Managing People Archive
People sometimes leave feedback training confused. Armed with the skills to be candid, they think they have the right to say anything they want. Not the case. Feedback isn’t a weapon or a license to barf your opinion on people. Unsolicited and unwelcome feedback is like fish you left on your counter top for too long. It stinks.
You have the right to ask for and accept the feedback you want and reject the feedback you don’t, from peers and customers. Help people know the difference by providing clear parameters on what type of input you do and don’t want. You are not a dumping ground.
Follow these steps to manage the feedback you get from others:
Giving and receiving feedback tip one: Don’t ask for feedback because you think you’re supposed to. There are lots of leadership books and training programs that tell leaders to be open to and ask for others’ input. Only ask for input you want. If you’ve made a decision or don’t want others’ input, don’t ask for it. While you might get more buy in by asking people for their input on decisions that impact them, you’re allowed to decide without forming a committee.
Giving and receiving feedback tip two: When you ask for input, be very specific about the type of input you want. Guide people. Tell them, “I’m specifically looking for input on ____________. I’m not looking for input on ____________.” And if you still receive unwanted feedback, remind people about the input you are and aren’t looking for. In the spirit of being helpful, people can overstep their bounds.
Giving and receiving feedback tip three: Don’t be afraid to shut people down who provide unsolicited feedback. The words, “Thank you for your concern. I’m not looking for input on that at this time” will do the trick. Yes, you really can say that.
Giving and receiving feedback tip four: Don’t take feedback personally. While most people don’t think about it in this way, giving feedback subtly tells you that you’re doing something wrong, or at least not how the other person would do it. There are lots of ways to skin a cat. Their way may or may not be better than yours. To “skin a cat” is a terrible expression, by the way.
Giving and receiving feedback tip five: Trust yourself. You likely know what you want to do a lot of the time. If you find yourself asking for input when you know what you want to do, stop asking. Listen to your gut and decide.
Feedback has a time and a place. I ask for and listen to a lot of feedback, but not all the time and not about everything. If I listened to everything everyone in my life suggested, I wouldn’t own a business or have a baby. Sometimes you know best.
When I had knee surgery a bunch of years ago, the surgeon told me, “I didn’t fix your knee. I altered it.” He was trying to set the expectation that my knee wouldn’t be perfect, it would be different.
Violated expectations are at the root of disappointment, frustration, and broken relationships. We think, “I expect you to do or be a certain way and you’re not, so I’m unhappy.” If you want to be more satisfied and less frustrated, change your expectations. I don’t mean lower your expectations. I really do mean change them.
When I had a baby, I had no idea how difficult it would be to have someone I barely knew (our first nanny) take care of my son. It was tortuous until I got the sage advice, “You’re not going to get everything you want. Pay attention to the big things and be ok with good enough.” That’s hard for me. I have high standards and I want things done a certain way (my way). But I also don’t want to do everything myself. So I find myself altering my expectations and being ok with good enough. And it’s very, very difficult.
You likely want each of your employees, coworkers, boss, clients, and vendors to do things a certain way. Sometimes they’ll meet those expectations and sometimes they won’t. Decide what you must have, communicate those expectations (repeatedly if necessary), and let the rest go.
Here are four steps for setting expectations at work:
Setting expectations step one: Consider everything you need or want from a person. Make a list, even if it’s just for you.
Setting expectations step two: Determine what that person is capable of providing. What’s realistic given who they are and the constraints they’re under (financial, time, skills, experience, etc.)?
Setting expectations step three: Reset your expectations, if necessary.
Setting expectations step four: Ask for what you want and be specific about your request. Telling someone, “This needs to get better,” will get you nothing. Telling someone, “I’d like to be included in each meeting that relates to this project and cc’d on all pertinent emails,” may just get you what you need.
As William Ury said in his book Getting to Yes, be hard on the problem and easy on the person. When you address violated expectations, simply share what you expected to have happen and what actually did happen. That could sound like, “I thought we agreed I would be invited to each meeting pertaining to this client. There was a meeting last week I wasn’t invited to. What happened?” Watch your tone of voice when asking this question. Be neutral and curious.
Changing your expectations will likely be a daily occurrence. People won’t necessarily do things your way or even in the way you hoped. Decide what you must have, and let the rest go. Just think of all the time and aggravation you’ll save.
The normal, natural reaction to negative feedback is to become defensive, a response I’ve labeled as The Freak Out.
Everyone, even the people you think do little work, wants to be seen as good – competent, hardworking, and adding value. When anyone calls our competence into question, we get defensive. Becoming defensive is an automatic response that we have to train out of ourselves.
Until the people you work with train themselves not to become visibly defensive when receiving feedback, just expect it. And be happy when you get a defensive response. It means the person is breathing and cares enough about what you’re saying to get upset.
While you can’t get rid of a defensive response to feedback, you can reduce it by following a few employee feedback practices. Practice these methods of giving feedback and your input will be heard and acted on, more often than not.
Employee feedback practice one: Don’t wait. Give feedback shortly after something happens. But do wait until you’re not upset. Practice the 24-hour guideline and the one week rule. If you’re upset, wait at least 24-hours to give feedback, but not longer than a week. If the feedback recipient can’t remember the situation you’re talking about, you waited too long to give feedback, and you will appear to be someone who holds a grudge.
Employee feedback practice two: Be specific. Provide examples. If you don’t have an example, you’re not ready to give feedback.
Employee feedback practice three: Praise in public. Criticize in private. Have all negative feedback discussions behind a closed door.
Employee feedback practice four: Effective feedback discussions are a dialogue; both people talk. When the feedback recipient responds defensively, don’t be thwarted by his/her reaction. Listen to what s/he has to say and keep talking. Don’t get distracted.
Employee feedback practice five: Give small amounts of feedback at a time – one or two strengths and areas for improvement during a conversation. People cannot focus on more than one or two things at a time.
Employee feedback practice six: Give feedback on the recipient’s schedule and in his/her workspace, if s/he has a door. It will give the other person a sense of control and s/he will be more receptive.
Employee feedback practice seven: Talk with people – either in person or via phone. Don’t send an email or voicemail. Email is for wimps and will only damage your relationships.
Employee feedback practice eight: Prepare. Make notes of what you plan to say and practice out loud. Articulating a message and thinking about it in your head are not the same thing.
Employee feedback practice nine: Avoid The Empathy Sandwich – positive feedback before and after negative feedback. Separate the delivery of positive and negative feedback, so your message is clear.
Employee feedback practice ten: Offer an alternative. Suggest other ways to approach challenges. If people knew another way to do something, they would do it that way.
You can deal with whatever reaction to negative feedback you get. The other person’s response will not kill you. It might make you uncomfortable, but that’s ok. You’ll survive. Try to practice the guidelines above, and if you don’t, and you ‘do it all wrong,’ at least you said something. Just opening your mouth is half the battle. When you come from a good place of truly wanting to make a difference for the other person, and you have both the trust and permission to give feedback, you really can’t go wrong.
Working in a matrix management structure often means being accountable to several people/having multiple bosses, and having lots of accountability without much authority – both challenging. The key to making a matrix management structure work is lots and lots of good communication.
It’s not uncommon for people working in a matrix management structure to be frustrated. People with dotted line employees or managers often say they’re unsure of who they really work for, who to go to with challenges and needs, and that they don’t have the authority to lead people or processes. All of these frustrations are avoidable and manageable.
If you work in a matrix management environment and are thus accountable to multiple people, take charge of the management structure by asking the questions:
- Who is my ultimate boss?
- Who has input on my performance feedback and review?
- Who writes my performance review?
- Who decides on raises and promotion opportunities?
- Who do I go to when I need help?
- Quarterly (at a minimum) joint meetings with all the managers you answer to
- That all the managers you’re accountable to provide input on your performance appraisal
- That all the managers your report to participate in your performance discussion(s)
Follow the same practices for people who dotted line report to you. If you’re accountable for someone’s results, but you’re not his/her direct supervisor, ask for quarterly meetings with the employees’ boss. Ask to participate in the appraisal process, and keep the lines of communication between you, the employee, and the direct supervisor transparent and open. Talk regularly. Agree on who sets expectations and gives feedback. Be sure you know your role and the direct supervisor’s role.
The key to making a matrix management structure work is:
- Everyone knows who does what and who has what authority
- Joint meetings happen regularly
- Expectations are clear
Ask more. Assume less.
Many organizations have moved from cubeland to open plan offices in which employees sit in rows of desks with no barriers between them.
There’s considerable research on the workability of open plan offices. Some of what’s written says that introverts do worse than extroverts in an open plan office. I disagree. I’d say that how a person learns/takes in information determines how well she’ll do in an open plan office.
If you’re a visual or kinesthetic learner who learns by seeing or doing, you’ll be less distracted by noise than an auditory learner who learns by hearing. Auditory learners hear everything and are easily distracted by talking, music, and other noise. Visual and kinesthetic learners often don’t hear distractions, so they do better in an open plan office.
Here are seven steps to make an open plan office a more productive environment:
- Schedule a meeting during which people sitting together can discuss the working environment they need to be satisfied and productive. Then facilitate a discussion during which the group creates 5 – 7 behavior guidelines each person agrees to follow when at their desks.
- Post the list of agreed-upon behaviors on a poster that is large enough to be read from any place in the work environment. Leave the poster up indefinitely.
- Give each person in the group permission to talk to individuals who violate the guidelines. This is very, very important. For the most part, employees won’t tell another person she is talking too loudly, eating food that smells, has too many visitors at her desk, listens to music or videos without headphones, or takes phone calls via speaker phone. People will suffer in silence and choose to work from home or in an empty office or conference room rather than speak up about the behaviors that frustrate them. Ask the group to grant each other permission to speak up when guidelines are violated. Giving each other permission to speak up will make future conversations possible – difficult but possible. Without permission and these agreed-upon behaviors in place, people will suffer in silence or talk about each other, not to each other.
- Ask everyone in the work group to take feedback graciously, responding with “thank you for telling me,” rather than with defensiveness.
- Two weeks after making the list of guidelines, get the group together to review the list and make any necessary changes to it. Discuss behaviors that were omitted, aren’t realistic, and are realistic but aren’t being followed.
- Then follow up by facilitating a monthly conversation during which group members give honest feedback about which guidelines are being followed and which are not, and problem solve as a group. These conversations aren’t a chance to embarrass or call people out in a group setting. If one person is violating a guideline, that conversation should happen individually.
- You will need a strong facilitator for the group discussions. The facilitator must tease out people’s thoughts, while making sure no one gets blasted in front of the group. Don’t let concerns that you know exist be brushed under the rug. Group members must openly and regularly discuss what is and isn’t working about their work environment, or frustrations will build and unhappiness and dissension will ensue.
It’s not too late to put these practices in place, even with a group who has been sitting together for a long time. Just schedule the conversation and explain why you’re having it. People will be relieved and grateful.
Working in an open plan office is challenging. It requires good communication and compromise. Don’t wait for problems to occur and frustrations to build. Have a conversation today.
People often hoard feedback until a situation becomes so frustrating that they can’t help but speak up. And because they waited too long to say what they think, many more words come tumbling out than is either necessary or helpful.
When it comes to giving feedback, less is more. Be specific, give an example or two, and stop talking.
If you want people to be receptive to your feedback, make it easier to hear by saying less. By saying less, I don’t mean don’t tell the truth or provide enough information that the person knows precisely what to do differently. I do mean, don’t provide more information than is necessary.
You are likely familiar with the phrase “let someone save face.” Allowing someone to save face requires saying just enough that the person knows what to do differently, but not so much that the person feels attacked.
Here are two examples of giving feedback do’s and don’ts:
Too much feedback: Last week you turned in a report that had five typos and had important pieces of information missing. I’m surprised you’d be so careless. It made our entire department look bad. I’m perplexed that you’d submit work without checking it first. What is leading you not to check your work and submit incomplete reports?
Don’t repeat feedback. Say it once and move on. And remove unnecessary judgments (careless) and share just the facts.
Just the right amount of feedback: The report you gave me last week had a few typos and was missing some important information. The report went to the client with those errors which didn’t reflect well on our department. What happened?
Too much feedback: I noticed you didn’t speak up during last week’s department meeting. People won’t know the value you provide if you don’t share what you’re working on. You need to be more vocal. People’s only exposure to you is often during our team meetings. If you don’t speak up, you won’t establish yourself as a leader in your department. People really need to know what you’re working on and the impact you’re making.
Too much feedback sounds like nagging. Most people don’t want to work with their parents.
Just the right amount of feedback: I noticed you didn’t speak during last week’s department meeting. Often, team members’ only exposure to you is during our weekly meetings. How can I help you feel comfortable speaking up so you can establish yourself as a leader in the department?
It’s easy to get carried away when giving feedback. We’re likely frustrated. And when our emotions run the show, it’s easy to say too much.
Here are three practices for giving feedback:
- Practice the 24-hour guideline and the one-week-rule. If you’re upset, wait 24-hours to give feedback, but not longer than a week after an event.
- Plan what you’re going to say both in writing and out loud. Practicing a conversation in your head is not the same as speaking it.
- Let someone you trust hear what you’re planning to say and ask that person how you can improve the feedback. Ask what you can remove without losing any of the message.
Planning a conversation is like packing for a trip. When packing for a trip, many people put their clothes on the bed, then put the clothing in a suitcase. Realizing they have way more than they need, they start taking things out of the suitcase. Eventually they arrive at their destination with much less than they initially packed, but still more than they need.
Use the same principles when planning a feedback conversation. Put every thought you have on paper, and then remove what you don’t need, leaving only the necessary points that tell the person just what he needs to do differently.
When giving feedback, less is more. Tell the person what happened, why it’s a problem, and what she needs to do differently. Then stop talking and let her save face.
If you were on a diet and stepped on a scale that said, “Pretty good. Keep up the good work,” you’d return the scale, claiming it didn’t work. Likewise, if your GPS told you that it “seemed you were going the right way,” you’d probably use a different app, or heaven forbid, buy a map. Scales and GPS provide us with feedback, but vague feedback is unhelpful. It doesn’t tell us what to do more, better, or differently, which is the purpose of feedback.
Vague, positive feedback is also inauthentic, and inauthenticity smells. Hearing you did a great job is nice, but utterly unhelpful because the feedback recipient doesn’t know what he did well and what to replicate. If you want people to replicate a behavior, tell them precisely what they did well that you want them to do again.
Most feedback training focuses on giving negative feedback, because it’s so hard to do, but we’re not much better at giving positive feedback. Giving useful, positive feedback takes attention, observation, and timely communication. In short, it’s difficult.
I too find myself telling my team members, “You did a great job on…” I know vague words like these serve as a short pick-me-up. My team probably smiles and appreciates the recognition, but I also know I haven’t given them substantive direction of what actions I want them to replicate. Those of you who have participated in feedback training with me know that I call vague input Cap’n Crunch – all of the sweetness, with none of the nutrients.
To give effective, positive feedback, simply state one or more specific actions you want the person to replicate.
Here are a few examples of positive feedback:
Cap’n Crunch: “You did a great job on……”
Positive feedback example one: “You did a great job onboarding our new analyst. You outlined what he needed to do during his first 90-days to be successful. He now knows precisely what he has to do and won’t have to guess.”
Cap’n Crunch: “Thanks for being so committed to our business.”
Positive feedback example two: “Thanks for calling in to today’s team meeting on a day you had off. Your participation helped us make a decision that would have taken much longer without your participation. I appreciate your commitment to our business.”
Cap’n Crunch: “Thanks for paying attention to the things that may impact us negatively in the marketplace.” This is not terrible, but not as effective as it could be.
Positive feedback example three: “Thanks for paying attention to the things that may impact us negatively in the marketplace. I appreciate you tracking the new products our competitors are launching. It helps me know where we are ahead and behind.”
Don’t assume people know what they did well and that they will replicate positive behavior without receiving positive feedback. Watch people’s actions and tell them, shortly after they do something, what they did well. And watch those positive behaviors be repeated.
Employees appreciate perks – good coffee, an onsite gym, concierge service, and workout classes. But none of those things motivate employees to stay with an organization. And no one will quit because a company doesn’t offer those perks.
I won’t tell you not to offer yoga classes or to get rid of your video games. Just know neither perk is resulting in employee retention.
There are really just a few things employees need to stay with your company and do good work. And if you do those things consistently, you’ll see your best employees stay and excel.
Here are a few employee retention ideas:
Employee retention idea #1: Managers, get to know employees better. Ask what brought employees to your company, what would make them leave, what employees want to learn, and what type of work they really don’t want to do. And when it’s possible, remove responsibilities employees don’t want to do, and replace those tasks with things employees enjoy more. You can’t eliminate all aspects of a job that employees don’t like. But people won’t stay in a job for long that doesn’t let them do work they enjoy about 75% of the time.
Employee retention idea #2: Managers, meet individually with employees, twice a month, for at least 30 minutes, to discuss current and future projects. Give specific and balanced (positive and negative) feedback during each meeting. Even the most independent employees need regular feedback and one-on-one time with their manager.
Employee retention idea #3: Teach and coach employees, so they expand their skill set and approach challenges in new and different ways. Most employees want to learn and grow. Managers don’t have to do the training themselves, just ensure it happens.
Employee retention idea #4: Give employees exposure to the senior leaders in your organization. This includes: attending meetings where senior leaders are present; pitching ideas to senior leaders; and learning from people above the employees’ manager.
Employee retention idea #5: Give employees stretch assignments and the chance to learn new things. One of the greatest reasons for employee turnover is boredom and a lack of growth and development. You don’t need to rotate or promote someone to help them grow. Giving employees exposure to different departments and types of work will allow employees to expand their skill set.
Most employees want to work for a manager who cares about them, takes time to get to know them, and helps advance their career. These activities will take some time. They won’t take a lot of money. Perhaps have your next one-on-one at the foosball table or over espresso. But know that the time managers take with employees, trumps every perk, every time.
No one (I know) enjoys writing, delivering or receiving performance feedback. It’s time consuming to write, challenging to deliver, and can be difficult to hear. Unfortunately, most performance management systems – goal setting forms, performance appraisal templates and online templates – don’t make the process easier. Instead, they make it harder. Short and simple is best.
When I started managing leadership development for a large company, I inherited a 12-page performance appraisal form and what seemed like 89 competencies. One of the business leaders I supported told me, “I’m not asking my people to use this form. If you can give me something that’s one page, I’ll have my managers use it.” That conversation sent me on a mission to make all performance management forms one or two pages. And really, why shouldn’t they be? People can only focus on leveraging and changing a few things at a time. Why give more feedback than that at any given time?
If you’re chasing people to use your performance management tools and templates, you have the wrong forms. In my experience, when people find something easy to use and valuable, they’ll use it. If something is difficult to use or doesn’t seem to add value, people drag their heels.
Here are a few ideas for making your performance management process easier:
Make your forms and templates simple. No performance management tool should be more than two pages. In a performance appraisal – quarterly, annual, or otherwise – identify up to three things the person did well and a max of three things s/he can either do more, better, or differently next year. Anything more is overwhelming and a set up for disappointment, frustration, and overwhelm.
If you have additional areas for the person to work on, meet again in 90-days and assess how the person has done with the three pieces of feedback already provided. If s/he has made significant progress on the things they were already working on, add a few new things to work on. If significant progress hasn’t been made on the existing feedback, wait to add more.
I know your existing performance management templates may not allow for what I’m suggesting. If you’re working with a template that requires more input, write up to three clear, succinct, and actionable bullets in each required area and not more. Bullets are better than paragraphs. Be specific. “Great job” is not feedback. Neither is, “needs improvement.” Give a specific example or two. No example, no feedback.
Resist the urge to write paragraphs of vague feedback or to accept that type of feedback in a self-appraisal. Paragraphs of feedback take too long to write and often say little. I’d suggest spending less time writing performance feedback and instead spend the time observing performance, asking others for input on the person’s performance, and writing three succinct, specific bullets that describe an action taken or outcome produced. Specific feedback is meaningful, useful, and received with less defensiveness.
Most training programs about giving feedback focus on negative feedback, because giving negative feedback is hard and makes us uncomfortable. But most people aren’t any better at giving positive feedback.
Most of the positive feedback people get at work really isn’t feedback at all. It’s vague, fluffy, and unhelpful. Aka, Cap’n Crunch – sweet but useless.
“Great job.” “You’re awesome.” “You’re great to work with.” None of this qualifies as real feedback.
The purpose of positive feedback is to make people feel valued and appreciated and to get them to replicate a behavior. Telling someone, “great job” or “you’re doing great work” will make the person feel good (momentarily), but won’t tell her what to replicate. These phrases are vague, and vague positive comments come across as inauthentic at best and unhelpful at worst.
Here are a few examples of what I refer to as real vs. fake feedback:
Examples of positive feedback:
Fake feedback: “Great job.”
Real feedback: “You researched three vendors when making a proposal of who we should choose to manage our payroll operations. You included all the necessary information for us to make a decision and presented the information in a one-page table that was easy to read. Your work made it really easy to make a decision. Great job!”
Examples of positive feedback:
Fake feedback: “You’re really reliable.”
Real feedback: “I know that whatever I give you to do will get done the first time I ask and will be accurate. I don’t have to ask again or check your work. You check your work for typos and mistakes before submitting it.”
Examples of positive feedback:
Fake feedback: “You make my job easy.”
Real feedback: “Last week you noticed an invoice that didn’t seem accurate. You researched the invoice and got the mistake corrected before I even knew there was a problem. You make my job easy.”
Examples of positive feedback:
Fake feedback: “You’re awesome.”
Real feedback: “You always do what’s right for the company. Last week you called a vendor whose service has been spotty. You provided them with feedback and asked for their plan to improve their service levels. This added a lot of value to our organization.”
The guidelines for giving positive feedback are the same as giving negative feedback:
- Be specific.
- Give an example.
- Give feedback close to the time an event happens.
To give specific and meaningful positive comments, you will have to observe performance, and that takes time. But if you want someone to replicate a behavior, tell the person specifically what she did well.