“I don’t think partners are as good as they should be in giving praise and recognition”*
There seems to be more trending than ever for the giving of proper feedback and recognition to staff: as an important plank in the edifice of employee engagement and a strategy to retain and grow better the Y Generation that is reaching maturity in the workforce. Sadly, the picture is far from rosy when it comes to best practice.
Talking to an experienced colleague recently, she concluded that “probably no more than 20% of senior management professionals I have come across seem to really get and do it well” – despite feedback’s increasing visibility on the organisational agenda of many firms. Part of this can be attributed to the “clinical, detached, analytical attitude”* that some of these people managers bring to it: small wonder perhaps then that 40% of UK senior associate lawyers in a recent survey regretted their choice of profession. It isn’t all just down to the long hours.
Things need to change: here is a modest start, with three tips that can oil the wheels of better feedback.
It’s meant to be nourishment not target practice Traditionally, the annual appraisal is the preferred and sometimes only forum for feedback. In many cases, our detached brethren simply pull out the ‘rap sheet’ and apply forensic analysis to what the accused has done wrong. This concept and its philosophy needs to move on and the clue is in the name. Feeding is a process of nourishment, precious little of which occurs in many appraisal conversations. It is time to really feed back to our employees rather than just point the critical gun at them.
Immediate, regular, committed Contextually, once or even twice a year appraisals are not the ideal feedback medium, which is why more and more firms are abandoning such infrequent formality. One of the reasons for this is that recognition has most impact on the receiver when it occurs as close to the event as possible. If you manage people, when did you last tell a member of your team what specifically they had done well at or near the time it occurred? The best deliverers also build into their schedule regular ‘sit downs’ with staff to talk, two way, about work and performance – and they stick to them despite the heavy pressures applied by clients, work, and other organisational commitments.
Be clear and supportive If you are serious about providing good feedback, then communicate to your team that you are and what your expectations are when it comes to their performance and the process of development. From experience, too many senior professionals never have such meta-conversations, often because they are not committed to performance management and development in the first place. Staff are left in the dark and have to learn (sometimes painfully) on the job what the minimal contact rules of the game are.
And of course not all feedback is about a job well done. But having the ‘difficult’ conversation about something that could have gone better – assuming it happens at all – should be about supporting the individual’s development rather than just telling them what to do next time: make it a chance for them to reflect on what they could have done differently. This is about both mind-set and learnable skill/ability.
* Legal Week “Best Legal Employers” 2015
James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, interim, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other technical specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones. http://www.peoplescope.com.