Feedback From The Corner Office

Each Sunday, the Business section of the NY Times runs "The Corner Office," an interview by Adam Bryant with a prominent CEO about his or her leadership and management style.  What is striking about this week's interview with Yahoo! CEO Carol Bartz, is Ms. Bartz's commitment to giving and receiving regular, timely feedback.   Ms. Bartz views herself as talkative to a fault, and admits that sometimes she has trouble listening.  To counter  these bad habits, Ms. Bartz asks for feedback:

I also ask simple questions, like 'How am I doing? What should I do differently?' At first, people are shocked when you ask them that. They won’t answer right away because they actually don’t think you’re genuine about it, so you have to kind of keep probing and make it safe. They eventually will come around and say, 'Well, just this.'

How many of us are this conscious about asking for regular, in-the-moment feedback?  It is an interaction that carries a certain amount of risk for both parties, and can be uncomfortable because it disrupts conversational norms.  But the potential benefits -- including being able to make minor adjustments before  full-blown problems emerge -- are huge.  

Ms. Bartz is also committed to giving regular feedback.  She describes what she calls her "puppy theory":

When the puppy pees on the carpet, you say something right then because you don’t say six months later, 'Remember that day, January 12th, when you peed on the carpet?' That doesn’t make any sense. 'This is what’s on my mind. This is quick feedback.' And then I’m on to the next thing.

If this regular feedback cycle were the norm, Ms. Bartz suggests, organizations could do away with the formal performance review process altogether.  I would suggest that regular, timely feedback is a good way to go but that a performance review focused on the bigger picture, looking backward and forward, can be a useful compliment.  

As for me, while I feel pretty confident in giving feedback that is specific, timely, actionable and relevant (the "STAR" method), I often gloss over asking for direct feedback.  Especially now, as I juggle a number of group projects, I find myself wondering from time to time, "How am I being perceived by my teammates? Am I being a good team member?"  Not translating these worries into an explicit request for feedback is a missed opportunity for growth.

Ms. Bartz's approach is a good reminder that when we find ourselves with questions about our own performance, the best way to address them may be to simply ask them aloud to others.