“Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will go its whole life believing it is stupid.” This is so true. Over the years I have received feedback from my managers, parents and mentors. Some of the feedback has been very useful and some has been totally useless.
One of the most important roles of a manager is to give the right feedback at the right time. I have seen managers giving feedback only when they are forced due to company policy, say at the annual review. I like to get feedback from a person who is observing me on a daily basis and giving me pointers. Pointing out how to make things better with the right examples and right time would make feedback very useful. I have had my “A-ha” moments with feedback given this way.
The feedback has to be meaningful to the employee. The idea of giving feedback is to help your employees improve themselves. Calling names such as “Bully” or “Stupid” do not give any insight to the employee unless good examples are given. Even worse is when the feedback is contradictory. As an employee getting such feedback, you are left wondering what your manager meant.
A common mistake that I have seen managers make (I am also guilty of this and I see parents making it too) is to try to make their employee someone they are not – making them fit to a preset mold. This brings me to the starting point of this blog – why do we make the fish climb a tree? Why do we try to turn the fish into a monkey? Even if it tried its whole life, it would not excel. Instead, if we believed that each of our employees is a genius and brings a special value to the team and then make full use of their talents, the team will benefit.
I learnt this the hard way when my son was 4 years old. Wanting to make him a math genius, I signed him up for Kumon classes which emphasizes learning math through repetitive activities. I learnt that it is impossible to make my son do repetitive jobs. He is good at math but he cannot learn it the Kumon way. Each person has an inherent personality and talent. I have had to be very creative in recognizing and bringing out his talents.
One piece of feedback I have recently received is that my English is bad. At 40+ years of age, it is going to be very difficult to fix this. I agree that my English isn’t the best, but the bigger question is - is it good enough? I seem to be able to connect to hundreds of people with the language I have. One of the best speakers I know mixes languages almost every other sentence but boy, is she a good speaker!! She kept the 400 people crowd engrossed in her speech. One of the authors I like is Chetan Bhagat. He has very vibrant characters in his stories – he mentions that his language is not technically the best and would never win a Bookers award but his books sell.
As a manager, as a parent you need to get the best out of people. Focus on enhancing people’s positive points. Reiterating what they are incapable of doing is not going to achieve results. If you notice that the feedback to your employee is the same year after year, probably the feedback is not being meaningful to the employee. Make a fish flip and do a somersault in the water but don’t make it a clumsy tree climber. Don’t make the fish think it is stupid because it is a clumsy tree climber. Make it believe it is a great swimmer and can do even better.