Saturday, December 1, 2012

McKinsey's culture of negative feedback - you're probably not performing as badly as you think

Are you getting a lot of negative feedback and constructive criticism from your McKinsey boss?  Is it making you feel like you're underperforming and disappointing your supervisor?

In this post I'll explain the culture of frequent and often negative feedback at McKinsey and why you're probably not performing as poorly as you think





CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM VS. NEGATIVE FEEDBACK

McKinsey views feedback as a critical tool for professional development and performance improvement.  Our consultants get a lot of it and there is a tremendous emphasis on pointing out "development opportunities".  Unfortunately, what is meant to be constructive criticism can get lost in all the negative feedback.  Since McKinsey consultants are constantly being reminded of how they could be performing better, all of these development opportunities - taken as a whole - can feel overwhelmingly negative.

DON'T EXPECT A PAT ON THE BACK - HIGH PERFORMANCE IS TABLE STAKES

While McKinsey consultants receive plenty of constructive criticism, it is less common to receive any positive feedback.  If it happens, it's going to be specific and actionable, in accordance with the McKinsey feedback model.  As a result, it's uncommon to get unprompted, positive recognition like "you're doing a great job on this project" or "I really appreciate having you on the team" from McKinsey leadership.  Your McKinsey boss probably thinks you're doing great and does value your work, and hopefully they're not ungrateful.  It's just that they're coming from a culture where excellent day-to-day performance is expected, not celebrated.

RATIO OF POSITIVE TO NEGATIVE FEEDBACK

There is an interesting Harvard Business Review article that cites research suggesting that higher performing teams have a significantly higher ratio of positive to negative feedback (5.6 : 1) than their lower performing counterparts.  Based on personal experience and anecdotal evidence, I'd say the ratio at McKinsey is reversed.  Most consultants probably receive 5 to 6 pieces of negative feedback for each positive one.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU

I hope this post has been able to shed some light on why you might feel bombarded by constructive criticism and negative feedback.  Your McKinsey boss is probably either unaware this is an issue or has the best intentions and is trying to develop you develop and improve.  You can either try to recalibrate and try to take the criticism as coaching or give your supervisor some upward feedback - something that is accepted and encouraged at McKinsey

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