Hi John,

I am a brand new SE Manager, and am directly in charge of a fairly large group of multi-cultural and multi-national SE’s. Each SE has a different level of experience and widely differing skill sets. I am often placed in the position of having to coach them, and also having to provide feedback to other individuals who don’t even directly work for me. It’s really hard work and I am constantly worried about offending or demotivating one of my employees. We are a small company who cannot afford to make mistakes in sales execution, so how do I balance fairness and compassion with getting the job done and helping my entire team to improve? Help.

S.B – Sydney, Australia.


Hi S.B.,

Thanks for your question, and I’m sure there are many new (and not so new) SE leaders out there grappling with the same question!.

I feel that you have taken the most important first step – which is to ask for help. Here are some ideas:

Idea #1:  Approach your local HR department and see if there is any training or assistance they can provide. Remember that there is no 100%perfect way to provide feedback, what’s most important is that you sound authentic and concerned about the employee. For example, many US HR teams teach the “start with 2-3 positive items, then cover 1-2 things that need to be improved and finish on something positive.” That’s very formulaic, most employees can see it coming a mile away and is affectionately known as the “s%^& sandwich”. So whatever you do make it sound like you, and not like a book or a training manual.

Idea #2: This month I read The Culture Map by Erin Meyer . Possibly the best book I have yet read which covers the cultural differences between countries and also provides some how and why style answers. Definitely worth a read.

Idea #3: There was an interesting study conducted by Dan Coyle which measured the impact of feedback that teachers had with their students. They discovered that prefacing the feedback with “I am giving you these comments because I have (very) high expectations of you, and I know that you can reach them.” had amazingly positive results. It sparked trust, signaled belonging and signaled standards and being able to achieve them. He christened it “wise feedback”.

Idea #4: When placed in a similar situation I would always acknowledge our differences and then say something like “typically when I provide feedback I …” and then explain how it works. I’d always emphasize “please focus on the content of the feedback and not how you perceive it being delivering or what is not being said“.

Idea #5: With many individuals you can directly ask them how they would prefer to hear feedback. Of course, in some cultures that may be seen as a sign of a weak manager or they will tell you what they think you want to hear….

Idea #6: Speak to other leaders within your company (and outside of it) and see what works for them. One of the primary rules for an SE is CASE – Copy And Steal Everything – no reason that cannot apply to leadership skills as well.

Good luck. Although striving for 100% perfect and on-point feedback is a great target, you will make some mistakes. How you are seen to handle those can, in many cases, define how you are seen as a leader.

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