Seeking Performance Feedback … From Your Kids?

Working in Human Resources, I spend a significant part of my day coaching people.  It can be anyone from a peer to a subordinate … from a Lab Technician to the Division General Manager … and topics range from  simple career counselling to the more difficult performance discussions.  At any given point, there can be line in front of my office (I’ve often thought of putting up a sign that says “Take A Number”).

Looking to see what new  coaching tools were “out there”, I attended a Coaching Workshop through Inside Out Coaching earlier this week.  I spent several hours learning their technique and then partnering with other people to practice and apply what I learned.  I had the opportunity to act both as the “coach” as well as the “coachee” and I worked on actual issues (both personal and professional) that I’m dealing with at the moment.  After each practice session, we were asked to self-assess our coaching skills, and then ask our “coachees” to assess us as well. The assessments were based on 3 questions:  What worked well? Where did you get stuck? and What can you do differently next time?  The feedback was quite enlightening (especially when you compare how you think you did vs. how someone else thinks you did!)

On my drive home, I thought about all the opportunities I have to get feedback (solicited or not!)  At work there’s annual reviews, mid year career discussions, or more informal “how am I doing”  talks with my boss and clients.  Then, there’s my friends, who sometimes put feedback into one simple question … “what the hell were you thinking?!”.  That’s when the reality hit me … my most important job is being a mom, and yet I’ve never asked my kids “how am I doing?”

So, the next day I was in the car with my 9 year old son Chaz, driving to his karate class.  I said to him, “Chaz, I was thinking about what it means to be a mom.  I think it means providing for you, teaching you, being responsible for your emotional well being … (and the list went on).  If I asked you, on a scale of 1 to 10, how I’m doing, what would you say?”

I could see the questions written all over his face,  “Are you serious?” and “OK, how much trouble am I going to get into if I answer truthfully?”    I immediately continued and said, “it’s really important for me to know what I’m doing well, where I’m getting stuck, and what you think I could be doing better.  And, I need you to be honest.”

He turned and said, “Mom, you’re an 8.  You would have been a 10, but you don’t get me everything I want, like that last XBox game I asked for.”  I turned and smiled at him.  And then he continued, “You should just keep doing what you’re doing … you’re a great mom.  Oh, yeah … but you could stop burning the food when you cook.”  And he smiled back, left the car and walked into the dojo.

Watching him walk through the parking lot, feeling satisfied with my score of 8, and happy that he thinks I’m doing a good job, I realized that I still wanted more feedback.  I needed someone to tell me that I have to do something differently (aside from not burning dinner.).

So, the next night, while I was having dinner with my  21 year old son, Jay, I recapped the sessions I took through Inside Out coaching and my subsequent revelation that I’ve never asked how I’m doing as a mom.  I then asked him to help me with those same questions … what’s working well, where am I getting stuck, and what could I do better.  Again, I got the “Are you serious?” question (although this time it was a direct question and not simply written on his face!)  Seeing that I was, in fact, serious, he took a deep breath … and then the feedback came.  “OK.  If you really want to know, I would rate you an 8.  Now you want me to tell you why?”

“Of course, that was the whole purpose of the question”, I said, anxiously awaiting for him to continue.

“I think you’re doing a great job.  Where I think you get stuck and where you can do better is in your follow through. I think when you threaten Chaz that you’re going to punish him, you should follow through and not just threaten.  When you do that, he doesn’t think you’re serious and then he continues to do what he wants.”

“OK”, I said.  “Valid point.”

Then he continued …” When you want to say something, stop worrying about coming down strong on us.  You tend to “sugar coat” things.  If you need us to work on something or if you’re upset about something, say what you mean and don’t hold things in.  When you hold it in time after time, it builds up and then you tend to explode down the line.”

Again, I said “Another valid point.  I’ll really try and be aware when I’m doing these things so I can change it.”  And then with a truly satisfied feeling, and with the utmost appreciation for the reality check, I said, “Thanks for the feedback” and kissed the top of his head.

A few minutes later, while passing the salad, he asked, “So, how am I doing as a son?”  I just smiled, knowing that he realized the value in getting feedback.  So, I took the opportunity to let him know what he’s doing really well, and where I think he gets stuck and where he needs to do things a bit differently …

Feedback … it’s a gift.  And even more important when it comes from your kids …

And that’s my two cents … for whatever it’s worth!