Overcoming ‘Watermelon Effect’ in Managerial Feedback


By Arvind D. Katageri February 6, 2018

Steve is manager of a team of 12 brilliant youngsters. He is extremely proud of the way he has managed the team for last six months. He values each team member as a gem and appreciates their contribution regularly. Furthermore, he spends substantial amount of time in planning their development. 

So he was shocked and surprised when he received the resignations of two of his team members and found out the reason was 'lack of feedback'.

This is not a unique issue. Many managers who lead teams of millennials believe that a simple 'great job' comment and regular positive feedback will keep the team motivated and productive. While this might seem to be true, candidness about improvement areas will definitely help the cause of aspiring team members who are on the mission of continuous growth. Many a times, in fact, managers feel the need to offer tough feedback to team members. However, some don't because they think the members will feel 'bad' or 'hurt'. This is the classic "Watermelon Effect" of feedback when managers offer only good feedback and hide the real feedback from members, i.e., they feel 'red' from inside, but continue to appear 'green' from outside.

In today's world of instant gratification with 'like' buttons everywhere, employees everywhere are coated with this effect.  The reality is that, in many global organizations, performance feedback has moved from an annual process to an everyday occurrence or is on the way of becoming one. The irony is that many managers have yet to understand the concept of feedback. The Watermelon effect makes it further challenging. Below is 'ABCD' tip for overcoming the "Watermelon Effect" in managerial feedback:

Acknowledge Feelings: Giving feedback on improvement areas is a challenging phase of the feedback process. Acknowledge your own feelings and create space for team members to experience feelings too, rather than suppress or conceal them. Members take a 'stance' not due to logic but for emotions during the process. Acknowledgement of feelings helps in creating a non-threatening environment which facilitates openness and honesty in the discussion. Considering the discussion more as a dialogue than a responsibility will help in developing this skill. Remember to give opportunities to members to share their side of the story and listen with intent. Managers, many a times, tumble when exercising their position power and tend to force their feedback. Managers should acknowledge feelings:

  • Before the discussion - in anticipation
  • During the meeting throughout the discussion, and
  • After the discussion for a better impact.

Be Candid: As anxious as the team member is when receiving tough feedback, equally anxious is the manager offering it. To overcome this anxiety, prepare for the discussion in advance and be ready with the feedback flow from your side. The suggestion is not to script the feedback, but to have clarity of the process to be followed during the feedback. Be prepared with:

  • Why are you giving the feedback?
  • What is the feedback? Why offering this feedback is unavoidable?
  • What evidence do you have to emphasize on the feedback?
  • How is it impacting the individual, team and your objective? What are the adverse impacts of continued behavior to the individual, the team and the objective?

At no point should the member feel that the feedback is irrelevant and that he or she is being targeted or made a scapegoat of. Rather, the member should be clear of the reason why the feedback being offered. This will improve the acceptance and the probability of improvement.

Coach - Feed forward - Using the feed forward method will give a feeling to the member that, as a manager, you find the behavior unacceptable, but that you are equally interested in entering into a partnership to improve the behavior. Managers have to play the role of coaches during this part of the feedback process. Feed forward is an empowering method to reach the desired goal. It helps the member arrive at specific behaviors to be practiced in the future. In this method:

  • The member does not feel victimized and participates respectfully with the manager to find options to improve, before zeroing-in on a few behaviors to be adopted.
  • This ensures smooth facilitation of the change management process and aids in improving engagement of the member.
  • It eliminates the member and manager entering into more stressful discussions due to frequent and continuous dialoguing.

Do it more often - giving feedback and being comfortable with it is a performing art. The more one does it, the better one becomes. Realize that it is for the benefit of all and you are not deriving any sadistic pleasure through this process. Doing it more often will improve the manager's comfort with the process, enhance self-confidence and augment self-esteem. This will also help the manager to innovate the feedback process to make it purposeful and meaningful for themselves and the members. It will give multiple reasons to members to come to work and develop satisfaction as they see improvement in their performance. Members will learn to be more independent and will be ready to experiment in day-to-day work. They are sure that in case of any deviation, the manager will emerge as a disciplined yet constructively helpful Samaritan. Won't you like to contribute to creating an amazing workplace?

Feedback discussions are often considered traumatic and are avoided. How harmful it is when we know the adverse impact of "Watermelon Effect" and still fall prey to it. One need not be shouting and screaming while giving feedback. How heartening it is to know that even toughest of the discussions can be managed by staying calm and being prepared. Next time when you face a difficult yet unavoidable discussion, do remember the ABCD method of giving feedback use it as an opportunity to create extraordinary performers.    

About the author: Arvind works as Senior Manager at Centre for Behavioral Excellence (CBE), Talent Transformation, Wipro Limited. 


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