Short version: Provide feedback directly and insist your reports do so, too — some exceptions apply
Generalized: Toxic environments prefer gossip to transparency, directness, and professional feedback
Ultra-specific request of managers: One person who receives feedback indirectly is too much. Consider this specific measure of your work environment and consider others in this series.
Part of being in a toxic work environment is that you know people are talking about you behind your back, rather than providing timely, direct, transparent, and professional feedback to you.
There are a large number of factors which contribute to work environments which are not healthy and which are counter-productive.
I am going to give you one measure along this particular axis you can implement immediately.
- Create an anonymous voting booth.
- The question for that booth is: “Have you ever received feedback indirectly, outside of a rounded-feedback or other feedback mechanism intended for that?”
- Let the team vote. Allow a neutral person to count the “Yes” votes.
- How many “Yes” votes mean you have a serious problem?
Example A/B Comparison:
You are a software engineer. You are speaking to a peer, Robin.
Robin tells you the boss told Robin and three other peers you are moving too slowly on a project.
This is the first time you have heard this feedback.
You are a software engineer. Your boss asks for 15–30 minutes to talk with you.
The boss asks you how you feel you’re doing on your software project?
The boss asks you if you are facing challenges which are slowing delivery time.
After a short talk, you know the boss has had a concern about delivery time and you have had a chance to explain factors involved in delivery time.
If further people are involved, a professional retrospective or some other form of neutral, process-focused meeting is arranged to work out improvements needed.
Which of these do you feel you would prefer?
Which of these would help the team and the company more?
Resolution suggestions if you receive at least one Yes vote:
Insist that initial feedback is provided in a timely, transparent, professional/constructive, and direct manner.
Some cases are exceptions:
- A person providing feedback has a legitimate and defensible reason to fear providing feedback. In which case, you need to work on this immediately with the person who is feared.
- Feedback on the same topic is provided repeatedly without change or there is a difference of opinion on the feedback which would benefit from a third-party.
Recommended steps for a Yes answer:
- Speak with the people who are not providing direct, timely, transparent, and constructive feedback. Make it a part of their development to change the behavior.
- Make this expectation a part of your team agreement or code of conduct.
- In difficult cases, act as a mediator to facilitate communication between parties. If you are not skilled at this, find someone who is in leadership or HR.
It takes one Yes to this question to know you are in an unhealthy work environment.
Who am I?
As someone with over two decades of leadership experience in the tech world, I still make mistakes. I have a treasure trove of anti-patterns I’ve either seen or exercised myself.
In short, I know the good stories. Don’t assume my stories are from my current place of employment. Odds are they are not.
I’m a senior data engineer experienced in Python and various SQL flavors, a process improver, a leader/manager, and someone who wants employee experiences to improve.
I hope you enjoy reading the articles in the Leadership Anti-Pattern series as much I enjoy writing them.