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Hi,

I'm wondering whether it would be appropriate to give feedback to my direct reports' direct reports. Here's the situation - I'm a division manager for an insurance company, and reporting to me are an underwriting manager and a claims manager. There are 10 underwriters and 5 claims handlers who report to these managers. I sometimes interact directly with an underwriter or claims handler.

I'm wondering if it would be appropriate to give feedback directly to, for instance, an underwriter, or how else I should handle it if there's something that I think one of them would benefit from hearing.

Mark's picture

Peter-

It's absolutely appropriate to give feedback to your directs' directs. As a general rule, since feedback is just about behavior, and not the person, and is better given as close to the behavior (effective or ineffective) as possible, if you see a "skip" do something you want to talk with them about, by all means give the feedback. I can't think of a situation where I didn't give the feedback.

What is ENORMOUSLY UNPROFESSIONAL in my opinion is saying nothing to the skip, and then either mentioning it in passing, or worse, giving feedback to the boss.

Now, the question is what to do about the role issue. Your question implies that the manager in between is being left out. What about that?

Well, THAT depends.

My RULE is to share ANY AFFIRMING feedback to a skip with my direct. Positive feedback is so rare, managers need to hear about good stuff. I don't tell the skip I'm going to, I just do it. And I hope the manager is smart enough to then give positive feedback AGAIN to the skip (their direct.) As in, "When you do X, and Mark notices and gives you positive feedback and then shares it with me, it makes my day. It makes you look good, which helps the team, and yeah, me too. But it also means we have more credibility when we may need it, and makes my job of getting you what you want from the org that much easier."

And, if I know that my manager has made a difference with the skip, rather than just sharing what I said, I then also make it AFFIRMING feedback for the boss, since making their team better is a core issue for them with me.

What about adjusting feedback? A little different, some nuance here.

If it's minor, I don't say anything to the boss. And, I TELL THE SKIP what he probably already knows (feedback to me is like breathing, and so what's said here stays here (just like our breath)) that I'm not going to say anything to my direct. I have learned (and hopefully you know you are not the only exception on the planet) that if your directs fear you more than you realize, your skips are often PANICKED around you. If you don't tell them you're not going to say anything, they will assume you did, and wait for three weeks to hear it delivered poorly by your direct.

If it's worth letting the boss know (some guidance below), then I just tell them that I gave some adjusting feedback. (Remember, feedback is like breathing...) I make sure they know it, but I don't make it a big deal.

If it's bigger than that, I'll share the situation with the boss (by repeating the feedback I gave), and talk about what I might do in their situation. And then I leave it up to them, using this as an opportunity to see what they do and coach them, potentially, while they coach the skip. I have done a fair bit of coaching on how to coach.

My rule of thumb, which is NOT infallible, for letting the boss know, is: is this a core behavior for the role, or for this person's development (higher standard for higher performers wanting more), or something my direct is coaching on/working with the skip on.

If it's really big, and I think the boss bears some burden, I'll share what happened, and give my direct some feedback.

If in doubt, and I haven't said to the skip that I'm NOT going to not say anything, I let the boss know.

Give those underwriters and claims handlers feedback. In fact, when you do work with them, take a minute or two at the end of a session to summarize and look for 2-3 bits of feedback every time. They'll love the candor. It may be counter-cultural, but it's pro performance and pro-productivity.

Hope this helps!

Mark

mike_bruns_99's picture

Hi All,

Sorry to bring this post back from the dead, but it deals with a current question:

I believe strongly that "The ask" is a critical part of feedback.  When I introduce the feedback model to a direct, I emphasize that when I say "Can I give you some feedback?"  It's perfectly fine for the direct to say "Not now, is tomorrow OK?".    Everyone is human, and sometimes we are not in a zone/mood/etc. to receive feedback.  I try to make it clear that it is always OK for the direct to have me wait until the next day, no questions asked.     

It's not often that a direct says "Not now", but when they do, more often than not, they thank me at their next 1x1 and explain the situation.  Maybe they had just gotten a call that their child was disruptive in school that day.  Maybe they have an issue with their spouse or parent.  No matter what the situation, any feedback I give when they are in that state would be ineffective.         

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I'm fine giving a skip positive feedback, but I'm worried that the skip may not feel free to say "Not now" due to my position.  They may interpret a very minor piece of correcting feedback as a much bigger deal than I intended.

In addition, my directs are very used to me giving feedback.  I obviously don't have that level of interaction with my skips so a small piece of adjusting feedback could be considered a bigger deal.

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Thoughts?  Am I over-thinking this?

Peter.westley's picture

Re your concern:

I'm fine giving a skip positive feedback, but I'm worried that the skip may not feel free to say "Not now" due to my position.  They may interpret a very minor piece of correcting feedback as a much bigger deal than I intended.</cite>

I think that this is a fine opportunity to work with your directs on rolling out the trinity to your skips so they already know about and understand how feedback works. 

Then the question is academic. 

-- Peter

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@pjwestley

naraa's picture

 I believe Mark and Mike do talk about "it is not what we like doing, it is what it takes to be effective".  That is valid also for directs: it is not what they like hearing is what it takes to be effective.  I strongly believe feedback demanding more, demanding behaviour improvement from higher manager is key in setting the bar high and improving performance.  And I agree nothing is more unprofessional than not giving feedback when we have had the chance to have done so.  And while negative feedback is not the easiest thing to hear, nothing can be worse than indifference.  

I think most skips will gladly receive feedback from their boss´s manager, even if negative and even if they are not in the right mood, than none at all.  It may be difficult for them at the moment, but they will get over it!  Think it this way:  If you were your skips, which would you prefer?  Not being given feedback not to have your feelings hurt, or be given the feedback and be given the opportunity to improve?

I have two cautious remarks though:

a) I think managers (me included) have to be cautious about indeed knowing when to shut up, in terms of avoiding comments which may improve an idea by 5%, but will take away the motivation by 50%.  But that is not exactly feedback.  It is not feedback to a behaviour at least, is feedback to an idea, a plan.

b) need to be able to access what to expect from a skip rather than from a direct.  Usually, not always, a direct can deliver far more than a skip will.  If we use the same bar to measure the behaviour of both might be too high for a skip.  The point I am trying to make is that just as one adjusts the way a feedback on behaviour is given to a 4 year old in comparison to a 8 year old, what and the way we give the feedback to the skip might be different than that we would give to the direct.  I still give the feedback, but I may adjust it a bit so it sounds more like coaching:  I tend not to use the last question "what are you going to do differently", with skips.  But I actually think I might be wrong on not using it.  I actually think it might be more effective using the whole feedback model, because when you coach someone is always the issue that it´s optional to take or not take the advice.

Nara

7pepper4's picture

If the opportunity to give feed back is given take it, but tread lightly. Moderation will produce better results, when giving criticism. Be careful forcing your position.

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