Giving Feedback

The Kindness of Candid Feedback

Articles about happiness in the workplace and employee engagement usually catch my attention. The employee engagement stats we see among the HCM thought leaders seem to point to a lot of wasted effort, and if you know me well, you know I have a low tolerance for happy horsesh*t. It disappoints me when I see so much effort on employee engagement as a business driver when organizations don’t have a productive, supportive culture.

I especially enjoy discussions about candid feedback, especially after my years with Lars Dalgaard and his philosophy that brutal honesty is kind. In my 50 years in the workforce, I saw lots of destruction wreaked by the failure to give people feedback because their leaders didn’t want to hurt their feelings.

What prompted today’s thoughts on the topic is an article at Harvard Business Review by Emma Seppala and Kim Cameron. These are very smart people offering some good advice in “Happy Workplaces Can Also Be Candid Workplaces.” Seppala and Cameron decry destructive, brutal honesty but tell us that candid feedback delivered with kindness can be very productive. That’s certainly good advice, but I think the authors stopped one step short of a solution.

What works best is honest feedback, delivered with kindness, followed by coaching and constructive alternatives.

It worked in my career when a mentor gave me brutally honest feedback that shook me to my core, then immediately began working with me on a 10-point plan for success. Within a few short years, I was at the top of my career group. It worked again when, having been thrown into a role I didn’t fit, I was redirected into a path that doubled my income.

It works in organizations where ineffective managers, who were promoted based on their star performance as individual contributors, are redirected into highly specialized professional roles.

It works when we assess employees who aren’t doing well and move them into positions in which they can succeed, or move them out of the organization so they can find their niche.

Take the advice to be kind, but take the next step, too. Help your people move beyond their shortcomings.

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