Too often the feedback we receive, either solicited or given freely, at work and home is delivered with little tact and therefore ignored or disputed. I recently read an article in the Tribune Review titled “Constructive Feedback Crucial for Career Progress ,” by Chris Posti that provided excellent advice for anyone wishing to advance in their career. It also sheds a light on the subject for managers and supervisors that are often hesitant to provide succinct and timely feedback to their employees. If supervisors wait for the annual review to discuss performance issues it’s often too late and too little to be effective. Feedback is best if it is given tactfully and shortly after the project or performance in question was an issue.
You might be thinking, “What does this have to do with retirement.” Actually a lot. Your annuity is based on your high three average salary and by listening to your supervisor’s feedback you could improve your chances for a future promotion, Quality Within Grade award, or possibly performance based pay increases that will result in a higher monthly retirement annuity down the road. Higher pay also increases your TSP contributions and so on and so on. Core compensation pay systems may offer performance based pay increases.
I was awarded two Quality Within Grade (QWI) increases from two different mangers and numerous performance based core compensation pay increases during my career not to mention a number of promotions. All of which allowed me to retire comfortably at age 55 with 35 year’s service.
If you don’t know what your supervisor expects from you or where you stand with him or her now is an ideal time to find out. It also helps to be open minded when you receive supervisory feedback. Whether or not it is constructive, ask for clarifications to determine what needs to improve and restate what you think they said to make sure you are both on the same track. Then, first and foremost, take actions to improve the results for your next project. Your initiative and motivation will be noticed.
The key word in Chris’ column was “constructive.” It’s easy to criticize someone, it takes effort and thought to do it constructively. When I was a manager with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) I was on both ends of this process and there are many ways of providing helpful feedback. As an employee it is often difficult accepting input that questions how you are accomplishing a task or function. Yet, that feedback – if accepted – can literally change your life for the better. Also, it’s important to realize that feedback is based on a need to improve in something it isn’t necessarily a condemnation of your work. We all have areas that we can improve in.
My first permanent staff position at the Pittsburgh Airway Facilities System Management Office (SMO) was in the training department. I would often write correspondence for Richard Fisher, the SMO manager at the time and more often than not my initial draft would be returned redlined with comments in the margins. This was before computers and word processors and I would have to manually retype the revised correspondence for Richard’s approval. In those days we used carbon copies! At first it wasn’t unusual for the second draft to be rejected and as time went on fewer drafts were returned. I admit that it was frustrating at times and I questioned the process. However, Richard’s feedback helped make me the writer I am today and after 26 books and thousands of articles I still find typos and errors in everything I write.
A less astute manager would have simply said, “This memorandum isn’t acceptable – rewrite it!.” Does this sound familiar to anyone? The redline and comments were a form of mentoring (thoughtful and constructive feedback). Taking the time to do that helped me improve my writing skills and focus on the underlying issues that concerned my manager. He didn’t just throw it back on my desk with an exclamation point drawn on it.
A smart manager provides the feedback, training, and guidance necessary to improve an employee’s performance for the benefit of the entire organization. Sure it takes time and effort, however that time and effort upfront makes life easier down the road. My manager could have simply rewrote the memorandum each time and gave it to his secretary to type. Then, during my annual review advised me that my writing skills were insufficient. If he would have done that he wouldn’t have been doing his job. If you don’t help your employees improve you are failing as a supervisor or manager.
That being said, if after sending me constant revisions, and my rewrites continued to be rejected time after time; yes my performance would have been unacceptable. In this case a manager should look for training to improve that employees performance. That is why career development is such a key issue for an organization and if taken seriously can dramatically improve an organization’s performance. That is why I developed and launched www.fedcareerinfo.com , our Federal Employee’s Career Development Center. Federal employees, supervisors, and managers can use this free site to assess where they are at now, target positions, and complete a comprehensive career development plan using our free downloadable forms.
After receiving several memorandum rejects I signed up for a report writing course at a local community college and put this on my career development plan. My immediate supervisor approved the additional training and the FAA paid 50% of my tuition as long as I maintained a C or better final grade.
Chris suggests that, “to do it often, and in small bites makes it more palatable and an expected part of your routine.” I agree, when a fire starts to burn you want to put it out NOW, not wait until the entire structure is involved.
Throughout my career I was able to use my writing skills to my and the agencies advantage. When computers were first coming into their own I purchased a Commodore 64 to replace my Vic 20 and completed many of my FAA reports on my home computer since we didn’t have anything comparable at work.
This subject extends into retirement as well. How do you handle feedback from a spouse or significant others? Often times it may not be constructive due to the emotions, situation, or due to the personality of the provider. Issues such as these take even more tact because there isn’t a supervisor/employee relationship. Instead, you are both on an equal footing. This is where you have to consider the other’s unique personality and way they deal with issues.
Active listening is the key. We often enter conversations with preconceived notions and tend to mentally block the others viewpoint and opinions because we already know what we want to do or the way we desire to proceed. This is where listening is so important yet so often ignored. I can attest first hand as to just how myopic one can become and yet how off track the outcome can be when you don’t truly listen to your partner and sincerely consider their opinions and feelings.
Case in point. About four years before retiring we built a new home. My wife really didn’t want to move at the time. I convinced her to proceed. It was a new plan and we both wanted a first floor bedroom and laundry, a walkout basement with garages on the first floor, and a smaller maintainable yard. During the initial lot auction I didn’t get our first choice and I decided on what I thought to be the perfect lot. At the time there were just woods behind us and the builder assured us that the land would never be developed. My wife expressed her reservations suggesting that she thought others would eventually build there and the site wouldn’t accommodate first floor garages or a first floor bedroom.
My wife and the salesmen suggested another lot up the street. I didn’t think it was a good selection because of the small hill behind it. We built the home on the lot I selected and sure enough 4 years later the owner of the land behind us sold to a developer. The lot my wife liked would have given us most of what we initially wanted and ended up being the perfect lot. The owner had the small hill leveled and they were able to put a two car attached garage on the property.
I didn’t listen in this case and learned a valuable lesson. We’ve since moved to another home that we both agreed was the best for both of us.
Feedback, often so feared, is actually good for you. You just need to know how to handle it and not take it as a personal attack. Success is built on many failures, and those who are not willing to try and possibly fail will never succeed.
Long Term Care Update
We have until September 30, 2016 to make any changes to our Long Term Care coverage before the higher rates kick in. I faxed my wife’s and my election forms this week. We both selected the Reduced Benefit to maintain our current premiums. After some research and much discussion we felt it the best selection for us. We will still each have just over a $200,000 lifetime benefit, about $194 a day, for three years. Our premiums are $71.56 and $76.67 each month respectively. My article titled Long Term Care – The Other Shoe Drops!  talks about the increase and our options.
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Disclaimer: Opinions expressed herein by the author are not an investment or benefit recommendation and are not meant to be relied upon in investment or benefit decisions. The author is not acting in an investment, tax, legal, benefit, or any other advisory capacity. This is not an investment or benefit research report. The author’s opinions expressed herein address only select aspects of various federal benefits and potential investment in securities of the TSP and companies mentioned and cannot be a substitute for comprehensive investment analysis. Any analysis presented herein is illustrative in nature, limited in scope, based on an incomplete set of information, and has limitations to its accuracy. The author recommends that retirees, potential and existing investors conduct thorough investment and benefit research of their own, including detailed review of OPM guidance for benefit issues and for investments the companies’ SEC filings, and consult a qualified investment advisor. The information upon which this material is based was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but has not been independently verified. Therefore, the author cannot guarantee its accuracy. Any opinions or estimates constitute the author’s best judgment as of the date of publication, and are subject to change without notice. The author explicitly disclaims any liability that may arise from the use of this material.
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