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The hard truth by 'Z': Level with employees about the good, the bad & the ugly

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in Leaders & Managers,Performance Reviews

My employees tell me I’m the first boss who ever gave them the complete poop about their performance. They say, “I always know what you think of me.”

They like it that way. So do I.

I beat up on people when they make mistakes. They know I’m angry, but I try to walk them through what went wrong so they’ll learn.

It’s not all bad. I offer all kinds of feedback, positive to negative. So even these conversations usually end on a good note. I’m an equal-opportunity commentator. I give a play-by-play of what I see.

Avoid guessing games

Pouring on the feedback comes naturally to me now, but it didn’t at first. I realized its power when one of my first bosses told me to run a big project. I asked how he wanted me to handle it and mentioned some options.

He replied, “Surprise me.”

So I did the job. When it was over, my boss ripped into me, saying, “Jeez, you really screwed up.” He lectured me like I was an idiot, when all I did was use what I thought was good judgment.

I kept thinking, “It’s his fault for refusing to go over my approach beforehand.”

After that, I vowed never to play guessing games with my employees. If they want to suggest ideas, weigh alternatives or ask me for clarification, I let them. And I happily offer input.

Watch your timing

Most people love to know what the boss thinks, especially when they can fix a problem. It’s stupid to make them wait a year for a performance review and then talk about mistakes they made months ago. Then it’s too late for them to do anything.

Feedback pays off when it’s new. Let a clerk know how he could improve his dealings with co-workers, and show him with your own actions. Tell a salesperson he’s coming on too strong—or weak—and let him practice. Sit in on a staff meeting and give the supervisor input later about how she ran it.

Make it clear how each person can improve. And when they do, give them a pat on the back.

Set the tone

Get in the habit of giving a heads-up. Say, “I have one positive and one negative comment.” That lets them know what to expect.

Also give the guy his dignity, even when you’re criticizing. I’m always stopping myself from lashing out when all I want to do is let someone know how they’re doing. What’s routine to me may seem like life-or-death to a greenhorn or a sensitive soul.

“Z” offers insights into what it really takes to get ahead. This 25-year veteran of the corporate battlefield has climbed the ranks to head a $100 million information services company. We have agreed to protect Z’s identity in return for his promise to hold nothing back.

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