How Should CIOs Give Negative Feedback?

It's critical the CIOs give negative feedback, but they need to do it correctly
It’s critical the CIOs give negative feedback, but they need to do it correctly
Image Credit: Daniel Friedman

We’ve all been there. All of a sudden we realize that someone in the IT department has failed to deliver on a commitment that they made to us that has something to do with the importance of information technology. As the person with the CIO job, it is now going to be your job to give them negative feedback so that they know that they have failed. You’d really like to find a way to avoid repeating whatever went wrong in the first place. Additionally, your biggest fear is that by providing negative feedback you are going to end up damaging your relationship with this person and you’ll be left with an even bigger problem than you already have. How can the person in the CIO position effectively provide negative feedback?

Don’t Wait

So just exactly how soon after an event occurs do you think that the CIO should pull the person aside and share some negative feedback with them? It turns out that there is no one correct answer to this question. It’s really going to come down to having you determine what your current emotional state is. If the issue has made you upset, then you are probably going to want to take some time to cool down.

This may not always be the case. If you think that you are in control of how you feel about what has happened, then you should feel free to move ahead and start to conversation as soon as possible. One of the things that you want to remember is that you should probably wait no later than a single day. The reason is because the longer that you wait, the less effective your feedback is going to turn out to be. The reason for this is because the person that you’ll be giving the feedback to won’t remember it to the same degree. It will not be fresh in their minds.

Ask Permission

As you can well imagine, nobody out there is really going to be walking around hoping that someone will take them aside and give them some negative feedback. To get around this fact of life, you are going to need to start things off by asking the person that you’ll be talking with for their permission for you to provide them with feedback.

The reason that you are going to want to go to the effort of asking for permission to provide feedback is because if you don’t, then the person is not going to be open to listening to what you have to tell them. This of course leads to the question of what you should do if you ask permission to give feedback and the other person says “no”. In this case you need to shut up. You need to understand that the reason that you’ll be giving feedback is to create a change in the person’s behavior. However, if they are not willing to change than your feedback is not going to do them any good.

Share Your Understanding

The reason that you feel compelled to provide the other person with negative feedback is because you feel that they have not done something that they promised to do. However, as we all know – sometimes we are wrong. The one thing that we wouldn’t want to do is to deliver a lot of negative feedback and then discover that because of a misunderstanding on our part, the entire conversation had not been necessary.

Since you are the person who will be sharing the negative feedback, you’ll always be the person who starts the conversation. After you share your understanding of what happened, you need to be sure to pause for a moment an ask the person if your understanding is their understanding. While you are having this conversation, you are going to have to make sure that you do not come across as appearing to blame the other person. If you do this, then they may shut down and will stop listening to you.

What All Of This Means For You

If there is one job that none of us with the CIO job ever wants to do then it is to be the person who has to deliver negative feedback. However, if someone in the IT department does not deliver on something that they promised to do, then it is your responsibility to let them know that they have made a mistake. How you go about doing this can play a big role in what your relationship with this person is going to be like going forward.

One of the most important parts about giving negative feedback has to do with how soon after the event you give the feedback. If the incident has gotten you all worked up, take a break and perhaps sleep on it. Have the discussion tomorrow. If you think that you have your emotions under control, then feel free to pull the person aside and have the discussion right now. Before you start to share your negative feedback with someone, first ask their permission to share your information with them. This will make them more receptive to what you have to tell them. If they say no, then walk away – they’ll never listen to what you have to say. There is always the possibility that your understanding of what happened is different from theirs. You need to explain your understanding of what happened first and make sure that they agree with you.

There are parts of the CIO job that everyone looks forward to, and then there are the other parts. Providing the people who work for you with negative feedback is never easy to do. However, it is a critical part of both your job and their career. You need to learn how to accomplish this task successfully. Use what we’ve discussed and the next time that you have to provide negative feedback make sure that it is well received.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: How much time do you think that you should take in order to provide negative feedback?

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