At some point in our career, most of us have taken a class that told us to give feedback that sounds like, “I felt ___________ when you ___________.” I couldn’t disagree more.
Most people get defensive when they receive negative feedback. Becoming defensive is a normal and natural response to upgrade (my word for negative) feedback. It’s the ego’s way of protecting us. Defensiveness kicks in when the recipient feels judged, and it’s difficult to listen when we’re defensive.
If you say to someone, “I felt embarrassed when you yelled at me in front of the team,” defensiveness kicks in at the word “embarrassed”. The recipient is now defensive (and is likely no longer listening) but does not yet know what they did to upset the person. Instead, lead with the facts, so when the listener becomes defensive, at least they know what they did.
If you say, “You yelled at me in front of the team. That was embarrassing,” at least when the defensiveness kicks in, the listener knows what they did that was upsetting. Then there is a chance that after processing the feedback, the person will change their behavior.
Yes to this:
“I need more regular feedback to stay on track with projects. Can we touch base weekly for ten minutes?”
No to this:
“You don’t make time for me. “I need more regular feedback to stay on track with projects.”
Lead with the facts. Tell the person what happened. Follow with why that matters. What happened, what’s the impact.
Factual, objective feedback may lead to change. Judgments lead to upset and damaged relationships.
Someone asks if you can (fill in the blank). You look at your calendar. That hour is open. You say, “yes.” You forgot that hour was designed for something you’ve been meaning to do, for yourself. You’re angry (with yourself) for forgetting. You promise to do better tomorrow.
The next day… repeat.
The only way I know out of tired-induced-people-pleasing is to set boundaries and stick to them. And this is hard, for me.
Examples of boundaries: Putting an hour in your calendar during the day to exercise; blocking 30-minutes between meetings to work; limiting one day each weekend to kids’ sports. Boundaries are parameters that guide our behavior. Putting a boundary in place doesn’t mean saying no. Boundaries create the conditions that tell us, without struggle, when to say yes.
Before I had my son, I traveled for work constantly. Some weeks I was on the road for six consecutive days, in three different states. And I loved every second of it. Audience + microphone = happiness. When I had a child, I knew that schedule wasn’t going to work. So, I set boundaries. I decided how many nights per week I would travel, the time I needed to be home from each trip, and how many hours I was willing to fly. And I didn’t violate those boundaries for 8 years. If a piece of work would require me to violate my travel boundaries, I said no without struggle, no matter how much I wanted to do that piece of work. The boundaries made the decisions easy. There was no deliberating or debating.
I’ll admit, I’m not as effective as setting boundaries in other areas of my life. Last week, I had a yoga class on my calendar. When I learned a repair person was able to be at my house during that hour, the yoga class was quickly deleted from my calendar. Yesterday, I asked my son what he wanted for breakfast, before flag football. He wanted scrambled eggs and a smoothie. I made both, knowing there wasn’t time. We were late for flag football. What was missing in both situations? Boundaries.
How does this apply to work? The key to preventing tired, burnt-out employees is to make it safe to speak up. As I wrote earlier in the year, burnout is a systemic issue, not a personal one. Burnout at work comes from too much to do, over time. One way out – make it safe to tell the truth at work.
For the most part, no one wants to admit to their boss that they are overextended or overwhelmed. Doing so feels like failure, and who wants to admit failure? If you want employees who are energized versus exhausted, focus on making it safe to tell the truth at work.
Five ways to make it safe to tell the truth at work:
Leaders and managers share their own truth. See the top of this blog for what that could sound like.
Ask employees meaningful questions. “How’s it going?” is not a meaningful question. Try: “What are your preferred working hours? What times a day would you prefer not to be contacted?”
Show appreciation when employees risk and say hard things.
Reward the truth. Make employees who are willing to say hard things a positive example.
Help employees problem solve to manage their time and priorities. Be ‘in it’ with them.
The good news about violating boundaries is you will get another chance to do it differently tomorrow. You can always reset a boundary. This time, tell the other people in your life about your boundaries. Tell your coworkers if you don’t do happy hours after meetings, 7:00 am Zoom calls, and back-to-back meetings, and tell them why. Then offer an alternative. Everything in life is a negotiation.
When my son asked that I not be on my phone on his birthday, I cried. I was surprised. I’m a very attentive parent. I spend a lot of time with my son. And apparently, as he has noticed, I also spend a lot of time with my phone.
There is always a good reason (excuse) for looking at my phone. I’m self-employed. I run a business. It’s important to be responsive to current and potential clients. But is every message timely? Urgent?
It’s become obvious – I’m addicted to my phone. I take it everywhere. I check it constantly. It’s such a habit, I don’t even see myself pick up the phone and check for messages.
Many people’s response to Covid was to move cities, switch jobs, continue working from home, and possibly work less. People are yearning for more balance and freedom. Yet, we are addicted to our phones, attached like they are a lifeline.
I regularly get calls from clients telling me that employees are tired and over extended – burnt out. They want a way out. Burnout is an organizational issue that begins and stops with strong management and leadership. One thing individuals can do to protect their time and separate work from their personal lives, is to put the phone away. By the way, next week’s tip is about how to prevent burn out.
The phone takes our attention and a lot of time, I suspect more time than we realize. When I’m focused and working during the day and hear that little ping of a text message, I stop working to check my phone. It’s a quick message, so I reply. Then the sender replies. Then I reply. Soon it’s been 20 minutes. Where was I with my work again?
These distractions can happen a few times a day. Then I pick my son up from school and lament how little I got done that day, and wonder when I’ll have time to finish my work? After my son’s asleep? In the morning before he wakes up? Instead of doing something I enjoy at night and sleeping in the morning, I’m trying to regain lost time.
Burnout is a systemic, organizational issue. But we can create boundaries with our phones today and regain some time and focus.
Here are the things I’m trying:
I leave the phone face down when I’m working and only turn it over if it rings. My son’s school doesn’t text when there is an emergency, they call.
My phone is on silent if my son is home and I’m not expecting a timely call or message.
I put my phone in another room when he is home, so I’m not tempted to look at it.
I leave the phone on another floor during my son’s bedtime routine, so that time is uninterrupted.
I don’t always do these things consistently, but I’m more aware of my addiction now. I’m conscious and I’m trying.
The key to taking back our time and having a balanced life is boundaries. A clear boundary (a rule you create for yourself) makes decision-making easier. There is no struggle, no internal fight. You are simply following the guidelines you put in place for yourself.
For example, if you decide to quit eating sugar for 30 days and go to a party where the sweets look really amazing, that experience will be stressful without a clear boundary. “I’m not eating sweets.” Not, “I’m not eating sweets unless they look really good.”
The same is true for the hours we work and work travel. If I set a boundary that I only travel one night a week and never miss two consecutive bedtime routines with my son, it’s easy to say no to work that doesn’t fit those boundaries, no matter how much I’d like to do that work.
Our phones can be the same. If you want to be less tied to your phone, set boundaries. “I only check my phone at the top of the hour. Then I put it on silent until the next hour.” “I’m available via phone, email and text until 5:30 pm each day, then I don’t check or respond to message until 8:30 am the next day.” Whatever boundaries you establish, tell the people around you who are impacted.
If your boss is used to getting responses at 8:00 pm, tell them the change you’re making and tell them why. If friends or family are used to hearing back from you within minutes, adjust their expectations.
You don’t have to be tied to your phone like it’s a member of the family. It’s a tool, not an extremity.
One of managers’ and employers’ biggest complaints is the inability to hire critical thinkers – employees who question. I hear this complaint all the time. Yet we often find the people who ask questions irritating and bothersome. “Why do they have to look for what’s wrong? Why can’t they just say, “ok”?
Questioners are often seen as boat rockers, challenging the status quo. They are ‘difficult’.
We can’t have it both ways. We can’t hire people who think critically, who don’t question.
I’m not talking about people who can’t make a decision and are constantly asking managers to validate their solutions or employees who use managers as google rather than doing their own research. I’m talking about squelching the counter-point-of-view.
If you want employees who identify and solve problems and create new products and ways of working, then you need to reward those who question.
One of the reasons employees may not ask questions is the fear of appearing as if they don’t know. Who likes to admit they don’t know something at work? It takes strength to admit, “I don’t know.” Managers and leaders need to model the behaviors they want to see. We need to ask our own questions visibly and regularly. We need to admit when we don’t know. We need to be willing to be wrong and to let others see it.
There is an old workplace adage, you get what you reward. Does your organization have an award for the employee who asks the most questions? If not, create one. Do you recognize employees publicly who are willing to point out inefficient processes and costly systems? Do you have a reward system in place for employees who fail trying to fix a problem or create something new? If we get what we reward, what are we rewarding?
Many businesses are struggling to overcome negative and permanent online reviews on yelp, trip advisor, Glassdoor, etc. And they’re wondering why customers and employees go online vs. giving feedback directly. The answer is simple.
Giving feedback online is easy. Giving feedback directly is harder, for many reasons. No one wants to be the person who complains. Feedback is likely to be received with a defensive at worst and explanatory at best response, and who really wants to deal with that? And we fear we’ll get “in trouble” for giving feedback, etc. etc. etc. I could go on and on.
If you want your customers and employees to give you feedback directly instead of blasting you online when they’re unhappy, make it easy to give you feedback, regularly.
Here are four ways to help prevent negative online reviews and improve the data you get from customers and employees:
Ask customers and employees for feedback regularly. Don’t wait until the end of the year or after a service has been provided to ask for feedback. Ask for feedback during the customer’s experience. Ask employees for feedback every 90-days. Marriott hotels is masterful at this. Hotel guests don’t get onto the hotel’s free Wi-Fi until answering one question about their hotel stay. If guest feedback has a negative component, a manager will call you immediately. Such smart business.
If you’re going to send online surveys, keep them short. Never ask a customer more than five questions, and two is better. Ask a version of, “What are you appreciating about your experience? What could we change on your behalf?” What else do you need to know? Too many businesses send exhaustive and exhausting surveys to customers after a service has been provided. It’s unrealistic to expect customers to complete 30+ survey questions. Keep it short. You’ll see better response rates.
Call 10% (or fewer if you have thousands of employees and customers) and ask for feedback. It’s such a rare occurrence to receive a phone call asking for feedback, it’s an immediate loyalty and relationship builder.
Don’t request a positive score on a survey. Sending a survey and asking for a certain response type is a turnoff. Uber drivers who ask me to rate them a five never get that rating. The best way to get an awesome rating is to be awesome.
Ask for feedback early and often, and make it easy to give. P.S. And no anonymous surveys – a topic for another day.
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.
Many organizations spend more money than they have to on employee recognition gifts and appreciation programs that often involve bonuses, paid time off, contests, gifts, and other expensive forms of compensation. What employees want most is to know they’re doing a good job.
Giving feedback in the workplace is the cheapest, most effective, and often overlooked form of employee recognition. Employees want to know how they’re performing, and most employees get little to no positive or negative feedback at work. They may not want to hear negative feedback, but employees want to know if they aren’t meeting expectations.
In several of Candid Culture’s training programs, I give participants a box of questions to help coworkers set expectations and improve workplace communication. Some of the questions include:
Do you prefer to receive information via email, voicemail, or text message?
Are you a big picture or a detail-oriented person?
What are your pet peeves at work?
What type of work do you like to do the most? What type of work do you like to do the least?
What do you wish I would start, stop, and continue doing?
Participants use the questions during the training, and I am consistently amazed at how often training participants ask what their coworkers wish they would start, stop and continue doing. I assume employees will be hesitant to ask for feedback in front of a group of peers. But training participants consistently tell me that they get almost no feedback at work, and they’re desperate for the information.
Here’s How to Celebrate Valentine’s Day at Work Without Spending Money:
Give clear, specific, and timely positive and negative feedback. Employees want to know how they’re performing.
Ask what type of work employees really want to do, and let them do that work most of the time.
Ask what skills employees want to learn, and give them a chance to attain those skills.
Write handwritten notes of appreciation.
Employees at Candid Culture get their birthdays off paid. We often buy employees lunch, give bonuses, and have a generous time-off policy. Those perks are important and do help retain employees. But monetary rewards never replace or supersede the value of being aware of employees’ performance and caring enough to tell employees the truth.
Many year-end performance reviews include whatever the manager and direct report can remember happening during the last six to twelve weeks of the year. For the most part, managers and direct reports sit in front of blank performance appraisals and self-appraisal forms and try to remember everything that happened during the year. The result: A vague, incomplete performance review that leaves employees feeling disappointed, if not discounted.
If you were disappointed by your performance review this year, don’t let it happen again next year. Take charge of your career by writing your own goals.
One of the first companies I worked for did the goal process so well, I learned early in my career how powerful well-written goals could be. Each employee set five to seven goals. Experienced employees wrote their own goals and then discussed those goals with their manager. Less experienced employees wrote their goals with their manager. Managers wrote goals for inexperienced employees. The goals were so specific and clear that there could be no debate at the end of the year whether or not the goal had been achieved. It was obvious. Either employees had done what they said they would, or they hadn’t. This made writing performance appraisals very easy. Very little on the appraisal was subjective. And this gave employees a feeling of control over their year and performance.
It’s great if you work for an organization or manager who works with you to write goals. If you don’t, write your own goals and present them to your manager for discussion and approval. Managers will be impressed you took the initiative to write goals and will be thankful for the work it takes off of them.
Goals should be simple and clear. It must be obvious whether you achieved the goal or not. There should be little if any room for debate. Sample goals are below.
Desired Outcome (goal):
• Improve client feedback – too vague • Get better-written reviews from clients – better • 80% of clients respond to surveys and respond with an average rating of 4.5 or above – best
Actions you will take to achieve the goal:
• Ask clients for feedback throughout project — too vague • Ask clients for feedback weekly – better • Visit client site weekly. Talk with site manager. Ask for feedback — best
Completed sample goal:
How to approach your manager with written goals:
Try using this language with your manager: “I want to be sure I’m working on the things that are most important to you and the organization. I’ve written some goals for 2020 to ensure I’m focused on the right things. Can we review the goals and I’ll edit them based on your input? And what do you think of using the agreed-upon goals to measure my performance in 2020?”
You have nothing to lose by writing goals and presenting them to your manager. You will gain respect from your manager, clarity of your 2020 priorities, and more control of your year-end-performance review. Give it a try, and let me know how it goes.
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 or who don’t 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 onboarding 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 to 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 culture.
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.
How many times have you been sitting at your desk wondering, “Why won’t he ___________ ?’ Perplexed, you talk with your buddy at work. The conversation goes something like, “I’ve got this person, and I can’t figure out why he won’t ______________.” Or perhaps you talked directly to the person, but after several conversations, he still hasn’t done what you asked him to do.
There are four reasons for a lack of employee performance and why people don’t do what you want them to do:
They don’t know how.
They don’t think they know how.
They don’t want to.
Reason number one for a lack of employee performance, they don’t know-how, is the easiest to solve. People who don’t know how to do something need training, coaching, a mentor, a job aid or some other form of instruction. The hope is that with the right training and exposure, he will be able to do what you’re asking.
Reason number two for a lack of employee performance, they don’t think they know how, can be improved over time with patience and consistent coaching. You aren’t working with clean slates. Most people are recovering from or reacting to a past relationship or situation. If a person worked for a controlling manager who never let him make a decision or worked for someone who invoked punitive consequences for making mistakes, the person will be hesitant to make decisions. Hence why he does drive-bys on you, repeatedly checking in, but never pulling the trigger on anything.
If you work with someone who doesn’t think he knows what to do, but you know that he has the answer, encourage him to trust himself. When he comes to you for validation or approval, ask questions, don’t give answers. Tell the person you trust his judgment and encourage risk-taking. Tell him that you’ll support his decision, even if it proves to be the wrong one. And encourage him to make the decision next time without consulting you. And then keep your word. If he makes the wrong call, you have to have his back and can’t invoke negative consequences.
Reason number three for a lack of employee performance, they can’t, is challenging but clear-cut. People who can’t do a task their brains aren’t wired for will never do that responsibility well, regardless of how much coaching, training, and assistance you provide. If you have repeatedly AND EFFECTIVELY, coached, trained, and provided support, remove that responsibility and give the person something he can do well. If that responsibility is a large part of the job, you have someone in the wrong job. It’s time to make a change.
Reason number four for a lack of employee performance, they don’t want to, is annoying but manageable. There are lots of reasons people don’t do things they don’t want to do. Those reasons include, but aren’t limited to, boredom, lack of buy-in as to why something is important, insufficient time, feeling like a task is beneath them, etc. If you’ve got someone who can but doesn’t want to do something, you can either take the responsibility away, incent him to do it, or give feedback EVERY TIME the task doesn’t get done.
Giving negative feedback isn’t fun for the giver or the receiver. No one wants to hear that he isn’t meeting expectations and most people don’t want to tell him. But the discomfort of receiving negative feedback EVERY TIME the person doesn’t do what he needs to do will create behavior change. He will either begin doing what you ask, quit, or ask for a transfer. Either way, your problem is solved.
The first step in getting people to do what you want them to do is to discover why they’re not doing what you ask. It’s impossible to appropriately manage employee performance if you don’t know why someone isn’t doing what he needs to do. And the person to ask why a responsibility isn’t getting done isn’t you or your buddy, it’s the person not doing the work. So get out of your head, leave your office, and go talk to the person not doing the work.
Here’s how to start an employee performance conversation:
“I’ve noticed you’re not doing ___________. Help me understand what’s happening.” Watch your tone, inquire from a place of genuine curiosity, and identify the reason he isn’t doing what he needs to do. Then you can intervene appropriately and hopefully get what you want.