Feedback – The Most Golden of Rules

May 23, 2010 | By

It’s funny how theory comes back to get you in the end. After so many years of reminding those in positions of authority that there are some vital rules for feedback, it takes just one occasion to show the real value of the advice.

It was a sunny morning in my local chain coffee-shop. The guy behind the counter was efficient and effective at his job and we’d shared a bit of a conversation the few times that I’d been there.

It wasn’t busy at all – in fact I walked straight to the counter to be served right away – so there was no clear reason for the behavior that followed.

The old days where you could get your coffee straight over the counter have long gone, so I moved along past the gap in the counter, to wait for my first caffeine/chocolate hit of the day.

A young lad appears next to me – clearly one of the employees there – and approaches the guy who had served me. I see my server’s name badge now and he’s got ‘Manager’ on there as well as his name.

Then the tirade begins. The manager isn’t overly loud – and yet we still can all hear him. The conversation doesn’t last for more than 20 seconds, tops.

‘You’re late again. Where’s your apron?’ The employee makes a small excuse, clearly embarrassed. ‘You said you would be 10 minutes and now it’s been 20 – AND you’ve come without your apron’.

Silence all round.

Everyone in the coffee-shop is watching, holding their breath as the scene unfolds. The manager is aggressive and in the face of the employee – even while he’s still serving the next customer.

‘Get in the back and get working’, is the final input from the manager.

Employees need to work in disciplined ways, there’s no doubt about that. When we manage people, we have to demonstrate that we too are disciplined in our own manner with them.

That ‘most golden of rules’? Well, think of this. It’s OK (when the individual concerned is OK with it), to give praise and positive feedback publicly.

And giving negative feedback is a different matter. It needs to be timely, proportional, relate to behaviors and, above all, discreetly (this usually means in private).

For anyone who manages, or leads a team of others, this is the only way. Or you run the risk of losing the respect of your people, as well as potentially losing customers too.

I will probably go back there soon for my next medio/mocha/skinny/no-foam/extra hot/to go.

But I didn’t the next day.

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