For this case you will assume the role of Terry, a 55-year-old supervisor at Lake Falls Insurance. You manage a team of 7 quality assurance investigators. The team is working on a project that is due in four months. One of the members of your team, Sasha, a 39-year-old investigator came to you a month ago and asked to work remotely part of each week for at least the next year. Sasha's performance has been consistently high in the twelve years they have worked with you. Sasha has spoken to you about issues working through a separation with their partner and requested schedule flexibility to help manage childcare arrangements. You approved Sasha working remotely two days a week. Sasha is a great employee, and you want to offer help at this difficult time. This week another member of your team, Jed, a 35-year-old investigator approached you with a request to work remotely. You weren't prepared for this and thought Sasha's request would be the only one. However, your conversation with Jed gives you the impression that the team believes a precedent to grant such requests has been set. This had not been your intention. You fear there could be many requests to work some sort of remote schedule. You are worried about Jed's request and would like to deny it for two reasons:
First, you do not want everyone on the team working from home because you think it will be too difficult to manage the team remotely given the type of work this project entails—that is why you limited Sasha to work remotely only two days per week.
The second reason is that Jed is not the performer that Sasha is. Jed is late to meetings, occasionally misses deadlines, submits work that is good but not always reflective of what the team has decided, and often ignores the team and does what he thinks is best. You have not given Jed feedback in the past six months regarding your concerns. You will be meeting with Jed soon regarding his request for remote work.
You are concerned about denying Jed's request. You fear that the decision will be perceived as reflecting a bias and did not realize team members view Sasha's remote work a precedence. In making your decision, you will want to consider the views on feedback and recommendations from this week's readings, including the "A Leader's Role in People Management" commentary and concepts from Crucial Conversations.
Once you decide on how to proceed, explain what you will do in a 1-2-page report. You are using this written report as documentation on the potentially controversial situation, and you believe it will help you to consider all of the facts. Remember, in prompts 1-4, you are writing this as Terry, the team manager. Address the following in the report.
Consider the audience. You believe the entire team is watching how you handle Jed's request. How will the audience influence your response?
Address key managerial issues regarding the decision (e.g., setting precedent, positioning team members to do their best work, being mindful of any legal issues, and wanting to retain team members).
Consider EDIB issues and how they are perceived by Sasha, Jed, the team, and the other members of Lake Falls Insurance. If someone were to suggest bias were involved, what types of bias might they be? Note that this case does not give much personal or demographic information, so consider the most likely types of bias. You desire a reputation as an inclusive leader.
Identify what you would do to address key leadership issues regarding the decision (e.g., using motivating language to communicate the decision and thinking about the types of leadership discussed earlier in the course).
The last part of the paper is different. You are no longer Terry, but instead giving an outside view of how Jed should handle the situation.
5. Include a separate paragraph at the end of your paper describing what you recommend Jed do, not just to make his case but also to receive and respond to feedback from you (Terry) that may not be favorable—particularly if he thinks he is doing a great job.
REPRINT R1902G PUBLISHED IN HBR MARCH–APRIL 2019 ARTICLE MANAGING PEOPLE The Feedback Fallacy For years, managers have been encouraged to praise and constructively criticize just about everything their employees do. But there are better ways to help employees thrive and excel. by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall For the exclusive use of E. Jung, 2023. This document is authorized for use only by Emily Jung in MBA 701: Leading & Communicating in Dynamic & Diverse Organizations - Fall 2023 taught by UW MBA Consortium, University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire from Sep 2023 to Jan 2024. http://hbr.org/search/R1902G Illustrations by PAUL GARLAND the feedback fallacy Ashley Goodall Senior vice president, Cisco Systems Marcus Buckingham Head of the ADP Research Institute, People & Performance For years, managers have been encouraged to praise and constructively criticize just about everything their employees do. But there are better ways to help employees thrive and excel. MANAGING PEOPLE 2 Harvard Business ReviewMarch–April 2019 For the exclusive use of E. Jung, 2023. This document is authorized for use only by Emily Jung in MBA 701: Leading & Communicating in Dynamic & Diverse Organizations - Fall 2023 taught by UW MBA Consortium, University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire from Sep 2023 to Jan 2024. FOR ARTICLE REPRINTS CALL 800-988-0886 OR 617-783-7500, OR VISIT HBR.ORG For the exclusive use of E. Jung, 2023. This document is authorized for use only by Emily Jung in MBA 701: Leading & Communicating in Dynamic & Diverse Organizations - Fall 2023 taught by UW MBA Consortium, University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire from Sep 2023 to Jan 2024. http://hbr.org Idea in Brief THE CHALLENGE Managers today are bombarded with calls to give feedback— constantly, directly, and critically. But it turns out that telling people what we think of their performance and how they can do better is not the best way to help them excel and, in fact, can hinder development. THE REALITY Research shows that, first, we aren’t the reliable raters of other people’s performance that we think we are; second, criticism inhibits the brain’s ability to learn; and, third, excellence is idiosyncratic, can’t be defined in advance, and isn’t the opposite of failure. Managers can’t “correct” a person’s way to excellence. THE SOLUTION Managers need to help their team members see what’s working, stopping them with a “Yes! That!” and sharing their experience of what the person did well. The debate about feedback at work isn’t new. Since at least the middle of the last century, the question of how to get employees to improve has generated a good deal of opinion and research. But recently the discussion has taken on new intensity. MANAGING PEOPLE CO PY RI G H T © 2 01 9 H AR VA RD B US IN ES S SC H O O L PU BL IS H IN G C O RP O RA TI O N . A LL R IG H TS R ES ER VE D. 4 Harvard Business ReviewMarch–April 2019 For the exclusive use of E. Jung, 2023. This document is authorized for use only by Emily Jung in MBA 701: Leading & Communicating in Dynamic & Diverse Organizations - Fall 2023 taught by UW MBA Consortium, University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire from Sep 2023 to Jan 2024. The ongoing experiment in “radical transparency” at Bridgewater Associates and the culture at Netflix, which the Wall Street Journal recently described as “encouraging harsh feedback” and subjecting workers to “intense and awkward” real-time 360s, are but two examples of the overriding belief that the way to increase performance in companies is through rigorous, frequent, candid, pervasive, and often critical feedback. How should we give and receive feedback? we wonder. How much, and how often, and using which new app? And, given the hoopla over the approaches of Bridgewater and Netflix, how hard-edged and fearlessly candid should we be? Behind those questions, however, is another question that we’re missing, and it’s a crucial one. The search for ways to give and receive better feedback assumes that feedback is always useful. But the only reason we’re pursuing it is to help people do better. And when we examine that—asking, How can we help each person thrive and excel?—we find that the answers take us in a different direction. To be clear, instruction—telling people what steps to follow or what factual knowledge they’re lacking—can be truly useful: That’s why we have checklists in airplane cockpits and, more recently, in operating rooms. There is indeed a right way for a nurse to give an injection safely, and if you as a novice nurse miss one of the steps, or if you’re unaware of critical facts about a patient’s condition, then someone should tell you. But the occasions when the actions or knowledge nec- essary to minimally perform a job can be objectively defined in advance are rare and becoming rarer. What we mean by “feedback” is very different. Feedback is about telling people what we think of their performance and how they should do it better—whether they’re giving an effective presentation, lead- ing a team, or creating a strategy. And on that, the research is clear: Telling people what we think of their performance doesn’t help them thrive and excel, and telling people how we think they should improve actually hinders learning. Underpinning the current conviction that feedback is an unalloyed good are three theories that we in the business world commonly accept as truths. The first is that other people are more aware than you are of your weaknesses, and that the best way to help you, therefore, is for them to show you what you cannot see for yourself. We can call this our theory of the source of truth. You do not realize that your suit is shabby, that your presentation is boring, or that your voice is grating, so it is up to your colleagues to tell you as plainly as possible “where you stand.” If they didn’t, you would never know, and this would be bad. The second belief is that the process of learning is like filling up an empty vessel: You lack certain abilities you need to acquire, so your colleagues should teach them to you. We can call this our theory of learning. If you’re in sales, how can you possibly close deals if you don’t learn the competency of “mirroring and matching” the prospect? If you’re a teacher, how can you improve if you don’t learn and practice the steps in the latest team-teaching technique or “flipped classroom” format? The thought is that you can’t—and that you need feedback to develop the skills you’re missing. And the third belief is that great performance is universal, analyzable, and describable, and that once defined, it can be transferred from one person to another, regardless of who each individual is. Hence you can, with feedback about what excellence looks like, understand where you fall short of this ideal and then strive to remedy your shortcomings. We can call this our theory of excellence. If you’re a manager, your boss might show you the company’s supervisor-behaviors model, hold you up against it, and tell you what you need to do to more closely hew to it. If you aspire to lead, your firm might use a 360-degree feedback tool to measure you against its predefined leadership competencies and then suggest various courses or experiences that will enable you to acquire the competencies that your results indicate you lack. What these three theories have in common is self- centeredness: They take our own expertise and what we are sure is our colleagues’ inexpertise as givens; they assume that my way is necessarily your way. But as it turns out, in extrapolating from what creates our own performance to what might create performance in others, we overreach. Research reveals that none of these theories is true. The more we depend on them, and the more technology we base on them, the less learning and productivity we will get from others. To understand why and to see the path to a more effective way of improving performance, let’s look more closely at each theory in turn. The Source of Truth The first problem with feedback is that humans are unreliable raters of other humans. Over the past 40 years psychometri- cians have shown in study after study that people don’t have the objectivity to hold in their heads a stable definition of an abstract quality, such as business acumen or assertiveness, and then accurately evaluate someone else on it. Our evaluations are deeply colored by our own understanding of what we’re rating others on, our own sense of what good looks like for a FOR ARTICLE REPRINTS CALL 800-988-0886 OR 617-783-7500, OR VISIT HBR.ORG Harvard Business Review March–April 2019 5 For the exclusive use of E. Jung, 2023. This document is authorized for use only by Emily Jung in MBA 701: Leading & Communicating in Dynamic & Diverse Organizations - Fall 2023 taught by UW MBA Consortium, University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire from Sep 2023 to Jan 2024. http://hbr.org particular competency, our harshness or leniency as raters, and our own inherent and unconscious biases. This phenomenon is called the idiosyncratic rater effect, and it’s large (more than half of your rating of someone else reflects your characteristics, not hers) and resilient (no training can lessen it). In other words, the research shows that feedback is more distortion than truth. This is why, despite all the training available on how to receive feedback, it’s such hard work: Recipients have to struggle through this forest of distortion in search of some- thing that they recognize as themselves. And because your feedback to others is always more you than them, it leads to systematic error, which is magnified when ratings are considered in aggregate. There are only two sorts of measurement error in the world: random error, which you can reduce by averaging many readings; and systematic error, which you can’t. Unfortunately, we all seem to have left math class remembering the former and not the latter. We’ve built all our performance and leadership feedback tools as though assessment errors are random, and they’re not. They’re systematic. Consider color blindness. If we ask a color-blind person to rate the redness of a particular rose, we won’t trust his feedback—we know that he is incapable of seeing, let alone “rating,” red. His error isn’t random; it’s predictable and explainable, and it stems from a flaw in his measurement system; hence, it’s systematic. If we then decide to ask seven more color-blind people to rate the redness of our rose, their errors will be equally systematic, and averaging their ratings won’t get us any closer to determining the actual redness of the rose. In fact, it’s worse than this. Adding up all the inac- curate redness ratings—“gray,” “pretty gray,” “whitish gray,” “muddy brown,” and so on—and averaging them leads us further away both from learning anything reliable about the individuals’ personal experiences of the rose and from the actual truth of how red our rose really is. What the research has revealed is that we’re all color-blind when it comes to abstract attributes, such as strategic thinking, potential, and political savvy. Our inability to rate others on them is predictable and explainable—it is systematic. We can- not remove the error by adding more data inputs and averag- ing them out, and doing that actually makes the error bigger. Worse still, although science has long since proven that we are color-blind, in the business world we assume we’re clear-eyed. Deep down we don’t think we make very many errors at all. We think we’re reliable raters of others. We think we’re a source of truth. We aren’t. We’re a source of error. When a feedback instrument surveys eight colleagues about your business acumen, your score of 3.79 is far greater a distortion than if it simply surveyed one person about you—the 3.79 number is all noise, no signal. Given that (a) we’re starting to see more of this sort of data-based feed- back, (b) this data on you will likely be kept by your company for a very long time, and (c) it will be used to pay, promote, train, and deploy or fire you, you should be worried about just how fundamentally flawed it really is. The only realm in which humans are an unimpeachable source of truth is that of their own feelings and experiences.