Be the Bigger Person When Receiving Feedback

feedbackGiving quality feedback in a respectful way can be hard. Receiving feedback in a respectful way is even harder. (Even receiving positive feedback for some is difficult.) After receiving negative feedback in particular do you notice you have heightened negative emotions or niggling thoughts that linger long afterwards? That just shows you care.

When I refer to feedback, I mean any information that is given to you about your own behavior, communication, or performance that is intended to make you aware of how you impacted someone else – whether good or bad. However, I’ll focus on receiving negative feedback, which feels harder to swallow.

 

“We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.”
Bill Gates

As a business leader, you probably find yourself being the formal giver of feedback more often than a formal receiver of it. Still, there are many opportunities to receive feedback. You can solicit feedback from individuals, via employee surveys, or through a 360-degree feedback process. You may also receive unsolicited feedback from anyone you work with.

Positioning yourself as a good receiver of feedback can be very powerful for you personally and as a role model for your company. It really boils down to being the “bigger” person when receiving feedback.

If possible, you can practice receiving feedback on your terms by creating the best conditions possible to get feedback. These are situations where you have a lot of control by choosing the following: (1) the specific feedback you want (2) a non-threatening setting in which to receive the feedback, (3) and people who respect and trust to provide the feedback. Even under these conditions, it can still be hard to receive negative feedback, but these might be the best conditions for practicing the following tips for receiving unsolicited, negative feedback:

1. Keep your ego in check.

Even if you are high up the food chain, you aren’t perfect and are not above making improvements. To avoid getting your ego too involved, frame the intentions of the feedback giver in the best possible light. What are their good intentions for giving you feedback?

2. Keep your power in check.

Be aware of any power differential in your relationship with the feedback giver, especially if you have more positional power. It’s important to keep emotions down, or you risk having a chilling effect on getting future feedback. If you feel yourself getting angry, defensive, snarky, or deflecting blame back on the other person, this can be magnified by your power. Or heightened emotions may d really be signaling your insecurity around the feedback topic.

3. Gauge your intention vs. impact.

Based on the feedback, how big is the gap between how you thought you were coming across and the impact you had on others? For most feedback, this the heart of the matter, or the point of the feedback. Take stock. It is, however, harder to gauge if you don’t respect the person’s opinion.

4. Accept the feedback graciously.

To do this, be quiet and listen without arguing. Avoid minimizing the person’s opinion, turning the tables on them to give THEM feedback, or disputing the feedback. Maintain neutral facial expressions and body language, and at the end, simply thank the person for their input. You may ask clarifying questions if necessary to understand the circumstances, or you may ask for specific tips you could employ to do better next time.

5. Consider the feedback.

You don’t have to accept all feedback as true of helpful. Take time in the subsequent days or weeks to decide what feedback to accept or reject. You may want to test the feedback with others you trust or validate the feedback by noticing your behaviors in similar situations going forward.

6. Circle back to the person.

When you circle back, you do so in the spirit of letting them know you’ve been considering the feedback and to thank them again for their candor. You are not obligated to report on what you’re doing about it. Just touching base with them again lets them know there are no hard feelings and serves as a good model for receiving feedback without letting it adversely affect work relationship.

Finding out you’ve fallen short of someone’s expectations can be hard. It’s just an indication of the degree to which you do care about being the best you can be. However, you show your colleagues and employees how to be a great leader when you can practice what you preach and give feedback as good as you get it.

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations by gaining greater focus, self-awareness, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

A Simple 2-Step Assessment to Manage Your Team

team performanceIt’s easy to simply react to the day-to-day grind.  Before most managers know it, they can find themselves in a situation where key talent has left their teams.  Additionally, managers may realize they have the wrong people in the wrong positions for the wrong reasons.

Managers Need “Monovision”


The concept of Lasik surgery for eyes is familiar to many.  With Lasik, there is an option called “monovision”, which allows the patient to have one eye adjusted for seeing things close up and the other eye adjusted for seeing things far away.  The same concept applies to managers as they keep an eye on their teams:  the manager must focus both on individuals and on the team as a whole. 

Flexing Focus Between Individual and Team is Critical

Getting to know employees as individuals is important and assists managers in setting specific expectations for each individual regarding personal performance, compensation, and career path.  However, many managers do not spend time taking stock of the team as a whole to ensure that the mix of current talent and future potential is working well to position the organization for success in the future. 

A Simple Assessment Can Make All the Difference

This simple exercise can give managers clarity about the current team configuration and provide insight about what the manager must do to create and maintain key team talent into the future.

Managers can take these 2 steps to get a good picture regarding overall team status:


Step 1: Reflect on the relative rank of the employee’s performance with the rest of the employees as a whole.  Is the employee in the top 10%?  Top 25%?  In the middle? Or in bottom 10%, etc.?

Step 2: Record each employee’s potential, using terms to reflect what the future might hold for him.   Is he “Struggling”? “In the right place”? “Needs challenge”? “Ready to Advance”? “Future executive”?, etc.  Use whatever phrases are relevant to your organization.

Based on this simple 2-step assessment, a manager can discern support required for individuals’ career development while gauging the overall strength and career trajectory of the team.  From here, the manager can create a plan for addressing individual as well as overall team needs.

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman is the advisor for senior leaders who want to get clear and focused to create increased productivity and profitability in their organizations. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at: bethstrathman.com.

7 Questions to Engage Employees

Team camaraderieEngaging and mobilizing employees can feel like a daunting challenge. However, a few simple management behaviors can make a huge difference to improve engagement.

For instance, many employees are frustrated because they feel like they have to read their manager’s mind. They don’t know how they are doing or how they can do better. The annual performance evaluation is sometimes an employee’s only chance to find out.  Yet, that event is so stressful and formal that the interaction between employee and manager usually is not conducive to meaningful improvements.

Spans of control contribute to the problem

This situation is not completely the fault of management. In some organizations, spans of control have become so large that managers have to complete formal performance reviews every three or four days.

The solutions are simpler than you might think

There are many simple, inexpensive strategies to engage and mobilize employees. They can be put into place immediately and have huge impact.

For instance, one opportunity that many leaders fail to take advantage of – even at the C-level – is to give more frequent, informal feedback about how each employee is doing. By doing so, everyone in an organization knows what is expected of them and how they can get better.

The seven questions

At bottom, there are seven simple questions every leader must answer and communicate to employees. Frequency counts. Having small, informal conversations with employees about performance at common sense junctures goes a long way – especially when these conversations include teachable moments about different situations and details.

The questions every manager should reflect on for each employee include:

1.      What do I expect from you?

We all know that setting expectations is a basic supervisory skill, yet many managers still don’t do it well.  They take for granted that employees have the same work knowledge and work standards in mind as they do.  You’ll be surprised at how much you will learn about employee perceptions when you discuss your expectations with them.

2.      What are you doing well?

Managers know, too, that they should acknowledge and thank employees for the things they are doing well.  However, with the hectic pace of today’s workplace, many managers don’t take the time to do this.

3.      What, if anything, can you be doing better?

Good employees want to know how they can continue to improve their contribution to the organization.  Marginal employees need to know this.  Be prepared to use work examples that help illustrate the difference between what the employee is doing now and what it would look like if they were doing even better.

4.      What, if anything, do I want you to do better?

Similar to the previous question, this request gives the employee more information about your perception of where they must apply their energy and focus to be more successful.  After all, if the manager is the one with making the decision about how well the employee is doing, know what you as manager think is required is good insight for the employee to have.

5.      (If appropriate): What will happen if you improve (e.g., more responsibility, more time with leadership, more desirable assignments)?

For your high potentials and superstars, this question leads to the discussion of career paths and opportunity.

6.      (If appropriate): What will happen if you don’t improve?

For marginal and low-performing employees, this question can lead to a candid and transparent discussion of what is at stake and in store for them if they don’t bring their performance up to snuff.  This lets the employee “see the freight train coming”, so if they don’t improve, they will be less likely to be surprised if they are demoted or let go down the road.

7.      How can I help?

Offering reasonable assistance to an employee – whether a low- or high-performer — to meet or exceed your expectations lets them know that you are not simple the judge and jury.  You are there to help them succeed if they are willing to go for it.

While all of these questions are important, the last question is especially important. It shows the employee that the leader cares, and is not merely abdicating responsibility or shifting blame.

And remember:  These questions should come up throughout the year – not just when you do the formal performance review.

For more information about engaging and mobilizing employees and to take my FREE Self-Assessment about how well you are engaging and mobilizing, click here.

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman is the advisor for senior leaders who want to get clear and focused and see better results in productivity and profitability in their organizations. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at: bethstrathman.com.

co-dependent manager

Enabling Versus Empowering in the Workplace

Do you have employees who are poor performers or who don’t get along with others and who have been in your company for too long?  Why?

There is no reason why you should tolerate employees who continually produce substandard work, exhibit unsatisfactory attendance, or who behave badly as a general rule.  Yet, you, like most leaders, have at least a few of these employees.  The sad fact is that you have no one to blame but yourself.  Even in the public sector, where employees are entitled to “due process” before they are fired or demoted, it is very do-able to address the performance and behavior issues and even discharge someone, if warranted.

The issue is often includes a co-dependent manager, who would rather be liked than hold the employee accountable.  Another word for it is “enabling”.  Enabling behavior encourages the “bad” employee to continue being bad.  It’s the same dynamic between loved ones and an addict, which prevents the addict from addressing her addiction –like allowing drug use in your home or giving the alcoholic money for rent because she used the rent money to buy booze.  If you are “walking on eggshells” around an employee in your organization and avoiding a necessary conversation about unmet expectations, chances are, you are part of an enabling dynamic.

When you are an “enabler”, you prevent or interfere with holding the employee accountable to acquire new competencies.  It keeps her stuck in her unproductive performance and poor behavior.  Enabling keeps the employee believing she has no power or control over her life , her work, and her self-efficacy.  You become complicit in reinforcing unproductive behavior such as procrastination or passivity by not expecting more.  In short, if you are a co-dependent manager, you are silently communicating that the “bad” employee is not capable of changing and is not capable of taking responsibility for her performance or her actions.

Here are some examples:

  • Looking the other way when the employee mistreats a customer or co-worker.
  • Talking yourself out of addressing an issue as you pretend “it isn’t that bad”.
  • Giving the employee adequate performance reviews, so you don’t have to justify your observations of inadequate performance.

By avoiding the issue, you are effectively ignoring your duty to the organization and to the rest of the employees who are meeting company expectations.

If you are enabling an employee, you might fear the reaction from an under-performer if you address the work issues. Like the addict or alcoholic, the enabled employee will most likely have an emotional outburst that deflects the attention away from herself as she points the finger at others, including you.  Not a comfortable place to be.  In short, it’s just easier to tolerate the substandard employee and hope it doesn’t get any worse than it already is.

The healthier way of dealing with the substandard employee is to expect more of her by empowering her.  But this takes guts, an acknowledgment that it’s your job as a manager to do this, and a belief that it is better to respected than to be liked.

Empowering is behavior that expects the employee to acquire new competencies for better performance.  It increases the employee’s sense of control or power over a situation, and encourages the learning of new coping abilities to replace the unwanted behavior or performance.

What does empowering look like?  Good old-fashioned management:

  1. Talk to the employee about what you are experiencing, giving her a chance to explain;
  2. Restate your expectation for what acceptable work product or behavior looks like;
  3. Offer or require training if appropriate for the issue at hand;
  4. If applicable to the situation, ask the employee for options for how she can do things differently to achieve the results you expect;
  5. Follow up and follow through with the employee to make sure the necessary changes are taking place;
  6. If the necessary changes do not occur, start summarizing your conversations about performance or behavior with the employee in writing, and escalate the formality of the written summaries from a warning to reprimands to a letter of suspension or termination as warranted and according to your company policy.

As with many things, if you want an employee to change, you might have to change first.

 

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with executives and senior leaders to create team environments that optimize ownership, accountability, learning, and results. Learn more at firebrandconsultingllc.com.

feedback

Delivering Performance Feedback without Performance Evaluation Forms

I often rail against the typical, formulaic performance evaluation.  So, if typical performance evaluation forms aren’t effective for communicating a manager’s desired performance from employees, then what is?

Simple . . . a little something I like to call, “communication”.  Assuming you did a decent job of hiring a qualified, sane person for the job.)

I’m a big proponent of the adage a la Oprah that when “people know better, they do better”.  And for employees to know what “better” looks like, managers have to talk to them.  In turn, for managers to talk to employees, managers can’t be conflict avoidant (see December 2010 blog entry , “3 Reasons Why Being a “Nice” Manager is “Mean””).  So here are some tips for giving performance feedback to your employees:

Focus on an employee’s strengths.

If possible, assign employees to work on tasks and projects that will utilize their strengths.  They still must be able to perform the essential job functions, but when there’s a choice steer them to what they do best.

Communicate clear expectations to employees.

One of the biggest misconceptions managers have is that the employee SHOULD know what to do and how to do it.  Or that the employee interpreted the boss’s directions exactly how the boss intended them.  Wrong.  That’s why we have managers to make sure everyone’s on the same page.

Talk to employees about their work daily, weekly, and monthly.

It’s a manager’s job to talk to employees about their work, whether things are going well or whether there are problems. To do this, meet with employees at the outset of a new project to clarify your expectations and to get their input; check in with the employee regularly on an on-going basis to see if changes are required; and after the work has been done debrief with the employee to help reflect on what went right, what didn’t turn out so well, and what might be done in the future to achieve the best possible outcome.

Put your observations about an employee’s work in writing.

Whether an employee excels at the work or whether the employee’s work is shoddy, have a conversation with the employee about their work and put your observations in writing (give a copy to the employee).  Letters of commendation, letters of warning, and letters of reprimand should also be placed in the employee’s personnel file.

By following these actions, managers are able to create performance feedback that is more effective, timely, and believable than using the typical pre-fab performance evaluation form.

 

Want help planning out what to say to an employee about their performance? Get my Conversation Planner.

The Myth of the Performance Evaluation as an Effective Management Tool

performance evaluationLet’s stop pretending. Performance evaluations don’t work. But organizations do them anyway because they think that if they don’t do them, they won’t . . . . well, I’m not sure what organizations think will happen if they stop doing performance evaluations. Maybe they think won’t look like they are “managing” employees. Well, here’s a news flash: performance evaluations don’ t help you manage employees, and by using them, organizations are dodging the real problem: conflict avoidant managers.

The standard performance evaluation usually has a grade-card-like section that rates an employee’s ability to do aspects of the job or to exhibit the organization’s expected behavior. Seriously? NOW, you’re grading the employee’s abilities in these areas? Wrong. The time to grade the person was BEFORE you hired him . . . during the selection process. Grading the person’s abilities AFTER you hired him is a bit late. If the person made it through your selection process and landed a job he can’t do well or at all, you don’t need a performance evaluation tool: you need ways to assist you in hiring hire better. At this point, you’re really grading how well your selection process worked.

Also, research shows that it’s really difficult for an employee to turn ability deficits into strengths. So what do we think we’re going to accomplish by filling out a grade card on each year? Not a lot. Oh sure, you need to document poor performance to justify remediation or eventual termination, but you can do that in timely memos or letters created after each conversation a manager has with the employee about deficit performance.

You see, the real reason organizations create and use forms called performance evaluations is that managers are conflict avoidant. Managers cross their fingers hoping maybe the form will do the managing for them. But the forms don’t do the manager’s work. And that leads to the heart of the matter. Because even if managers have a handy form to communicate their perception of an employee’s performance quality and ability, they don’t do it! They often avoid the tough news anyway!

In my HR career, almost 100% of the time I found that each performance evaluation form in an employee’s file showed at least an acceptable if not downright stellar performance. Why? Because most supervisors don’t want to ruffle feathers or rock the boat by subjecting themselves to the negativity that might occur when bad news is delivered to a poor performer. Conflict avoidance.

Well, in my book, any manager, who hires the wrong person and doesn’t take timely steps to address performance issues when they occur, ought to experience a little negativity. The issue isn’t about the employee’s performance level or the fact that the company doesn’t use a performance evaluation form.

So, whatever shall we do without the performance evaluation? Trade all the time and money used to create, distribute, complete, file and store annual performance evaluations for management training on how to hire the right person in the first place. Oh, and use a hiring managers’ track records of hiring sub-par employees as feedback when talking to THEM about their performance.