Jeff Weiner learned firsthand the potential pitfalls of dolling out take-it-or-leave-it input to team members.
Several years ago, Weiner learnt that when he offered what he saw as casual feedback about something, like a proposed product update, the team working on it would automatically assume that his off-hand suggestion was an order. His comment would turn into a “massively disruptive fire drill” as the team scrambled to make whatever change they thought their boss required.
“Up until that moment, I had no idea my opinion was being weighted so heavily,” he writes in a LinkedIn post.
From that point on, Weiner used a new system that would help make it clear what he actually expected when offering feedback.
Any feedback from the CEO is designated into one of three categories: one person’s opinion, strong suggestion, or mandate. Weiner, either in conversation or over email, will make the distinction about what kind of statement he’s making to stay on the same page and avoid confusion.
One person’s opinion means he’s sharing “an anecdotal opinion where the input is to be treated as coming from just one user/customer/member of the team.” His title and authority doesn’t come into the equation with this kind of comment.
A strong suggestion carries greater weight than one person’s opinion, but “still falls short of telling the team what to do.” When Weiner offers a strong suggestion, he is drawing on his experience, but trying to provide the team with space to take risks. This type of feedback requires both sides to have an open mind.
A mandate is an actual order. “Issuing mandates when it makes sense can pay huge dividends by enabling the company to avoid prohibitively costly mistakes,” Weiner writes. “However, issue them too often or without the right justification and there is no faster way to signal your lack of trust and demotivate the team. Try to use this category sparingly (if at all).”
Weiner says the system he uses is especially helpful with new employees who aren’t used to his feedback style or frequency.