Performance Management Lessons With Mr. Feeny

Lately I’ve been binge watching a lot of television. Truthfully, I’m always binge watching a lot of television, but I’ve been into one particular show as of late: Boy Meets World.

 This 90s family sitcom/dramedy was one of my favorites as a teenager when I watched reruns on Disney Channel. Now, as an adult, I‚Äôm taking full advantage of its recent premiere on Hulu streaming services to relive the seven-season story.

The charm I found in it as a teenager is still there, but there’s one dynamic of the show that I’m picking up on more as an adult who exists in the corporate world than I did as a high school student who existed in the junior academic world; and that’s the relationship between principal/schoolteacher George Feeny and student/protagonist Cory Matthews.

Particularly in the early seasons when the teacher/student dynamic is very much on display between these two characters, there’s an odd thing that keeps happening. Cory will fail in some way—he’ll get a bad grade on a test, turn in a half-done project, get caught not paying attention—and the automatic response from Mr. Feeny will be to start lecturing Corey…in front of the entire class.

To be fair, the lectures include some valuable wisdom. There’s a reason Mr. Feeny is known to be one of the best onscreen teachers in modern media. But anyone with any experience in managing people (whether it be employees or students) would have to disagree with the pro advice giver’s methods.

Taking a look at the situation through a talent lens, consider what this situation would look like in your office. An employee misses a deadline or goofs off in an important meeting; your reaction as a manager is to start coaching the employee in front of the rest of your team?

I don’t think so.

Check these ways to ensure you aren‚Äôt managing like Mr. Feeny 

  1. (And it‚Äôs a big number one) Take your coaching behind closed doors. 

    Feeny always takes the public-facing approach, and in turn gains many reactions from fellow students who are observing his coaching of Cory. In reaction to this public forum approach, Cory typically reacts with a snarky comment, trying to out-amuse his teacher. After watching this occur a few times, as well as having been the victim of a public talking-to more than once, you can’t really blame him. The problem with coaching someone in front of a group of people is that they’re much more likely to rush to the defense. You won’t get through to them because they’re trying harder to maintain their status in front of the group than they are listening to what you’re saying, no matter how valuable it might be. For this reason, pull your employee out of the open office floor plan you probably have and into a private room.

  2. Don‚Äôt make it obvious when you‚Äôre going behind closed doors to coach. 

    A wise leader of mine once said, ‚ÄúYou should hold every meeting behind closed doors. That way, no one will ever question why you‚Äôre closing the door for any particular meeting.‚Äù It‚Äôs advice I think we all should live by. If you never close the door unless a meeting is serious, you‚Äôre letting everyone know each time there is a serious meeting taking place. Many times during Boy Meets World, Mr. Feeny will make it very clear that he‚Äôs about to start a teaching moment with Cory and Cory immediately clams up. People instinctively get nervous when they know feedback is coming, so making it seem as non-threatening as possible will help you provide a better feedback experience. 

  3. Understand that coaching isn’t about you – it’s about the person you’re coaching.

    As wonderful as the life lessons Mr. Feeny taught were, the way in which they‚Äôre served often come off as grandstanding. The moments that are meant to teach Cory often end up being moments for Mr. Feeny to shine. As a manager, your job isn‚Äôt to show off your managing chops for yourself‚Äîit‚Äôs to use those managing chops in order to coach your employees and make them shine. The focus of a coaching session should never be about you. If you leave a feedback meeting and feel more proud of what you said than how your employee reacted and worked through the feedback with you, you‚Äôve done it wrong.

No matter how good the message you’re preaching is, you won’t make anywhere near as much of an impact as you could if it’s not delivered in the right way. Mr. Feeny knew a lot, but he didn’t ever tap into that nugget of knowledge—maybe if he had, he would have gotten through to Cory more (even though it would have made for a much more boring show).

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