Software Engineering Manager, Claudia Exeler leads a team building identity verification mechanisms for Facebook. Alongside her technical role, she facilitates workshops on unconscious bias and inclusion, as well as supporting other women at Facebook to improve their public speaking skills.
Why is it so important for managers to give feedback?
It’s a key factor in the growth of your reports, but it’s also important for your own growth – when I’m giving feedback, it forces me to think about how I can get better too, to ask myself: “What could I have done differently in that situation to achieve better results?” Positive feedback obviously feels great – recently one of my reports said I was the best manager they’d worked with. That warm, fuzzy feeling you get is lovely, but it’s more than that – it’s reinforcement; I know that I can continue doing what I’m doing. And that sort of appreciation helps me through more difficult times.
What about less positive feedback? Have you received much? What impact did that have?
Yeah, tons! Someone on my team gave me feedback about the way I was delivering feedback, and it was a key factor in making me conscious about giving positive encouragement more regularly. His delivery was what made it so constructive: Rather than moaning and saying, “You haven’t given me enough praise”, he focussed on describing what had happened over the past week and how the imbalance of constructive to positive feedback had demotivated him. Another example goes back to a time when I was struggling with confidence. A manager said: “It’s okay to feel that way, but showing it could have a negative impact on others.” I realised that if I appeared insecure when answering a question, my team may worry that I’m not doing the right thing. It was a lesson that I have to show up strong for other people, regardless of how I’m feeling inside.
What are your techniques for delivering feedback?
When it comes to constructive feedback, delivery matters a lot. There are various models, but the closest one to what I do is probably ‘Situation, Behaviour, Impact’. It’s essentially describing what happened, the specific behaviour I observed, and the effect it had on me or the team. It’s really just a springboard to a bigger conversation and to encourage someone to think deeper. One of the biggest challenges you can have is giving developmental feedback to someone resistant to hearing it, which is a natural human reaction. It can make us defensive and look for others to blame. One thing I’ve found works well in that situation is to ask that person what it would look like if they had to give that feedback to the person they’re holding responsible. That encourages them to look at their part in the situation, but also to understand that giving and receiving feedback is an essential skill.
Have you ever made any mistakes when delivering feedback?
Definitely! I had a team member who was doing a great job. But I hadn’t been listening enough and I hadn’t heard that internally she was really stressed about how it was all going, so when I pointed out one small thing she could have done differently, it really upset the balance. I’ve also learned that constructive feedback works best if you focus on what you observed and avoid jumping to conclusions about ‘why’ the person behaved that way. The chances are, your interpretation about how they were feeling – or what motivated their behaviour – is wrong. The other thing I’ve realised is that you really have to try to remove ‘yourself’ from the feedback you’re giving. It’s important to examine your own part in the situation, to be aware that something might have been going on for you that made you perceive someone’s behaviour in a certain way. Timing is important too. If you give feedback about a specific situation days later it can make it feel bigger than it needs to, but doing it in the moment can be risky. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a single conversation go well when it’s emotionally charged, so sometimes you do have to take time to get objective.
How important is it to give upwards feedback?
It’s super important but also scary to give feedback to the person who evaluates your performance. But not giving feedback is not a valid response to the fear. At Facebook, our feedback culture means there’s an expectation that managers should receive feedback. How can leaders do their jobs well if they don’t know how their direction is landing on the ground? When I’m feeding upwards, I focus on the effect that something they’ve said or done has had on me or my team. I remind myself that I’m likely not seeing the full picture, and that it’s about giving them that information so they can do the right thing – and we have to trust they will.
How would you describe Facebook’s ‘feedback culture’?
There are the intentional parts – the performance, self- and mid-cycle reviews where you get the 360-feedback from peers and teams. Then there’s the less tangible parts. When you start working at Facebook you quickly see that people just naturally ask for and give a lot of feedback. We receive a lot of training around giving feedback effectively; as managers, we’re responsible for growing our teams’ skills, so giving feedback is a core expectation.
Any advice for someone who isn’t in a feedback culture, whose boss doesn’t give feedback, or delivers it badly?
It might sound funny but I think helping your manager develop their empathy is the most effective thing you can do in that situation. As managers and leaders, we care about our reports – if we give feedback, that’s a sign that we want you to be able to improve. So our starting point should be to assume our boss does care, but they’re not showing it in a way we’d expect. Feedback is a mechanism to build that empathy, because it’s about communicating how a situation made someone feel. I’m in a technical field so I like to think about models of behaviour – though we’re all different, we have common behaviours and reactions and we can help others understand these. So it’s really about training that muscle so that we’re more open and part of that is helping other people be more open too.
Facebook in partnership with everywoman
everywoman and Facebook are partnering on a series of programmes, events and initiatives to engage more women in technology, especially those from under-represented groups. Over the course of the partnership, the two organisations will work closely together to support Facebook’s commitment to broadening gender diversity across their business and across the tech industry overall. This will be supported by showcasing a range of diverse, inspirational role models sharing their career stories.
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