BL&T No. 165: Evolving as a Manager Through Upward Feedback Insights

Personal Growth

This post originally appeared in my newsletter, Borrowed, Learned, & Thought. BL&T is sent weekly on Mondays. In every edition, I share lessons learned in agency leadership, life, and e-commerce. This post does not include all the details shared in the newsletter sent via email. Subscribe here.


"Your report should have a clear sense at all times of what your expectations are and where he stands. If he is often wondering, What does my manager think of me? then you need to dial up your level of feedback. Don’t assume he can read between the lines or that no news is good news. If you think he is the epitome of awesome, tell him. If you don’t think he is operating at the level you’d like to see, he should know that, too, and precisely why you feel that way."

From "The Making of a Manager" by Julie Zhuo [Book]


I led my Upward Feedback session last week with my direct reports and was grateful for a candid and productive conversation. I won't recap the entire feedback process, but at a high level, they shared feedback via Lattice in the weeks prior, and then we met to discuss it as a group.

Read: Conducting My First Upward Feedback Survey

Lately, I've been carrying a sense of uncertainty about my performance as a manager. The feeling was not due to neglect or mistreatment but because I felt I hadn't prioritized the formal conversations surrounding feedback and growth that I'd become accustomed to having as a manager. Not to mention, as the driver of our agency's performance management process, I've felt like a hypocrite at times.

Turns out, I was getting in my own head.

My reports expressed their appreciation for the way I make time to reflect on situations, listen, and work together toward solutions. They prefer my candid approach, remarking that they always know where they stand because of the continuous, real-time feedback I provide. When it comes to growth, they value me keeping them aligned on our agency's direction and any challenges. They connect their personal development to this vision, seeing their team's progress as a reflection of these discussions.

I left the session feeling energized and a lot lighter.

I'm not suggesting that the performance management process we have in place is unnecessary; however, it's a method to ensure feedback conversations are consistently happening across the agency and employees are always aware of where they stand. Personally, I don't wait to have these conversations.

Rather than beating myself up over not following the performance management process, I should have been asking why I hadn't prioritized them in the first place. In hindsight, it comes from a place of trust, openness, and confidence with my reports. I'm grateful to work alongside committed individuals who stay true to their word and sincerely want to improve.

Giving and receiving feedback is an important aspect of an effective manager's role. However, nothing can replace a team of high-performing individuals who genuinely care about their work, take accountability for their actions, and are organized in their responsibilities. These qualities are the foundation of a successful team. They play a key role in ensuring things don't crumble, no matter the circumstance.

We've been in situations where we're dealing with a low-performing individual, thinking that if we just give them the right feedback, they'll turn it around. When it doesn't happen, we try other methods of making the feedback clear, like giving them a timeline. While I have seen folks come out of these situations, it's important not to let the act of giving feedback distract from whether or not the person has what it takes to succeed in the role. Sometimes, that's the conversation to have, before the feedback is even relevant.


A few notes:

If you're curious about the evolution of our performance management process, read here: A New Approach to Performance Management. Aspects of this process have already evolved since this post was written, but the fundamentals are the same. In a future state, I'd love to see feedback flowing across the agency without the need for a formal process, but we're not there just yet.

It's worth noting that over the past few years, there has been a shift in my role from managing individual contributors, the doers and makers of the work, to managing other managers. I've learned a lot through this transition, and as demonstrated here, am still learning every day.

Lastly, I'd be remiss not to touch on my areas for improvement from Upward Feedback, which primarily revolved around the need to slow down. I have a habit of offering solutions before understanding what's been done before. I tend to assume that everyone on a call was clear on the next steps, rather than confirming and clarifying. While my reports appreciate making on-the-fly process improvements, it can be beneficial to take a step back and evaluate the entire process as a team.


What is my vision for feedback within my team?


The E-Commerce Corner

Read here: A Prime Case for Amazon's "Buy With Prime"

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