A Good Manager Asks The Target For Feedback

How does a good manager know that they are?

Imagine you were an archer. You fire your arrow and you get feedback immediately; either you hit the target or you don’t. You can adjust your technique and get instant feedback on those adjustments. In time you become better and better as an archer.

Suppose that you can’t see the target; it would be very difficult to hit and you would have no idea of the result.  The only way you could tell how well you were doing was if someone, like a coach, told you.

Archer gets help from a good manager
A medieval archer helps a modern man to hit the target

Now suppose that they also can’t see the target – how can they give you feedback? All they could do is share with you some data about how often you fired the arrows or whether your technique looked OK or not. You might tell them how you felt; probably you would be frustrated.

Eventually the coach would stop talking about it because nothing helpful would be happening.  In turn you would stop bothering and just fire off arrows in the right direction, probably as fast as possible, to get it over and done with.

Now let’s look at managing and coaching staff. How do you know if you hit the target? You probably try various things and look for feedback through outcomes and whether the member of staff looked happy or not. You might even have a discussion with your manager about how you think it is going.

But not directly paying attention to the member of staff and getting their feedback is as hopeless as firing arrows at a board and not knowing whether they hit or not. Ask your direct reports how well you are doing if you really want to improve as a manager.


Of course, if you don’t care whether you are a good manager, then that is a different problem altogether.

Help Your Team Find Some Solid Ground

Many businesses are going through a period of great change where the solid ground is frankly now a bit wobbly:

  • some are thriving
  • many are having to adapt business models to provide very different services
  • and some are doing the same thing but in quite different ways

What is true for all of these scenarios is that bringing your staff along with you is vital, whether you are busy or having to start again from scratch. Good supervision of your staff is always important but particularly so during periods of uncertainty; staff need to know what you expect of them in order to feel confident. They need to know what it means to do good work and to do it well. They also need to know that you will support them and the limits within which they can work.

Standing on solid ground
In difficult times we need to stand on something solid.

Helping Staff Stand On Solid Ground

1 – Purpose. Make sure that they understand what the purpose of their job is and how vital they are to your business. Unless they truly know why they are doing what you are asking them to do, they are working blindfolded.

2 – Outcome Focused. Be specific about what the outcome is rather than focusing on the methodology or a list of tasks. Give deadlines and explain why these deadlines matter.

3 – Flexibility. Having explained what you want and by when, give staff as much flexibility as possible to do things their own way. Let them know what the boundaries are, e.g.

  • budget limits
  • house style and values
  • competitive practices
  • policies on customer service, health and safety, IT guidelines etc.

…then get out of their way!


4 – Give them credit. Give constructive feedback on what they are doing well. Be specific. “You are doing fine” is not helpful; no-one knows what you mean by that and therefore cannot reproduce it.

5 – Stand in their shoes. Your staff are likely to be feeling a bit distracted: juggling home life and work, worrying about family and friends, concerns about their own health, uncertainty about the future. Check how they are really doing and cut them a bit of slack. In the long run, your empathy will breed loyalty.

6 – Prepare for mistakes. Help them to learn from mistakes rather than make them fearful of ever making a mistake again. Fear shuts down effective working practice like a nasty virus! Matthew Syed’s research on learning from mistakes shows that organsiations that embrace mistakes and learn effectively from them have a super power over their competitors.

There is other help for you and your team here.

Getting the Best from Your Staff – a quick start guide


It’s an age old story; you’re good at making widgets so you get promoted which means now you have to manage staff. Or, you start a business selling gizmos, which does so well you have to employ and manage staff. Dealing with staff is not the same as making widgets or selling gizmos, yet your success at making or selling relies on your team and how well you manage them.

Great staff work for great managers; so what is it that great managers do to get the best from their staff?

Hire Top Staff

Putting the effort into finding great people is always worth the time investment. Ensure you know what attitudes, skills, experience and qualifications they must have; this is not a wish list. Be really clear about this before you start.  By all means think about what would be desirable but be rigorous in what is absolutely essential. Many skills, experience and qualifications can be acquired reasonably easily. So hire for attitude and aptitude and be flexible about those desirable qualities.

Then Get Out Of The Way

There is a difference between supporting a new employee to do well and micro-managing their every move. You hired them so you could stop doing their work, not so you could carry on. Give them well defined boundaries and then let them get on with it.

Let Staff Solve Their Own Problems

If an employee comes to you with a problem, help them solve it. Don’t take the problem away unless it really is your responsibility to do so. Let staff make mistakes and help them out by coaching, not directing.

Have Quality Conversations

Regular dialogue about what employees need in order to perform well is essential for them and for you. Support them; this support needs to be bespoke for each person. But also ensure that they feel some level of challenge; work that is too easy is boring. The degree of support and challenge needs to be balanced and also to match the individual. You’ll get that balance right by giving them your proper attention.

Give Effective Feedback

This should be objective and delivered in a timely manner. It should also be about the positive as well as the negative. Let staff know what they need to do, what they need to stop and what they need to carry on doing. Also, avoiding difficult conversations won’t make a problem go away or get better. It really won’t.

Show Respect

Your employees are fully functioning human beings. They’ve nearly always had to deal with terrible events at some point in their lives, probably negotiated the buying and selling of their homes, managed to organise their households to be legal, healthy and productive and have absorbing interests outside of work. They can bring all of that skill and experience with them or they can leave it at home. The difference is how well they are respected at work for being unique people rather than just a cost.

Make Work Fun

Research shows that having fun is essential to being productive. What culture do you have in your team? Is it conducive to people enjoying their work? If your team had a personality what would it be? Would it be yours and do you have fun?

Attend To High Flyers – Or They’ll Fly Away.

Most managers spend more time with their poor performers than their top performers. Though this is understandable, it is not effective. Be disciplined in making time for your rising stars. Find out what they need, what their aspirations are, what ideas for improvement they have. And when top performers leave, let them leave singing your praises.


Giving Effective Feedback – one of life’s skills

The art of giving effective feedback is a skill that we are not born with and many never develop. Yet giving good feedback is quite a simple tool that can have enormous benefits. Here are 5 pointers to help you on your way.

1 – Why are you giving feedback? What do you want to happen as a result?

The art of giving effective feedback is a skill that we are not born with and many never develop. Yet giving good feedback is quite a simple tool that can have enormous benefits. Here are 5 pointers to help you on your way. One of the most effective questions that we can ask ourselves in any situation is “what is it that I am trying to achieve?” yet we often don’t think about this at all. When going into a meeting, phoning up a client or supplier or booking some time with a colleague, being clear about what we want to happen is essential if we are to make the most of it. This is also true for giving feedback, whether it is to an employee, your friend or your bank manager. Why are you giving this person the feedback? There are many good reasons for doing so – to change their unhelpful behaviour, help them to grow, encourage them to carry on – but you need to be clear about this before you start. If you can’t come up with a good reason, then maybe there isn’t one.

Just getting things off your chest is not a good reason for giving feedback and is potentially damaging.

2 – People always behave rationally. Always.

Their behaviour makes sense to them at that moment. Just because it doesn,t make sense to you doesn’t change this. You may never know for sure why a person has behaved the way they did. In fact, even if they explain it to you, you still wont necessarily get it. All we can ever know is what we actually see and hear.

So what is the answer? Objectivity – describing only what you can see or hear, not the stuff under the waterline (thoughts, feelings and beliefs) and keeping it factual. To do this well you have to take notice.

Your employee, Bob, is often late for work, which is unhelpful for a variety of reasons. You could tell him that he is slack. However, he may a) not understand what you mean, after all when he gets in he always works hard or b) feel angry that you have been so rude (which you have, by the way.)

You might try harder and say that he is often late. Bob may counter with “when am I? I was in early yesterday; you just didn’t see me until later.” This may or may not be true and if you have no facts to hand it is difficult to get back to the feedback. However, if you say “you were late three times last week and 4 times the week before” then you are on firm ground and Bob has to respond.

3 – Positive feedback is just as important.

If you tell people factually what it is that they have done well then they can reproduce it. Saying to a colleague “you’re great to work with” might be nice and encouraging but it is hard to do “great”. The chances are the person doesn’t know which bit of their working style you like. However, a statement such as “when thre is a problem that you have identified, I like the way that you think of solutions rather than just dumping it on me2 is much more powerful and will encourage them to carry on.

4 – Explain why it is an issue?

As well as making a statement about what has happened, explain why it matters and when appropriate tell them how you feel. If you explain to Bob that being late causes a problem with scheduling the jobs in the morning and that you feel frustrated having to spend the first half hour of each day trying to find him he is much more likely to do something about it. On the other hand, if it doesn’t actually matter then don’t say anything. If Bob wears red shoes that annoy you, but they don’t stop him doing his job, that is something you’ll just have to accept. As stated, getting it off your chest is not a good reason for giving feedback.

5 – What is it that you want?

The purpose of feedback is to give people the chance to improve. You do this by letting them know what you want them to stop and what you want them to do (or to carry on doing.) Be clear about it. Explain what behaviour you do want. What is it that you want from Bob? to be on time most days – at least 4 out of 5 to be in on time every day without fail to let you know when he gets in to make up the lost time somehow As for his annoying red shoes? Some things you just have to put up with.