Meet Karen May: The Feedback Queen

A recent interview with Karen May, vice president for people development at Google, was conducted and posted to the New York Times website by Adam Bryant. Within the article, May shines light on how to overcome the fear of giving feedback.

Bryant asks what mistakes May noticed with employee training programs for companies she previously consulted for. She notes that many companies require too much training, instead of making the learning experience something employees want to be engaged in. Engaged learning sticks better than forced training. Employees also have to believe they will gain something from the session. You can influence this belief by having peers nominate other employees for a similar program, a compadre kind of sentiment – ‘I learned something, I thought you might too.’ – kind of mindset.

Performance reviews are difficult, and training is not an adequate way to try to fix an employee’s performance problems. First, you have to figure out what is causing the performance issue. Start at the beginning – does the employee have the skill or capability to succeed in the role where they are placed? Is it motivation, work environment issues, lack of understanding expectations?

“Training is the right solution only if the person doesn’t have the capability. But what I have seen in other places is sort of a knee-jerk reaction by managers to put someone in a training class if somebody isn’t performing well.”

What makes it so hard for CEO’s to give direct feedback? May said there are numerous reasons why this kind of conversation is difficult. It creates tension. The hardest part of trying to give feedback is when you don’t have a solution for the issue. As a manager, why bring an issue to the employee if you don’t know how to fix it? On a very basic level, it’s hard for anyone to sit down and say to someone else – “Hey, this thing about you isn’t working.” But it also creates an opportunity for that person to change. May mentions that being able to do this is the most valuable things she can offer anyone. She can tell them something no one else has told them before.

Well, after you’ve taken the plunge and given the employee the feedback, what’s the average success rate? May said, “People can do something with the feedback probably 70 percent of the time. And for the other 30 percent, they are either not willing to take it in, it doesn’t fit their self-image, they’re too resistant, in denial, or they don’t have the wherewithal to change it. And the reality is that most change happens in small increments. So if you’re watching to see if someone’s changing, you have to watch for the incremental change. It’s not a straight line.”

May has coached more than 300 executives in a one-on-one setting. She said that the most common issues she’s had to address with these execs is that what has always worked for them isn’t working for them anymore. As roles change, the approach toward the new set of tasks has to change too.

The higher up the ladder you climb, the more important it is to be nice. Simply being empathetic and listening may be the small adjustments that need to be made. Bigger, broader roles require broader capabilities.

“But they haven’t necessarily learned all the skills they need to be effective in a broader role. So where I ended up helping people often was in relationships with others, and understanding the impact they have on the people around them, cultivating some empathy, learning to listen, learning to give other people the spotlight, learning to work collaboratively.”

Simply being nice can take you a long way – Just ask May. To read the full interview, please click here for the full article.

Post a comment