Managing People Archive
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.
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.