Questions to ask when obtaining feedback from an underperforming direct report

In Radical Candor, Kim Scott explains how almost any organization — whatever its size and nature may be — can “defy the gravitational pull of organizational mediocrity.” The ultimate goal of what she characterizes as Radical Candor “is to achieve results collaboratively that could never be achieved individually.” Scott focuses on two dimensions:

“The first dimension is about more than ‘just professional.’ It’s about giving a damn, sharing more than just your work self, and encouraging everyone who reports to you to do the same. It’s not enough to care only about people’s ability to perform a job. To have a good relationship, you have to be your whole self and care about each of the people who work for you as a human being. It’s not just business; it is personal, and [begin] deeply [end] personal. I call this dimension ‘Care Personally.’”

“The second dimension involves telling people when their work isn’t good enough — and when it is; when they are not going to get that new role they wanted, or when you’re going to hire a new boss ‘over’ them; when the results don’t justify further investment in what they’re working on. Delivering hard feedback, making hard calls about who does what on a team, and holding a high bar for results — isn’t that obviously the job of any manager?…And yet challenging people is often the best way to show them you care when you’re the boss. This dimension I call ‘Challenge Directly.’”

Asking the right questions effectively is among the most important, yet least appreciated core competencies, especially with regard to supervisors. It is also noteworthy that according to the results of major research studies of a face-to-face interactions, Body language and tone of voice have 80-85% of the impact; what is actually said is only about 15-20%.

These are among the questions Scott recommends to supervisors when seeking feedback from an underperforming direct report:

“I know you are determined to produce the results we need. What can I do to make that easier for you? For example, What do you need that you don’t have now?”

“Have there been any unexpected problems?”

“Any pleasant surprises?”

“To what extent do you feel limited by someone or something else?”

“Is there something else you would much rather be doing?”

Jony Ivie once observed, “new ideas are fragile.” The same is true of direct reports when they feel challenged or threatened.

I also highly recommend Power Questions in which Andrew Sobel and Jerold Panas identify and discuss “essential” questions that can obtain information that will help to achieve these three separate but interdependent objectives: build relationships, win new business, and influence others.

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Kim Scott is the co-founder and CEO of Candor, Inc., which builds tools to make it easier to follow the advice she offers in the book. She is also the author of three novels. To learn more about her and her work, please click here.

Radical Candor was published by St. Martin’s Press (March 2017)

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