I am a partner in a CPA firm with one other partner. We are both in our forties. We have been using many of the manager tools concepts (coaching, O3's, feedback model) with great sucess (thanks guys!). However, we find that with our younger team members, they see adjusting feedback as "yelling at them" (actual quote). Trust me, no yelling was going on, in fact, we both tend to slow down our voice and deepen our tone to soften the conversation (BTW I am off the charts high D). We have to provide feedback in order to improve our efficiency and effectiveness.

The other struggle appears to be a transition from working a jobs where a time clock was punched to working in a professional environment where flexibility is needed. Time is calculated at the second by these team members and any deviation from it is perceived that we are cheating them. Recently we had to commute to a client about 40 miles each way and the team member was highly upset that she was not getting paid for travel time.

Sadly, I have been joking about not hiring anyone under 30. However, our 21 year old receptionist volunteers to come in early when the work load gets a little crazy (much positive feedback) - so it isn't totally age- but I think a lot of it is.

juliahhavener's picture

Age is part of it, experience is the other part. My lead had similar responses. We went for a walk and I told him we would practice this feedback thing because I am not yelling, and giving him feedback is NOT a 'reprimand' (his word...military background). I made the point of telling him that a reprimand would be accompanied by paperwork. Until then, feedback is feedback - and it's made a difference. Six months later, he knows feedback for what it is and doesn't take it personally.

I would suggest discussing feedback, the model, the purpose, and an example (of positive feedback that is true, negative feedback that is off the wall for that employee that will serve only as an example) in your next O3. I saw a great improvement in response after I did this.

'You've heard me give feedback before, but I really want to explain why I do it and how it works. I need to tell you what you are doing in order to know what you're doing well or things you can improve. I believe that the feedback process I use is most effective. Here's how it works: I will ask 'can I give you some feedback?' No is an okay answer - I'll give you some feedback on answering no if you do it all the time, but we all have days and times when we just can't take one more piece of input good or bad. Then I'll say 'when you do this...' and describe the behavior I want to talk about followed by some of the results of that action; the effect of that action. If it's affirming feedback, I'll follow that with 'keep it up!' If it's adjusting feedback, I'll ask what you can do differently. It's not a reprimand, it's not yelling, and you're not in trouble. It's a way for me to tell you about the things you do well and to tell you about things you can improve and why they're important.

We'll practice it, and you'll hear a lot of it. I'll even give you an example. (Practical example I gave to an employee with a stellar attendance record and who had just given me a project response that was well done). Can I give you some feedback? (Yes.) When you turn in a project like this one that is not only effective but also easy to read and timely, here's what happens: it makes you look good, I have a new skill set that I can use in your review, and I know I can count on you to multitask with important projects. Keep up the good work. That is what you will hear from me for positive feedback, and it is sincere. Let me give you an example of feedback that is geared towards change: Can I give you some feedback? (Yes.) When you come to work late, here's what happens: we worry about you, I am concerned that I can't count on you to be here when I need you, and it can impact your rankings and reviews. What can you do differently? (They laugh, because it's off the wall and doesn't apply, but they get the gist).

Then follow through - with both brands of feedback. It makes it much easier for them when they get the practice. If they don't get it within a few weeks, feedback on their ACTION in response to the feedback may be appropriate.

(Okay, that's really long in writing, but I swear it only took a minute or two of my O3 to give to each employee with specific examples.)

namillercpa's picture


Thanks. I do think I bear some responsibility as the feedback is not yet comfortable for me and I tend to avoid the adjusting feedback to long. I don't think I did in this case but will take your advice on discussing feedback in the O3's. I was terrified of the O3's at first, but they have been the single best thing I have ever done.


juliahhavener's picture


O3's are scary at first. Feedback is scarier. The more you do it, the easier it is. I tell my folks we're practicing - I'm practicing giving it, they're practicing hearing it, and we're all practicing being open to it (since every O3 for me ends with 'do you have any feedback for me? Anything I can do differently? Better? Stop doing?').

Best of luck - I think you're on the right track!

jupiter's picture

[b]Julia wrote:[/b]
[quote]Then follow through - with both brands of feedback. It makes it much easier for them when they get the practice. If they don't get it within a few weeks, feedback on their ACTION in response to the feedback may be appropriate.[/quote]

It feels like what Julia has also meant by that is – if you spoke and explained the Feedback Model to your employees once, next day/week they will EXPECT this subconsciously that you give them a “PROMISED” feedback and this will provide you a brilliant opportunity to practice and do this more often.

Best regards


juliahhavener's picture

That's it in part - doing what you say you will, but the bigger piece is the practice - both giving it and receiving it. The more you do it, the easier it is. The more they hear it, the easier it is for them to realize that it really is *just* feedback.

rthibode's picture

Regarding the time flexibility, this was an unexpected adjustment for me when I entered professional life. In previous jobs, keeping careful track of my comings and goings was part of being a conscienscious employee. In most jobs, it was also necessary to protect yourself from illegal exploitation.

It wasn't until a manager sneeringly described someone else as "a clock-puncher" that I realized this stance was a negative in my new professional environment.

Be clear and direct about your expectations. I think most of your staff will adjust, and those who can't may need to work in a different type of environment.

I do have to ask -- are these hourly workers? If so, are you sure you're right to ask them to spend their own time travelling to visit a client? Are they told they can take equivalent time off later? If they are salaried, I think their contract or job description should spell out the expectations for extras like this.

As for feedback, I supervise very young workers (18-25, for the most part). Many are nervous about feedback at first, but they do get used to it if you do it often. I like to tell them: My job is your professional development. No matter how good you get, I will continue to provide you with feedback to help you to get even better.

namillercpa's picture

The team members I am referring to our non-exempt employees (degreed accountants). We are actually very flexible but we need to take care of clients (how we all get paid ultimately). I have a sense that they don't see the connections between client service and their employment even though we discuss this frequently. Also, I think they are short sighted in terms of long term career advancement and are just thinking about the now.

What I get now if a lot of "nobody else does it your way" or "everybody else does it differently" when I know that they don't have the context to make those blanket statements. In fact, I spend a lot of time discussing practice management issues with other firms because we want to be cutting edge in retaining good people.

I think I need to encourage them to spend time with peers in other firms as well as continue to provide feedback and maybe even a little coaching as to how effective professionals behave.

Thanks for all the feedback! Just talking this through helps by itself.


WillDuke's picture

[quote]I have a sense that they don't see the connections between client service and their employment even though we discuss this frequently. Also, I think they are short sighted in terms of long term career advancement and are just thinking about the now. [/quote]

And what do they say when you tell them this is the O3 or with feedback?

Don't go borrowing trouble, just ask 'em. Don't worry about being nice. When you're "being nice" you're probably not telling them the whole truth. Just state what's real. You're not being mean, just honest.

(One quick comment on feedback, Julia's information on idea of "practicing" is beautiful. I'm going to use that. I do use M&M's example "It's like driving a car, you're constantly making small adjustments." People get that.)

Mark's picture

Julia's right. Keep at it, and kindly explain the difference.

How they feel is their fault. Under 30 folks make GREAT employees, AND many have different beliefs about authority and careers than those who are 40. Neither is right...and yet the orgainzation relies on you both.

Do not hold back on feedback...just respect that it takes time. This is an important acculturation activity for your younger workers.


asteriskrntt1's picture

Ummmm why aren't they getting paid for travel time? Don't you build that into your billable hours? Are these employees not on salary with billable targets as bonus? Forgive me - I don't understand your system.

jhack's picture

Research into feedback indicates that a ratio of about 10:1 affirming to adjusting is the most potent. You should praise ten times as often as you correct.

When I introduced feedback in my team, I made sure that it was all positive for a while before I started adjusting. And the adjusting feedback started "small" and has recently become more substantial. This worked well for my team.

mjpeterson's picture

Has explaining the feedback model made giving it and having it recieved easier? I have not done this with my staff and frankly have really struggled to get myself to use the feedback model.

namillercpa's picture

Thanks for all of the advice. I think the book Sharing your strengths had a similar feedback ratio of positive to adjusting. I do struggle with the adjusting feedback, I find the affirming is much easier. I think 50% of this issue is my end - not wanting to confront; uncomfortable with the response (tears/anger etc). Don't misunderstand, these are great people and that is why I need to get good at this. What I think I am hearing is keep at it; make it routine and eventually we will all become comfortable with it. Should I just ignore or move past the emotional response and keep asking the question "So what are you going to do to change this?"

Lastly - their are market competition reasons that we don't pay for travel time (and in our area; this is considered a commute by most residents - not travel. In fact, at this client, the owner makes this commute every day).


Mark's picture


Yes, absolutely.


juliahhavener's picture

MJPete, explaining it the way I described made it much easier for me to deliver. It also improved the responses I received from my employees.

asteriskrntt1's picture

Nancy, thanks for the clarification. At first read, it sounded like your employees were being asked to travel to your office, THEN to the client, which would be a double commute. I would certainly want to be compensated in that situation (and I have been).


WillDuke's picture

On giving feedback:

I don't give enough feedback. The confrontation isn't fun. It's hard to be consistent and do it all the time.

Giving feedback is my job. When I don't give feedback my team doesn't perform because they don't know everything they need to know. My feedback will help my DRs perform better. My DRs will be more successful with some corrective feedback. My DRs cannot succeed without my feedback.

Why don't I want my DRs to be successful? I need to get over myself and deal with the confrontation. I owe it to my team.

thaGUma's picture

Will, how about setting yourself targets - one piece of adjusting feedback means you need to find two or three pieces of postive feedback?

If you get into the habit of giving positive feedback you will store up a lot of credit with your DR's that will make adjusting feedback much easier for them to accept.

Also, 'easy wins' - aim for small adjustments (which is a fundamental point of the feedback model). Practice on these will give you greater understanding on how your DRs react and allow you to tailor your approach to larger issues.

Review each week; what did I give last week, what should I look out for this week. Each DR will have a profile that may need adusting.

kklogic's picture

Might I suggest a great read? Check out the article "The Next 20 Years - How Customer and Workforce Attitudes Will Evolve" by Neil Howe and William Straus -- Harvard Business Review, Managing for the Long Term, July/Aug 2007.

I, too, struggle to understand the M Generation as a Gen Xer. This article did an amazing job explaining each generation's motivations and why they are the way they are.