In business, as in life, you sometimes have to tell someone something they don’t want to hear. The difference is that in your personal life it’s possible, though inadvisable, to avoid these difficult conversations. Businesses – and business people – who do the same rarely last long.
Getting it right matters. A great manager turns these potentially awkward moments into win-win opportunities; in the hands of an incompetent boss, difficult conversations become disastrous ones.
3G Capital is perhaps not the first place you’d look for best practice in the old giving-feedback department. The Brazilian-American investor has earned a reputation as a robust employer, buying and consolidating underperforming businesses like Burger King, Kraft Heinz and the antecedents of AB InBev, and driving them into profit.
It’s a tough environment – 3G is famous for substantial cost-cutting, and there have been many lay-offs over the years – but that doesn’t mean it’s hostile or unfair. Unlike some of the less savoury private equity companies that buy cheap, cut costs and sell high, 3G holds onto its firms and, by and large, keeps delivering results. One suspects they’re getting something right.
Elias Diaz, northern Europe MD for Kraft Heinz, has been in 3G-owned companies for nine years, having previously been global CEO of Canadian donut chain Tim Hortons and president of Burger King Asia. In the first of several interviews with Management Today, he shares the lessons of good feedback, 3G style.
"When I came to Kraft Heinz in 2017, I met this team member, and I thought this is probably one of the smartest guys I have met in years. I was astonished when I heard him, when I challenged him. But he could only work in a zoo.
"He couldn’t work with people, he couldn’t manage people, he couldn’t collaborate with people or motivate people. He didn’t care, he was just thinking about his career and delivering EBITDA.
"I said look, I know you have a great reputation in the company, and you want to be a leader, but I couldn’t care less – you won’t work with me. I was extremely hard, because I could see he was going to be a cancer for collaboration and the team we were building together.
"But he’s very smart. I explained what he needed and he understood. He’s on the right path now. You see him now, he’s leading his team, he has much bigger responsibilities, he’s building empathy and not leaving anyone behind. Without hesitation he could in the future be CEO of Kraft Heinz or any other company because he’s got everything, he knows how to drive performance while bringing people with him."
The three rules of feedback
"The first lesson is to prepare. It can be the worst thing to receive feedback from someone who isn’t prepared, who’s reactive, who just says ‘hey you, you need to do better in this’.
"No, no, no – it’s ‘you could do better in this because of this, and this is going to help you achieve it, because I’ve seen it on this particular occasion and that particular occasion’. And preparation takes time. Sit down on a quiet day with a pen and paper, block time off and think.
"The second rule to deliver good feedback is to be honest. It’s not easy to deliver honest, constructive feedback – it’s not easy with your kids, with your spouse, as a human being, to tell someone they need to improve, but you absolutely need to be honest.
"The third thing, which is really, really important, is to listen. Not just to the immediate reaction of the person receiving the feedback, but their reaction the following day, the following week, the following month. Because if I give feedback and you don’t understand it, or you disagree with it, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle and I need to know that."
Image credit: Kraft Heinz