Managing People Archive
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.
Lots of organizations do exit interviews after employees give notice. Exit interviews can be a source of helpful information. Employees have little to lose after they’ve quit, so they’re likely to speak candidly about their work experience. But asking for feedback after an employee has quit is a little (a lot) too late. The time to ask about an employee’s working experience is every 90 days, if not more frequently.
Employees quit. It’s a natural part of doing business. And some turnover is healthy and helpful. Surprises, however, are not helpful and are unnecessary. Turnover should rarely, if ever, be a surprise. The writing is always on the wall, if you ask the right questions and make it easy to speak freely.
Most employees are concerned about giving feedback when their input is negative. Employees at almost every company cite “a list,” and those who speak up, end up on it, and then mysteriously leave the organization. Mind you, no one has ever seen the list, but employees at all types of organizations are certain it exists.
If you want to reduce the turnover in your organization and increase employee engagement and satisfaction, ask for feedback regularly, and make it easy to speak candidly.
Five ways to get your employees talking before they quit:
- Ask for feedback at the end of every meeting. Simply ask, “What are you enjoying about your job? What are you not enjoying?”
Or ask, “What makes your job easier? What makes your job harder?”
- Manage your responses to feedback. The easier it is to tell you the truth, the more truth you’ll get. Employees are afraid of their manager’s reactions. Resist the urge to become defensive (which is very difficult to do). Saying, “I’m sorry that was your experience. Thank you for telling me,” goes a long way. Employees will breathe a sigh of relief and are more likely to speak candidly in the future.
- Replace one satisfaction survey with roundtable discussions during which a leader or manager asks a small group of employees for feedback. Live conversations build trust and loyalty. Written surveys do not.
- Help employees who aren’t a good fit, exit the organization. Don’t wait for poor performers or employees who aren’t a good culture fit to leave. Help misplaced employees find a better match. The right employees raise performance and morale, the wrong employees destroy both.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. Just because you asked for feedback, doesn’t mean you have to act on that information. Employees don’t typically expect all of their requests to be met. It’s often enough just to be able to speak and be heard.
Keep doing exit interviews, and add quarterly or monthly requests for feedback. Talk with people over the phone or in person. Ask one or two simple questions to get the other person talking. Manage your face. Smile. Say “thank you” for the feedback. And watch your employee engagement and satisfaction rise.
When I interviewed for my last job, before starting Candid Culture, the CEO put a mug in front of me with the company’s values on it and asked if I could live by those values at work. He was smart. Hiring someone with the skills to do a job is one thing. Hiring someone who fits into the organizational culture, is another.
Determining if a prospective employee will fit your organizational culture is much harder than determining if someone has the skills to do a job. Often when an employee leaves a job, only to take the same role at another company, they left for fit. They just didn’t feel comfortable. They weren’t a good fit with the organizational culture.
You’ve probably heard discussions about employees who deliver results at the expense of relationships. Or about employees who fellow employees really like, but they just can’t do the job.
Leaders of organizations need to decide what’s important: What people do? How they do it? Or both. I’m going to assert that both the work employees deliver and how they deliver that work is equally important. I think you should hire and fire for fit.
Work hard to hire people who will fit into your organizational culture. Get rid of people who don’t fit. The impact on your organization’s reputation and on internal and external relationships depends on hiring people who behave consistently with your brand and how you want your organization’s culture to feel.
At Candid Culture, we teach people to have open, candid, trusting relationships at work. Thus we must hire people who are open to feedback and communicate honestly. And we fire people who don’t model those behaviors.
If you want a high service organizational culture, you can’t hire people who don’t care about others and want customers to feel good about working with you.
Here are a few ways to ensure you hire people who are a good organizational culture fit:
- Share your current or desired culture with job candidates early, often, and clearly.
- Work to assess how candidates fit the culture. Use practical interviews, job shadowing, and reference checks to assess organizational culture fit.
- Talk about the culture when on boarding employees.
- Make behaving according to the culture part of your performance appraisal process.
- Reward behavior that matches the culture.
- Have consequences for not acting according the culture. A negative feedback conversation is a consequence.
- Ensure your leaders and managers live the culture. Get rid of leaders and managers who aren’t a good culture fit. This takes courage.
When people leave an organization, they don’t often take copies of reports they produced or work they created. And if they do, they rarely look at that work. What they do take, remember and find meaning in, are the relationships they built at work. Relationships are dependent on organizational.
Determine the organizational culture you want. Talk about regularly. Require people to act according to the culture. Reward the ones who do. Get rid of the ones who don’t. Make working in your organization feel as you want it to feel.
When I’m not sure what to do, I do nothing. And my hunch is I’m not alone. When something feels big, it’s easier to do nothing than something.
Time management experts will tell you to divide a big project into small pieces, to make it manageable. That’s good advice. The universe – as woo-woo as it sounds – rewards action. Momentum, like inertia, is very powerful. As we know, a body that’s in motion is likely to stay in motion. A body at rest is likely to stay at rest.
The key to getting through anything large, scary, or intimidating is to start. Any action will do. The key is simply taking action.
Here are five keys to make taking action more likely:
Taking action key #1: What often stands in the way of taking action is that we aren’t sure what to do. Perhaps we aren’t sure we can do the task at hand. Or we can’t see what the end result should look like. Or the project feels so big that even thinking about starting is tiring. Ask questions and ask for help.
Most managers aren’t great delegators. When assigning a project, managers often ask, “Do you have any questions?” This is an ineffective question because few people want to admit to having questions about a project that feels so big, all they want to do is avoid it and take a nap. Or managers ask, “What do you need from me?” when most people have no idea what they need.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions until you’re clear about what a good job looks like, and ask for help.
Taking action key #2: Do one small thing, anything, towards achieving the goal. And do it now. Don’t wait until the right time. There is no right time.
Taking action key #3: Then do one more thing. Don’t wait six weeks or months to take another action. Momentum is very powerful. Keep things moving.
Taking action key #4: Give yourself small windows of time to work on a project. If you give yourself 30 uninterrupted minutes to work, you’re likely to invest that time. If you dedicate a day, you’re likely to get distracted and fill the time with other things.
Taking action key #5: Trust that you can do what’s in front of you. Someone wouldn’t have asked you to do something if they’d didn’t have confidence that you could do it. And if this is a goal you set for yourself, and it’s something you really want, deep down, you know you’re capable of doing it.
If you’re overwhelmed or don’t believe you can do something, call someone who has more faith in you than you have in yourself, at this present moment. Let that person fill you with confidence until you can generate it for yourself. When I started Candid Culture, I was filled with fear and quite honestly, was convinced I was going to fail. But everyone around me believed I could do it. And their confidence carried me until I could generate my own.
The way out is always through. Ask for help. Take one small action, then another. Dedicate small pieces of uninterrupted time to work on a large project. Trust that you can do it. Things don’t get done without your action. Take one action, then the next, then the next.
Many people worry about giving feedback because they fear they don’t have the ‘right’ words. They’re concerned they’ll say ‘it’ wrong and damage their relationships.
Feedback is hard enough to give without worrying about saying everything perfectly. Worry less about having all the right words and more about whether or not people trust your motives.
When people trust your motives – why you’re giving feedback – you can say almost anything. When they don’t trust your motives you can say almost nothing.
Getting negative feedback is hard. It’s easier to listen to feedback when we trust the person who’s giving us the feedback – we know their intentions are to help versus to judge or hurt us.
Speak from the heart, be authentic, and worry less. Be yourself. If you’re nervous to say what you want to say, tell the other person you’re nervous. If you’re struggling to find the right words, say so. If you’re worried you’ll damage the relationship or that it isn’t your role to give the feedback, say that. Authenticity goes a long way.
How’s how to give feedback you’re apprehensive about:
How to give feedback phrase one: Consider saying, “There’s something I need to talk with you about but I’m concerned that I won’t use the right words and will damage our relationship.”
How to give feedback phrase two: “There’s something I want to talk with you about, but I’m concerned how it will come across. Is it ok if I say what I need to say?”
How to give feedback phrase three: “I want to give you my thoughts on something but I’m concerned that it’s not my place to do so. Is it ok if I share my ideas about _________?”
Other people aren’t expecting you to be perfect. But they do want to know they’re working with a human being. And human beings are fallible. We have fears. We make mistakes. And sometimes we don’t say things perfectly.
You don’t have to be perfect, you just have to be real.
There are three reasons people say “that’s above or below my paygrade” or “that’s not my job” –they don’t feel empowered to make decisions, they think they’re being unfairly compensated for the challenges at hand, or they aren’t particularly motivated (read lazy).
“That’s not my job” (aka, I don’t do things that are outside of my job description) is a mindset, and if someone has it, I’d suggest not hiring that person. People who think they should only have to do what’s on their job description aren’t utility players, and your organization is likely too lean to afford employees who only want to perform in a narrow box.
“That’s not my job” can also be an outcome of leaders and managers who can’t let go and let employees take risks and make decisions. If that’s your management style, hire people who will follow directions and don’t want to create new things and solve problems. Problem solvers will be frustrated if they only get to follow instructions.
Here are six steps to steer clear of “that’s not my job” syndrome and advance your career, regardless of your current role in your organization:
- Never say the words “that’s above or below my paygrade” or “that’s not my job.” Even if it’s true.
- If you don’t have the latitude to solve certain problems, ask the people you work for how they want you to handle those types of issues when you see or hear about them. That’s a subtle way to provide feedback that you don’t have the latitude you need to solve certain problems.
- When you see an impending train wreck, say something. I see lots of very capable employees see the train wreck coming, comment to themselves or others who can’t do anything about the problem (aka gossip), and then nod knowingly when the *&#@ hits the fan. Don’t be that person. Look out for your organization and the people you work with.
- If you see a broken or lacking process, raise the issue with someone who can do something about it, and offer to take a stab at fixing the problem. One of managers’ biggest complaints is employees who dump and run – “I’ve identified a problem. I’m leaving it for you to fix.”
- Go out of your way to do the right thing, even if you are uncomfortable or don’t want to. If it’s easier to email someone, but you know the right thing to do is to pick up the phone, pick up the phone. If an internal or external customer expresses concern and you can’t solve the problem, find someone who can. There are lots of ways to make an impact.
- Ask more questions. Find a non-judgmental way to ask, “Why do we do this this way?” “Have we considered…?” “Would you be open to trying…?” Status quo can be the right thing and what’s necessary. It can also be the death of organizations.
Make stuff happen. Don’t pass the buck. And if you are going to pass the buck, don’t announce it. It only makes you look disempowered and uncommitted.
If an employee quits and the manager is surprised, shame on the manager. Employee turnover – literal turnover (he quits and leaves the building) or figurative turnover (he quits but continues to come in everyday and do his minimal best) – are extremely predictable.
Most employees need only a handful of things to be satisfied and productive at work. The key is getting employees to tell you what those things are. And they might just tell you, if you ask.
An employee’s first few weeks at a new job often involve a lot of training. Managers tell employees what they need to do and hopefully why they need to do those things. I recommend balancing telling with asking.
Effective management involves asking the seven questions below during the interview process, after an employee starts, and again 90-days to six months into the job.
Effective management question number one: “What brought you to this company? Why did you accept this job? What are you hoping the job will provide?” Ask one of these three questions. Pick the one you like best.
Effective management question number two: “What would make you leave this job? What are your career deal breakers, things you just can’t tolerate at work?” Ask either of these questions.
Effective management question number three: “What type of work, skills, and/or areas of our business do you want to learn more about?”
Effective management question number four: “Tell me about the best manager you ever had. What made him/her the best manager?” This will tell you what the employee needs from you as a manager and is a much better question than, “What do you need from me as your manager?” That is a hard question to answer. Telling you the best manager s/he ever had is easy.
Effective management question number five: “Tell me about the worst manager you ever had? What made him/her the worst manager?”
Effective management question number six: “What are your pet peeves at work? What will frustrate you?” Why find out the hard way what frustrates employees when it’s so easy to ask. This question demonstrates that you want your employees to be happy and that you will flex your own preferences, when possible, to meet employees’ needs.
Effective management question number seven: “How do you feel about being contacted via cell phone or text outside of business hours? How do you feel about receiving emails during the evenings and weekends?”
If you’ve participated in one of our effective management trainings and received a box of Candor Questions for Managers, you know I could go on. But these seven questions are a good start.
Regardless of age, gender, or work and educational background, all employees have a few things in common. Employees want to:
• Work for someone who takes an interest in and knows them
• Feel valued and appreciated for their contributions
• Be part of and contribute to something greater than themselves
• Feel respected as a person. Managers respect their time, expertise, and needs
Taking the time to get to know employees throughout your working relationship accomplishes many employee needs.
If you have long time employees, it’s never too late to ask these questions. Regardless of for how long employees have worked for you, they’ll appreciate you asking. There is no need to feel that employees will raise an eyebrow and wonder why you’re asking now. They’ll just be happy you’re asking. You can simply say, “I realized that I’ve never overtly asked these questions. I just assume I know. But I don’t want to do that. You’re too valuable to me and to the organization. During our next one-on-one meeting I’d like to ask you these questions and you can ask me anything you’d like.”
If you have a manager who will never ask you these questions, provide him/her the information. Don’t wait to be asked. You’re 100% accountable for your career. Tell your manager, “There are a few things about myself I want to share with you. I think this information will make me easier to manage and will help ensure I do great work for the organization for a long time.”
Managers, the better your relationship with your employees and the more you know about what your employees need from you, the organization, and the job, the easier employees are to engage, retain, and manage. Stop guessing and start asking.
Most of us wait to give negative feedback until it’s the right time, aka the recipient won’t get upset. Or we wait, hoping the situation will resolve itself. If something is really an issue, the likelihood of either happening is pretty slim. The right time to give feedback is shortly after something happens. I’ll offer up the 24-guideline and the one-week rule. Wait 24-hours to give feedback, if you’re upset. But don’t wait longer than a week.
The purpose of giving positive or negative feedback (I like the words upgrade feedback) is to motivate someone to replicate or change a behavior. That’s it. Feedback is supposed to be helpful. If you wait longer than a week to give either positive or upgrade feedback, the person isn’t likely to remember the situation you’re referencing and the purpose of giving feedback – to change or replicate a behavior – will be lost.
Here are four practices to make negative (upgrade) feedback conversations shorter, less painful, and more useful:
Giving feedback practice one: Agree to give and receive feedback at the onset of relationships. Do this with everyone you work with – direct supervisors, direct reports, peers, internal and external customers, and vendors. If we’ve done How to Say Anything to Anyone training for your organization or you’ve read the book, you got the specific language to have this conversation.
Giving feedback practice two: Prepare for feedback conversations by writing down what you plan to say and then delivering the feedback to a neutral person. Ask that person to tell you what she heard and what her expectations would be, based on what you said. Confide in someone either at your level or above at work or someone outside of work, to keep the gossip to a minimum. Ask for confidentiality.
Giving feedback practice three: Tell a neutral person about your situation, and ask what she would say to address the situation. Everyone but you will do a better job at giving feedback. Feedback conversations become hard when we’re emotionally involved. The guy working at the 7-11 will do a better job than you. Seriously. It’s our emotions and concern about the other person’s reaction that makes feedback conversations challenging.
Giving feedback practice four: Agree to do a weekly debrief with the people you work closely with, and follow through. Answer the questions – what went well this week from a work perspective and what would we do differently if we could. Answer the same questions about your working relationship. Giving feedback about your relationship will be hard at first. It will be easier the more you do it. Be sure to say “thank you” for the feedback, regardless of what you really want to say. One of the reasons giving negative feedback is so hard, is we wait too long. Shorter, more frequent conversations are better than long, infrequent discussions.
Giving negative feedback doesn’t have to be so hard. Follow the suggestions above and remind yourself that the purpose of giving feedback is to be helpful. If you were doing the wrong work, you’d want to know. And others do too.
Want to know why people get defensive when you give feedback and why they often don’t change their behavior? Because what you’re giving them isn’t actually feedback.
“You’re awesome to work with” isn’t feedback. Neither is “You did a great job.” “Your work isn’t thorough” isn’t either. Neither is, “You were inappropriate.”
Most of what we consider feedback isn’t feedback at all. It’s vague, unhelpful language that leaves people wondering what they need to do more, better, or differently.
There are only two reasons to give feedback – to encourage someone to either change or replicate a behavior. Unfortunately, most of the ‘information’ we give is too vague to help people do either.
When you give coach or give feedback, you serve as someone’s GPS. Like the GPS on your phone, you need to be so specific the person knows precisely what to change or replicate. If you were driving and your GPS said, “Good job” or “I think you’re off track,” you’d throw the GPS out the window and get a map.
If you give someone what you consider feedback and he says, “I don’t know what you mean, can I have an example?” you’ll know you weren’t helpful.
Here are six tips for giving helpful feedback:
Giving feedback tip one: Write down what you plan to say, then strip out half the words. Shorter feedback with fewer words is better.
Giving feedback tip two: Practice what you plan to say out loud. Have you noticed that what you ‘practice’ in your head is typically not what comes out of your mouth?
Giving feedback tip three: Before having the ‘real’ conversations, give the feedback to an independent, third party and ask her to tell you what she heard. Ensure who you talk with will maintain confidentiality. Your organization doesn’t need more gossip.
Giving feedback tip four: Tell someone else about the conversation you need to have, and ask him what he would say. Anyone not emotionally involved in the situation will do a better job than you will. Again, ensure confidentiality.
Giving feedback tip five: Ask the feedback recipient what he heard you say. Asking, “Does that make sense?” is an ineffective question. “Do you have any questions?” isn’t any better.
Giving feedback tip six: Give one to three examples of what the person did or didn’t do, during the conversation. If you don’t have an example, you’re not ready to provide feedback, and anything you say will evoke defensiveness rather than behavior change.
Giving feedback doesn’t have to be so hard. Be so specific that your feedback could be used as driving directions. The purpose of feedback is to be helpful.
A professional athlete would never get on the court, field, or ice without knowing the rules of the game. Athletes know every action that will result in points, penalties, and other positive and negative consequences. Yet many of us go to work without any idea of how we’re being held accountable and what a good job looks like.
In the next few weeks, way too many people will have a performance review during which they will receive feedback that’s a surprise.
Writing clear, specific, and measurable goals is the key to managing your own work performance and to not being caught off guard by performance appraisals. Writing goals may not be sexy or fun, but doing so is the key to taking control of your year.
Four tips for setting goals at work:
1. Setting goals at work: Don’t wait for your manager to suggest writing goals. Ask permission to draft 5 to 7 goals.
2. Setting goals at work: Discuss and finalize each goal with your manager, and ask that the goals be the criteria for your 2017 evaluation.
3. Setting goals at work: Write such specific goals, that at the end of the year, it’s very clear whether you did or didn’t produce the agreed-upon results. When goals are specific, performance appraisals write themselves.
4. Setting goals at work: As business priorities and objectives change, goals change as well. Review your goals with your manager quarterly and make changes as appropriate.
Here are questions to answer when writing goals:
- What results will you produce? What will be different in the organization at the end of the year? (X%) Assign each goal a percentage. Weight each goal by importance.
- What actions will you take? What will you do, and when will you do it?
- How will you know you’ve made progress or achieved your goal? What will be different as a result of your work? (This should be quantitative. Use numbers.)
Here is a completed sample goal:
Results to produce: Retain 90% of new customers. Weighting: 40%
Actions to take:
- Have a setting-expectation meeting with each new customer.
- Return all customer calls within 24-hours.
- Call 10% of customers quarterly, and ask for feedback.
Milestones and year-end results:
- Customer complaints will drop by 20%.
- Customer change orders will drop by 10%.
When what you need to do during the year is clearly articulated, you’ve set yourself up to win. You know exactly what you need to do to be successful. Early in my career, I worked for an organization that did goal setting well. Each employee wrote 5 to 7 goals that were weighted and extraordinarily specific. It was obvious, throughout the year, if employees were meeting performance standards. And at the end of the year, it was so clear whether or not employees had done what they needed to do, employees could write their own performance appraisal. That’s the power of goals. Well–written goals drive performance, empower employees, and remove the debate about results.
Not every goal or objective at work is numerical and clear cut, but many are. Write down what you need to do and what the desired outcome looks like, whenever possible, and you’ll feel more empowered and in control at work than you previously thought possible.