever been on the other end of this, you know how unhelpful this is. Usually, one walks away thinking: what does that mean? Do I need to make more Powerpoint presentations? Do I need to come up with more ideas? Do I need to sound more senior? Or… whatever! that’s just some BS to avoid giving me a raise!

BS feedback can also lead to BS coaching. For example, if someone was to ask you: How do I become more strategic? You can respond with the insightful directive: With more strategery, of course!

The good news is that giving unspecific feedback like that is pretty safe. Most people react by giving you a puzzled look and don’t really contend with it so you can pretty much avoid confrontation and wait it out until the next review round. And then, you’ll feel more identified with Dilbert’s pointy hair boss.

I regretfully admit that I am guilty of giving this type of feedback. So in an effort to make up for my use of such BS, here’s an attempt to unpack some of the most over-used BS feedback I have come across into some more meaningful pointers:

YOU NEED TO BE MORE STRATEGIC

Usually when people say that you need to work on your strategy what they mean to say is that you are not articulating the impact of your efforts, or that you are too detailed in your communications — aka you need to communicate ‘the big picture’. For example, you may be doing 3-5 things/projects/tasks but it’s not clear how they are related to one another, why are you doing them or what impact they have.

Alternative feedback:

  • Get better at articulating why you think it’s important to do these things
  • Communicate the larger impact of your activities and not spend so much time in the details
  • Evaluate and communicate what and why things are more important than others
  • We have limited budget, time and people so if you had to decide how we go about [insert business goal here] what would you base that decision on?

YOU NEED TO SHOW MORE LEADERSHIP

I would venture to say that most times, what people mean is that they want you to start and do things without being told. In other words, show initiative or proactivity  (another jargon word! Oh, no!)

Alternative feedback:

  • Contribute new ideas
  • Identify a problem and come up with a few possible solutions, analyze pros and cons, try to come up with a recommendation and then share it with your team and/or leader
  • Don’t ask permission, but communicate. Don’t wait to be asked to do it— solve it  and then show results or give heads up that you’re working on X
  • Be the first to volunteer to help
  • Look for ways you can contribute more and enlist others to come along with you

YOU NEED TO WORK ON YOUR COMMUNICATION SKILLS

Ah, this is biggie! It can mean so many things! But a lot of times they are just talking about your presentations skills. These can be formal (presentations where you stand up to present to a group of people) or informal settings (meetings). Now, I know that sometimes people get conflicted on how to handle this because, sometimes, it bumps up against individual personalities. Some people are just shy or introverted. That may be okay if your work environment and career doesn’t really rely on that type of communication,  but in a lot of cases this is not a choice. As a manager/team leader/recruiter it’s important to acknowledge and communicate if presenting is core to succeeding in the organization. And while some people are more extroverted than others,  presenting is a skill that can be developed over time.

Alternative feedback:

  • Let’s practice your presentations so you can gain confidence in your speaking
  • Work on your content adopting simpler frameworks to deliver fewer key points so you gain clarity
  • Get to the point earlier in your presentations, shorter is better

Lastly, avoiding BS feedback requires continued conversation. If you talk to your people about their performance often they will, not only feel more comfortable and receptive to feedback, you will be a lot less likely to use BS methods. Those frequent conversations are also a good chance to encourage people to develop self-awareness (perhaps the most under-utilized leadership skill). You can do this by using questions like:

  • What do you think you are doing well and what would you like to improve?
  • Do you think that [that presentation/project/task] was the best you can do? What would you do differently?
  • What are the things you are passionate about mastering?
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