How to give feedback

Leader-managers owe it to employees to let them know their contributions are appreciated and how they could contribute even more effectively. No doubt you agree.

But do you get hung up on the word ‘feedback’? Don’t. Banish it from your mind and replace it with the word ‘information’. That way, you aren’t thinking ‘complaints’ and ‘criticisms’ but ‘insights’ offered in a caring, helpful way. Caring, helpful insights are indispensable to healthy workplaces and work teams.

This means banishing negative general comments and body language that implies ‘Oh, no – not you again’. Sarcasm, rolling your eyes, ignoring people or their efforts, and even heavy ‘hints’ fall into this category. It also means banishing telling people they’ve done something ‘wrong’ without explaining how to do it ‘right’.

Instead, motivate and lift people’s spirits with positive general comments that show you’re glad to be working with them. When you want to make sure what you’re commenting on is repeated, be specific – say what you appreciate and why you appreciate it. That builds and maintains first-rate performance.

When you want to help someone contribute more effectively, be constructive. Provide practical information that can help the person lift their performance.

So here’s your challenge for this week: Tell each of your team members something that you appreciate about the way they work and contribute. In a different conversation, show them how they could tackle a task to achieve a more effective outcome. (To find out why to separate your positive and constructive comments, see my blog Why the ‘sandwich technique’ for feedback doesn’t work.)

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Spread the cheer

Last week I told you about a friend with a time-consuming and costly email habit. Today I’ll tell you about another friend who is so positive and complimentary, she is a total pleasure to be around. Her co-workers love her, her friends adore her and her family are devoted to her. I’ve watched her closely over the years and here are what I thin are her three secrets to not just making everyone love her but also (and this is pretty cool, too) just about always getting exactly what she wants.

First, she never criticises anyone. She always says how nice you look, what a great job you’ve done, how much she appreciates what you do — you get the picture. Then, if there’s anything she’d like to see changed, she offers one tiny suggestion — after asking if you’d like to hear it, of course. And it’s always a good suggestion, and nicely worded, so people are happy to oblige.

The second important thing she does is never to wait until the end to say Thanks. When she’s training someone, for instance, she shows her what to do and as she’s doing it, she’s encouraging her by saying how well she’s doing and how quick she’s learning. When the trainee gets a bit of confidence and does something without being asked, she thanks her for taking the initiative and says what a great job she did and how much she appreciates the effort.

She calls this her Cricket Fan Principle: How would the cricket players feel if their fans waited to cheer until someone gets a century or the team wins the whole match? The answer is, of course, demoralised. It’s demoralising and bad for performance not to hear any support when you’re working hard and making progress.

Her third secret is maybe not-so-secret, but it, too, works a treat. Manners. Simple manners. Please, Thank you, How was your weekend? Manners help people work and live together effectively.

Three tiny little things that make an enormous difference.

The blame game

You’ve probably seen the diagram of a small circle, labelled ‘Things you can control’ with a larger circle around it, labelled ‘Things you can affect’ and a much larger circle around that, labelled ‘Things you can neither control nor affect’. That huge outer circle includes things like the weather and the economy. In the ‘Things you can affect’ circle are matters like your family’s happiness and the results you get at work. In the ‘Things you can control’ circle is basically yourself: your behaviour and your attitude.

That diagram of three circles leads us to Denial, Blame, Excuses and Responsibility. So imagine this: You’ve had a hard day and you’ve finally made it home and are sitting comfortably with your feet up, trying to chill out. The kids are in the kitchen and you hear a crash, tinkle, tinkle. ‘What happened?’ you ask. And what’s the response? ‘Nothing!’ That’s Denial; something has clearly happened.

So you say, ‘Don’t tell me nothing! I heard something break!’ And you hear ‘It wasn’t my fault, it was his fault.’ That’s Blame.

So you say, ‘I don’t care whose fault it is–what happened?’ And you hear, ‘The bottle was slippery and it fell out of my hand.’ That’s an Excuse.

Wouldn’t it be nice to hear, ‘I dropped a bottle. I’m just getting a mop to clean it up.’ That’s taking Responsibility.

Quite a few adults have turned Denial, Blame and Excuse into something of an art form, which means they focus not on the little inner circle of Control, but on the big outer circle of No Control. So nothing changes.

Let’s take a look at the first refuge or the irresponsible: Blame. Someone slips on the pavement. Do they blame the council for not sweeping up fallen leaves or do they take responsibility for not taking care how they’re walking? Blame is a great defence mechanism. It preserves your sense of self-esteem by avoiding admitting to your own shortcomings. But you’ll keep slipping on leaves.

Someone leaves the sausages in the frying pan too long and they burn. Do they take responsibility for being distracted or do they blame their partner for not doing their share of the housework so they have to multitask. Blaming others is great when you’re in attack mode. And it’s great when it’s easier to blame someone else rather than accept responsibility. But you’ll just start an argument and keep burning the sausages.

Blame is also handy when you think you can lie and get away with it. ‘I didn’t drop the bottle and leave the mess behind.’ Then you cross your fingers and hope no one saw you drop the bottle.

Of course, not everything is our responsibility. But when it is, we need to step up to it. The more we play the blame game, the more we lose. And the less we learn.

Managers, team leaders and parents take note: Step up when you need to. And teach your team members and your children to step up, too.

Three views of workplace relations

What is your attitude to workplace relations? What is it based on? Whatever it is and whatever it’s based on, it colours how you think about the workplace and even how you approach your own job.

There are three ways to think about workplace relations and most of your attitudes towards the workplace and your work stem from one of them. The three ways are called the unitarist, the radical and the pluralist views.

The unitarist view says employers and employees share the same basic goals – working together to create wealth, or value. This means that the workplace is essentially a harmonious place and any conflict that occasionally pops up will be short-lived and easily dealt with because employers and employees pretty much want the same thing.

The radical view is pretty much the opposite. It sees conflict between employers and employees as inevitable because they have, will always have, different needs and goals. That’s the way the system is set up: employers always want to contain costs, including wages costs, while employees always want higher wages.

The pluralist view also sees conflict as natural because management and workers have different needs and goals. But the good news is that these differences can be managed and contained by rules and regulations and we can all get along pretty well together when we put in a bit of effort and good will.

The particular view that rings most true for you directs your whole approach to the workplace and to your own job, whether you’re an employer or an employee. So which is it for you? Does it match the reality of your current workplace? Is it in accord with its culture and values? Is it helping you be the best manager you can be?

How to encourage accountability

Who were the people in your life that made a positive difference to the person you are today? When you think about the positive influences in your life, chances are many of them held high expectations that may even have seemed tough at the time: the parent who made sure you practiced the piano even when you didn’t want to; the boss who gave you one challenging assignment after another and expected nothing less than your best.

I believe that one of the kindest things we can do for people is to set high standards, expect the best and hold them accountable for meeting them. Here’s how to hold someone accountable.

First, discuss the outcome you’re after. Outcomes are better than a series of tasks because with a series of tasks, people can do the bare minimum, but that doesn’t wash with outcomes. Be clear about how you’ll measure success, too. When the outcome is big or distant, agree milestones and how often you want a progress report.

Make behavioural expectations clear, too. Whether it’s turning up to meetings on time and fully prepared or providing short and incisive, not rambling, reports, do yourself, the team member and your whole team a favour by setting high standards and making them clear. (If you haven’t, it isn’t too late – explain precisely what you expect from now on.)

When people aren’t coming up to scratch, find out why.

  • Do they have the resources (time, information, etc.) they need? When they don’t, provide them.
  • Do they have the skills and experience they need? When they don’t, teach them and coach them.
  • Have you asked a creative, broad brush type of person to do something better suited to a detailed, analytical dotter-of-i’s and crosser-of-t’s? Assign work to the right person.
  • Do they understand that meeting your expectations is important? Explain the big picture (how what you’re asking fits into the organisation’s vision or business plan). Let people know you’re serious by acknowledging their progress and showing appreciation when they meet your standards. When you don’t do do that, they think you don’t really care about them being met. Or when you let people get away with letting you down sometimes, they think you’re being unfair when you do enforce them. (And they would have a point.)

Making people accountable makes a positive difference to them, your team and your own career (because when someone in your team lets you down, you look bad, too.)

Increasing people’s commitment

When people feel committed to achieving results, they work whole-heartedly and do their best. Low or no commitment yields the bare minimum that comes from half-hearted effort.

Here are the important To Dos to increase people’s commitment:

  1. Paint the ‘big picture’ so they can share your vision.
  2. Help them see the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ and involve them in helping you work out how to get there. (These first two To Dos are known as ‘engaging people’ in the jargon.)
  3. Match the work needed to reach the goal suits their skill set and personal inclinations.
  4. Next, ‘energise’ them. How does achieving the goal help others? (I posted about this 2 weeks ago.)
  5. Provide the resources – the time, effort, information, etc. – they need to achieve the goal; without this, they’ll feel like they’re beating their head against a brink wall – a sure way to sap the energy you’ve summoned.
  6. Show your appreciation for their contributions. Make it clear you prize what they’re doing because it’s helping to bring that light at the end of the tunnel ever-closer.

So there we have it, a simple enough formula that you can put to work tomorrow to bring out the best in your team:

Engage – Match – Energise – Provide – Prize

Finding meaning in work

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that when you can find meaning in work, you’re happier and more satisfied with your job. It shouldn’t come as any surprise, either, that people who work in the non-profit sector find it easier than employees in other sectors to find meaning in their work and are therefore happier and more satisfied with their jobs. (If it is a surprise check out this study.)

Helping others is motivating. And the good news is that you don’t have to work for a not-for-profit to help people. But often, you need a boss that helps you see the connection between what you’re doing and how it helps others.

Professor Adam Grant from Wharton did a cool study in which one group of fundraisers soliciting contributions to a university read two essays by scholarship students about how the scholarship made a difference to their lives; the other group of fundraisers read two essays by former fundraiser about how that job helped them in their own careers. Guess which group collected more money? Correct. The first group collected significantly more money.

Another study, also by Adam Grant, found that actually meeting the beneficiaries of their work can increase motivation and job satisfaction even more.

The question is, then: How can you help the people in your work team link their efforts with the good of others? And let’s get personal: How does what you do at work help other people?