Leadership advice

How do I provide feedback when I’m barely keeping up with all my work?

Advice from Jill Geisler, Bill Plante Chair in Leadership & Media Integrity, Loyola University Chicago and Freedom Forum Fellow in Women’s Leadership

I had a talk this weekend with an editor I respect. She’s leading ambitious and ever-expanding coverage of the coronavirus on multiple platforms. Her staff is serving the public’s insatiable appetite for trustworthy news. 

But the editor worries that she’s letting her hard-working team down. She can’t keep up with the feedback they deserve. 

On what once were her days off, she reviews great chunks of the week’s output. She wants to provide people worthwhile messages about their work; specifics, not generalities. But that commitment leaves her little time to recharge her own depleted batteries.

I know she’s not alone in dealing with these dueling goals – one that says “Lead the bigger picture for your team,” while another says “Deliver detailed feedback.”

It’s easier to juggle those goals when a crisis isn’t creating a tsunami of stories. It’s an ever- growing problem for managers today.

Let me offer two modest solutions:

  • Grow the grapevine
  • Go ahead and brag

The grapevine consists of everyone — in all parts of the organization – who consume the product. So often, we read, watch or listen to something our colleagues have created and really enjoy it. We might even remember to compliment them on it, if we’re friends. But if we’re not close, we may keep our thoughts to ourselves. And it’s even less common that we’d respond to anyone’s good work by telling their bosses about it. That act is reserved for big problems.

Let’s change that.

Now is the time to “rat out” the good stuff to management. It doesn’t have to be an in-depth review, just a quick note with a nugget or two of detail that proves it’s for real. It doesn’t have to be for superstar performance. Darn good is sufficient. Just pass the message to management – or cc a manager in the note you send to your co-worker.

With this simple move, we can provide leaders a present they can shamelessly re-gift to staff.

What about the other solution?

Go ahead and brag will be an awkward transition, especially for anyone whose family raised them to let their good work speak for itself. (“Self-praise stinks,” as my Granny used to say.) 

We don’t want to look arrogant or needy by calling attention to our own work.

We’ve never assumed it’s on us to ensure our bosses know when we’ve done something noteworthy. We’ve always thought it was their job to pay attention and acknowledge it on their own.

But they can’t do it on their own right now – and maybe not for a long time to come. 

They need some help. They want it.

So go ahead, brag about your work to the boss. Make it a simple “FYI – happy to share this with you” message.

Grapevine the good work of others. Be a catalyst for the boost that comes from recognition and appreciation.

It would be easy to dismiss feedback as a luxury right now, as something strong, smart people should just forego. But when they’re doing so much extra under such tough conditions, let’s not give up on the one free incentive that need not be in short supply. We just need to re-tool the supply chain.

Don’t worry about how your manager learns about your efforts. It’s the clarity and sincerity of their feedback that makes those messages meaningful.

Have questions? Ask away.


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