April 2024

  • Getting feedback when you’re the Boss

    Receiving feedback when you’re the boss can be challenging. If you’re responsible for performance, compensation, and have the authority to fire someone, then you’re in a position of power. And if you’re in a position of power, you’re unlikely to get candid feedback from direct reports by asking them outright. Even if you’re not someone’s direct boss, but are in a leadership position, it can be challenging to get candid feedback by asking. And the bigger the gap in position, the more pronounced this is likely to be (e.g., the CEO can’t simply ask a junior employee for feedback and expect an authentic response).

    You can always pick up on implicit feedback indirectly through your interactions, but that’s less valuable than receiving explicit feedback. Some organizations have formalized processes in place to facilitate upwards feedback (e.g., ‘360 degree’ reviews), which can be valuable tools but are insufficient in totality. Whether you have a formalized 360 review process or not, there are some tactics I’ve found useful in facilitating a feedback conversation as the boss.

    1. Ask the question “what would you do differently in my shoes?”

      This feels safer to respond to than “what could I be doing better?”, even though you might receive a similar response. It can be asked generally and in reference to a specific topic or decision.

    2. If your direct report previously had a boss in a similar position, try “what are 1 to 3 things you admired about your previous boss that I might be able to learn from?”

      I’ve found this to be highly effective, albeit there’s some nuance in that your direct report might admire something you already do well or isn’t as relevant for you.

    3. If your direct report hasn’t had a boss in a similar position, you can try “Is there a previous leader you’ve particularly admired? If someone comes to mind, is there anything I could learn from their leadership qualities?”

      Similar but less useful than #2, as it becomes more general.

    4. Ask your direct report “What advice would you have for me on this topic?”

      This works well in drawing candour but is likely only in reference to a specific topic.

    5. Ask your direct report for 1-3 things you should ‘stop, start, and continue’.

      Phrasing it in a simple and common performance framework can make the question more approachable but I’ve had limited success with this one, likely because of the explicit nature.

    6. Ask them outright. “I’m keen to learn and improve. What are some areas for improvement you can share with me?”

      Due to the power imbalance and dynamic this may not uncover much. Even with folks you have a high degree of psychological safety and trust with. It may work better with more direct personalities.

    If you read this and have any other good suggestions to share, I’d love to hear them.

  • Don’t Settle

    When I moved to Calgary, one of my first tasks was to find a barber. I got a strong referral from Amin and ended up seeing a fellow who did a really good job cutting hair. But he was unbearable in a lot of ways. He’d consistently start ~15-20 minutes later than my appointment. He’d pause mid-haircut to take a phone call or text. He’d talk at me (not with me) for the entire appointment. I’d usually say less than 10 words but be in a ‘conversation’ for nearly 45 minutes. It was painful. And I went to him for almost three years.

    Even though I had intentions to make a change, I was lulled into complacency, because the haircut itself was good and it usually fell to the bottom of the priority list to seek something better. It took COVID as the catalyst for me to find someone new. And after I did, I was mad at myself for waiting so long. Now I get as good a cut and have a way better experience.

    The older you get, the more professional services people you start to accumulate in your life. I’m not that old, and my list is already long. I’ve got a family doctor, dentist, barber, accountant, veterinarian, massage therapist, real estate agent, contractor, carpenter, landscaper, bike service person, house cleaner, dog walker, and dog sitter. And I have probably five stories like the barber one, where finding someone great in the service category and leaving someone who wasn’t has made a huge difference.

    Nearly every time I’ve changed service providers, it’s been a result of some outside force – like my person moving – instead of something I’ve done deliberately. And every time I think, why didn’t I find an alternative sooner. Finding amazing professional service providers can have a meaningful impact on your life. I was reminded of that this week; don’t settle. It’s worth spending the time to seek someone great.

  • Always Connected

    Airplanes were a last bastion of being truly off grid. No service and completely inaccessible.  Sadly, that’s changing quickly. It seems the majority of planes are now equipped with WiFi, as well as free in-plane text messaging. The airlines are servicing our need and desire to always be connected.

    This makes me sad. I have always loved being disconnected on an airplane. There’s something calming about knowing you’re completely unreachable for a set period. No temptation to scroll or chat or respond to anyone. It’s an easy place to leave distractions behind and it’s always been one of my favourite places to read or get focused work done. So it’s a shame to see the last mile become connected. I know using connected services is a choice that requires opt-in but the more convenient the service becomes, the more deliberate a choice needs to be to avoid using it.