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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Staying motivated yourself

It’s hard to ask your team to be motivated when you’re not. Whether it’s to do a task you dislike or start a conversation you’re not looking forward to, or you just need ‘energising’, leader-managers need to be able to motivate themselves in order to set the pace for others.

You need three things to be motivated:

  1. the desire to reach a worthwhile goal
  2. the commitment to put in the effort
  3. the self-confidence to take action.

Desire
Large or small, you need a clear goal to hold in your mind’s eye. How will you, and perhaps others too, benefit when you achieve it? Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you locate your desire when you’re lacking motivation:

  • What positive outcome results from accomplishing this?
  • What good things result from doing this?
  • What happens if I don’t do it?
  • Why is it important that I do this?

When you’re searching for the motivation to tackle a task you dislike, try listing the major push factors (sticks) associated with the task. How can you turn them into pull factors (carrots)? Try changing your language: Instead of saying ‘I have to do this (groan)’, try saying ‘I want to do this because …’ Having to do something usually leads to half-hearted attempts while wanting to do something produces whole-hearted efforts and a better result. (Even this works, lame as it is: ‘I want to do this to get it out of the way and off my desk.’

Commitment
Are you committed enough to willingly put in the time and effort required to achieve your goal and to forgo something else in order to achieve it? For example, part-time study while working at a full-time job takes a lot of commitment. You may need to pass up many enjoyable personal, family and social activities in order to study or attend classes. How willing are you to put off short-term pleasures for long-term rewards?

Try mentally projecting yourself into the future and seeing yourself achieving your goal. Feel your success. Savour it. When your goal is a big one, break it down into a series of interim goals, or set dates and jot down a simple plan to get you moving.

Think about what might be stopping you from making a start or continuing to work towards your goal. What can you do to remove those barriers? For instance, it can be difficult to study in a noisy environment. What could you do to make it quieter? Could you study in a different environment, one more conducive to thought and concentration, or put on some headphones to deaden the noise and distractions around you?

Self-confidence
As you probably know, you need a reasonable expectation of success before you can attempt anything wholeheartedly. Do you believe you can achieve your goal? Do you have the skills? Do you need to organise any help or support? Think about your self-talk. When you’re giving yourself limiting, negative message that you can’t succeed, change them. The most important voice you’ll ever hear is your own.

 

Be a coach, not a critic

In chimpanzee troops, the leader sits at the centre. About every 30 seconds, all the other apes orient themselves to him. They take their cues from him. When he’s stressed or nervous, so are they. When he’s calm, so are they.

Like the chimp troops, we need our leaders to remain calm and in good spirits. When you’re in good spirits, you lift everyone’s spirits. When you’re down in the dumps and feeling stressed, you lower everyone’s spirits. Your mood and the way you deal with staff affects the way they do their jobs and deal with each other and their customers.

On top of that, the brain is hard-wired to give more weight to negative messages than to positive messages. Whether you intend to send a negative message or not, and whether it’s verbal or nonverbal, your messages carry weight. No matter how considerate, constructive and tactful you aim to be, your words can all too easily dismay, distress or alarm. To counter that, your messages need to be cool, calm, collected and mostly positive.

And, of course, the tougher your message and the less people want to hear it, the more difficult it is to get across. And sometimes you need to give a tough message. which is when you want to be a coach, not a critic.

Here are five ways turn your complaints & criticism into constructive comments so that your words sink in rather than sting:

  1. Think about your goal, not the problem. Focusing on a problem keeps you stuck with it. Thinking about how to remove or avoid a problem is destructive and negative. Thinking about how to replace the problem with something you want is creative and positive. So think about what you want to happen or what you want to replace, say, an annoying behaviour with.Saying something like ‘We both want the same thing, here,’ works like magic. Mentally step back and talk about what you both want to show you’re both on the same side. ‘We both want a good working relationship.’ ‘We both want to make the changeover a success.’ ‘We both want to get this problem rectified.’ Now, you only have to work out how to achieve your joint aim.
  2. Focus on the future, not the past. Thinking about your goal automatically means you focus on the future. Coaches avoid post mortems except to see what everyone can learn from them. They keep their sights firmly on the next game, the next match, the next round. Why criticise someone’s mistake when you could show them how to get it right next time?

    LOSE THESE                             USE THESE
    You shouldn’t have …               From now on …
    You’ve done that wrong.          Try it like this.
    That isn’t right.                           Here’s what needs to happen.
    I’ve told you before not to …    Next time, try it this way …
    You never …                                 Could you please …?Outlining what you need to happen instead of blaming someone for something they’ve done or failed to do invites cooperation rather than resistance. It wins you support and improved performance.

  3. Be positive not negative. Thinking about your goal also puts you in the positive. Criticising gets people’s backs up and leads to arguments. Just what you don’t want in a professional relationship. Say what you want, not what you don’t want. Discuss what can be done, not what shouldn’t have been done or what not to do. Here are some ways to turn critical phrases into coaching phrases:

    LOSE THESE                             USE THESE
    Why can’t you …?                      How about …?
    This is difficult.                          Here’s how to do this. Watch carefully.
    We can’t do that because …     We can do that as soon as …
    You’re wrong.                             Here’s how I see it…
    We can’t do that.                        Here’s what I can do….
    No problem.                                It’s a pleasure!Finding solutions, not fault, strengthens working relationships and makes sure things are done right.

  1. Ask don’t tell. People tend to resist when they feel they’re told to do something, forced into something or given unasked for advice. Instead of demanding ‘Do it this way’, suggest: ‘How about…’ or ‘Would you mind…’.Try simply prefacing your comments to flag what you’re about to say or do. For example, asking ‘Would you mind if I make a suggestion?’ means you don’t ram unwanted advice down peoples’ throats.
  2. Be specific not general. You know what you mean, and you want to make sure others know what you mean, too.‘This report isn’t good enough – you’ll have to fix it!’ What specifically needs to be fixed? The layout? The content? The ‘voice’ or tone it’s written in? Is an Executive Summary needed? Perhaps more supporting data would help.Whether you’re being complimentary or constructive, say why. When you need to be constructive (that’s the coaching word for critical), say ‘because’ to take the heat out. When you offer a compliment, saying why you appreciate something sounds more sincere and makes it more likely that the ‘something’ will be repeated.

Coaching, not criticising smooths your professional relationships, brings out the best in people, and gets you more of what you want.

Maslow’s hierarchy put to the test

You are no doubt familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It’s and old and much-loved theory that says we must satisfy our basic needs for food, sleep, shelter and so on, before we start trying to meet other needs. Once we’ve met our basic needs, we then seek safety and security. Once we feel safe and secure, we seek love and friendship. Once we feel loved and have enough friends, we seek self-respect and the respect of others. Then what Maslow called self-actualisation kicks in – we want to become the best that we can be. Finally comes self-transcendence, which is feeling part of the greater whole, wanting to serve and help others and so on.

Of course, we’re probably never fully satisfied at any level, but we need a comfortable level of satisfaction at one level before we can move onto the next one.

According to this fine theory of Maslow, we’re happier when we can meet our needs. When we can’t meet our needs, we’re not so happy. Now there’s a blinding flash of the obvious.

But is it true? Is there really a hierarchy of needs that everyone tries to meet?

The problem has always been that this is what’s called an ‘armchair theory’. In other words, Maslow sat in his chair in front of the fireplace, probably smoking a pipe or cigar since after all, it was 1943. And he thought, ‘Now then, which comes first, the chicken or the egg?’ Or rather, ‘Which comes first, food and shelter or the desire to reach your potential?’

Well, some psychologists at the University of Illinois set out to find out whether Maslow’s theory holds water. They tested it in 123 countries between 2005 and 2010.

The good news is, at least for people like me who have studied, taught and used the theory to bring out the best in people, is that Maslow’s theory is largely correct. Fulfilling the needs described in his hierarchy does indeed correlate with happiness: happy people are those whose needs are fulfilled.

To be specific, fulfilment of the lower order needs – food, shelter, friends – is closely linked to a positive evaluation of your life. Satisfaction of the higher order needs, – respect, self-actualisation and self-transcendence – is strongly related to enjoying your life. Bingo.

An interesting but maybe not so unexpected finding when you think about it, was that people seem to feel more positive about their own lives when those around them also have their needs met and feel positive about their lives. And we enjoy our lives more when those around us are enjoying their lives.

So go forth and help the people you lead and manage meet their needs. And make sure your job allows you to meet your needs, to. Especially the higher order needs.

Time to get motivated

 Ok, it’s March and time to get serious about getting back into the routine. But it’s still hot and you’re still in holiday mode, right? Motivation can be pretty elusive in the aftermath of Christmas, New Year, Australia Day, the Tour Down under, the Melbourne Cup, Lunar New Year – summer is one endless festival. And it’s even worse here in South Australia, where Mad March is about to commence, with Writer’s Week, The Festival, The Fringe, the Clipsal 500 … How anyone gets anything done is anyone’s guess.
But if you really need to get something done, you’re going to want to dredge up a bit of motivation from somewhere or other. Here are some tricks to try:
Fake it till you make it. You can’t be motivated unless you look and act motivated. Look and act motivated and the motivation will follow.
Set a schedule and stick to it. That prevents indecision and procrastination.
Know your ‘why?’. When you have a good reason to do what you need to do, you find inspiration and motivation.
See and feel the result when you’ve done what you need to do. More inspiration and motivation.
Decide what your first three steps need to be and make a start. After you’ve taken that first step, it gets easier.
Say ‘I want to’, not ‘I have to’. Motivation come from inside – your inside. No one else can motivate you. They can maybe force you with a carrot or a stick, but that isn’t motivation. (Although you could bribe yourself with your own carrot, some little treat as a reward for completing whatever it is you need to complete. That might help you find your ‘want to’ and with it, your own motivation.
Enough of this summer festival nonsense. Get on with it!

Back to the good old days

Once upon a time, people joined an organisation and remained in it for their entire career. In what was known as the ‘psychological contract’, organisations looked after employees’ training and development and their career progression and in return, they were rewarded with loyal service.

That model pretty much died a long time ago. An exception is US multinational GE Energy, which has offices in Australia and New Zealand. They’re serious about retaining staff, particularly engineers and technicians, and not just in the short term, either. They want their staff to stay with them for their entire careers because, as Sharon Daley, head of human resources (who has been with the company for 30 years herself), says:

‘When someone walks out the door, you’re losing intellectual property and human capital, as well as institutional experience and corporate knowledge. And that’s hard to replace …’

GE Energy is also keen to retain older workers, too, who they believe can be important mentors and teachers.

Part of GE Energy’s retention success lies in the fact that they recognise that people go through different periods in their lives; sometimes they need to work part time, have flexible hours and/or job-share, for instance. Accommodating individual needs, combined with a great employee value proposition and ongoing learning and career development fosters employee loyalty. Employees are so loyal, in fact, that GE Energy’s retention rate is a remarkable 95%.

You can find out more about GE Energy here. Source: ‘People power’ by Sue O’Reilly, the deal, The Australian Newspaper, July 2012.

Discussion questions

How do you foster employee loyalty in your work team? Do you think it’s worth every organisation’s time and energy to try to retain employees? When good employees are hard to find, how important is the psychological contract and long-term employment? What do you do to accommodate employees in different phases of their lives? How easy do you make it for team members to come to you to discuss ways tp make their working lives easier and balance their work and home lives?