Imagine being called into your boss’s office and hearing one of the following statements: “I have some negative feedback for you and everybody feels the same way”; or “a number of your colleagues have told me that ……….”; or “I have been hearing from others that………..”. WOW! Don’t you just feel you are being “ganged up” upon?
All three statements can leave you wondering whether the boss is so uncomfortable with his or her own attachment to the feedback, that they need the support of others to render it valid. These statements also raise the question of whether the boss himself or herself has any substantive facts or observations of their own to support what they are telling you.
Granted, much depends on what the boss says in the conversation that follows these statements and whether you are given an opportunity to respond to the feedback. But as a general management rule, one should avoid employing the views of “anonymous others” in support of negative feedback unless absolutely judged necessary.
The American Judicial System refers to such information as “hearsay” evidence — the evidence of those who relate, not what they know themselves, but what they have heard from others — and it is inadmissible in an individual’s trial. Primarily, direct personal observations or experiences constitute admissible, valid information and these are a far stronger foundation for a boss’s negative feedback than the views of unnamed others.
It is a manager’s responsibility of course to evaluate a subordinate’s performance and to deliver any negative judgments likely to effect that subordinate’s advancement and job tenure. Accordingly, every subordinate has the right to expect that his or her boss will personally “OWN” every aspect of their performance feedback and have taken the time to verify and support it with facts. That is why anonymous negative feedback alone is simply a cop-out.
Even worse, anonymous negative feedback has the potential to poison the working environment into which its recipient must now return. It is easy to imagine some of the questions any of us would have:
- Which one of my colleagues or teammates was talking behind my back?
- Did the boss really mean everybody feels the same way?
- Why are my colleagues or teammates trying to undermine me?
- Who, if anyone, can I now trust or consider a friend?
- Should I confront my colleagues and demand direct feedback from them?
In addition, if one’s teammates or colleagues are aware that we have been taken to the woodshed by the boss based on their input, they will likely have their own uncertainties concerning the working environment ahead.
As a manager, it is inevitable that you will occasionally hear both positive and negative comments made by others in reference to your subordinates. They are potentially valuable clues to activities outside your awareness and to the performance quality of those you must evaluate. But they are just clues and not hard facts until you have done some digging and investigating on your own.
The best managers are never comfortable that they have a precise handle on the performance quality and potential of all their subordinates. Such assessments are extremely difficult and there is so much one can miss. Thus the best managers are those willing to invest the personal time required for observation and direct involvement in the performance activities of their subordinates and they never take — or pass along — as gospel the hearsay views of others.