When you use GPS in your car for driving directions, the GPS only provides one direction at a time. GPS tells you what to do now and what to do next. Your car can only go one direction at a time. And humans can likely only remember one or two directions at a time. When you coach people, you are their GPS, supporting them in achieving a desired goal efficiently.
Coach and give feedback like your GPS. Give one or two pieces of feedback at a time. Then give the person time to make changes and improve before giving more feedback.
What I hear every day, and every day it makes me shudder:
Manager: “One of my employees has been making a lot of mistakes. He seems disengaged (p.s. “disengaged” is Cap’n Crunch, vague and thus not real feedback). I’m not sure what’s happening.”
Most people hoard feedback. We wait for the right time, aka when we’re comfortable. That time will never come. The right time to give feedback is when something happens or shortly thereafter. Practice the 24-hour guideline and the one-week rule. Wait 24 hours to give feedback if you’re mad, but not longer than a week. Give feedback when you’re not upset, but soon after the event occurs, so people remember what you’re talking about.
Feedback is hard on the ego. The more feedback we receive in one conversation, the harder it is to hear. People need to feel successful. Receiving too much feedback at one time makes us feel we can’t be successful, so why bother. Pick the biggest and most impactful behaviors. Wait. And then give more feedback.
When it comes to feedback, keep this mantra in your head – recency, frequency. Recency, frequency. Short, weekly, feedback conversations – five minutes long – are better than sixty-minute feedback conversation once a month or quarter. You’ll see more behavior change and protect team member’s ego. Shorter and more frequent is better.
It’s not unusual to ask who is at fault when mistakes in an organization are made. We want to know who was to blame. Before asking who is accountable for a mistake, I’d ask what lead to the mistake. Was the error a people or a process issue?
If a document with mistakes is shared with people outside of an organization, there is a process issue.
Yes, someone made a mistake. Someone wasn’t careful or knowledgeable enough to catch the error. But if a document’s accuracy is important, more than one person should be looking at that document before it leaves the organization. When only one person looks at an important document, there is a process issue.
Processes include: The practices followed and the tools used when creating, proofreading, saving, and storing work.
William Ury, author of the negotiation books Getting to Yes and Getting Past No, said, “Be easy on the people and hard on the process.” When mistakes happen, evaluate the processes surrounding that work. What allowed the mistake to go out the door unchecked? Would a different process with more checks and balances and more eyes on the work have prevented the error?
After evaluating the processes or lack thereof, coach the person who made the mistake. Fill the gap that allowed the mistake to happen, but first, evaluate your processes.
A few years ago, I facilitated a company-wide training program for an 80-person organization. Early in the program, we were talking about career deal breakers and I asked someone in the group to share a deal breaker, so I knew that everyone was clear on what is and is not a true deal-breaker. An employee spoke up. She said, “I’ve been here six weeks. I’m overwhelmed and exhausted. If I don’t get some help soon, I’m leaving.” People in the room gasped audibly. And everyone surely thought the same thing – “She’s done. She’ll be gone by Friday.”
I ran into the organization’s CEO at the Denver airport two weeks later and we had dinner together. Over dinner, I asked if I could give him some advice. I said, “That woman who spoke up during the training did you a huge favor. You spent time and money to become a more candid organization; she gave you the opportunity to demonstrate whether or not you really mean it. Make sure nothing (bad) happens to her.”
It can be really hard when people disagree with us. Leaders institute a new practice, employees resist. Employees say they agree with a policy during a meeting but managers hear otherwise after the meeting.
It may feel easier to introduce a practice and ask employees to follow it without asking what they think. And sometimes it makes sense to do that. You don’t need to involve employees in every decision. But in an organization, it has to be safe to offer a counter-point-of-view. It must be safe to disagree.
Disagreement is hard. But silence and the fear of speaking up is dangerous. Organizations full of yes people don’t innovate. They don’t solve problems or find new ways to save costs. They don’t grow, develop, or change. Hearing the truth takes courage and persistence. Put your ego aside and ask – again and again and again.
Every time I work with a new organization, at least one employee pulls me aside and tells me about the organization’s “list”. Employees who speak up and say things the leadership team disagree with get put on the “list”. And employees who make the “list” disappear from the organization. Mind you, no one has ever seen this “list”, but employees everywhere are convinced it exists. And this is a challenge for leaders.
Even leaders who do all the right things regarding asking for and being open to all kinds of input are up against the belief that it isn’t safe to tell the truth at work. There may be no consequences whatsoever for speaking up, but the perception of the negative consequence is what matters. And this perception is powerful and pervasive across organizations.
So what is to be done? How do leaders get the truth when employees are afraid, disbelieving, and perhaps cynical?
Below are seven practices for leaders and managers to get more truth in their organization:
Put your ego aside. It hurts when people disagree with our beliefs or approach, and we’ll be fine. Let curiosity rather than your ego run the show.
Ask for input. Ask again and again and again. Employees may eventually believe that you really want their input.
Ask for input in different ways – in-person roundtable discussions, email, and surveys.
Ensure there are no negative consequences for speaking up. You can coach employees on how they spoke up and make suggestions for diplomacy, but reward the courage it took to speak up.
Share what you learn after gathering data. Don’t be a black hole. Give more information than you think you need to.
Tell employees the ideas you’re accepting and those you’re rejecting and why. It’s ok not to accept and act on all feedback. But close the loop and explain the rationale for decisions.
Be human. Admit failure, fear, worry, and wins. People trust leaders who are human, and humans have feelings and make mistakes. I’ll follow a humble leader further than a polished and seemingly perfect one.
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?
Frustrated by a control freak, micromanager, or a high-need-to-know type? Controlling behavior stems from a need that isn’t being met. Identify the need, meet it, and your life gets easier.
If someone wants more updates, information, or involvement than you’re comfortable with, the person has a need that isn’t being met. When you meet the need, the person will likely back off.
I ask the people who work for me to not make me ask for anything twice. Meaning, if I ask for an update the week before a speaking engagement, anticipate that I’ll want that information for all engagements. Confirm by asking me and then provide the data without being asked for all future engagements. Getting the information regularly without having to ask builds trust and credibility.
Here are six tips for working with control freaks:
1. If you don’t know, ask:
The person’s work-related goals. What are they working on this quarter and year?
What the person is concerned about at work? What are they worried about?
How do they like to communicate – in-person, email, phone, video, voicemail, or text?
How often do they want information, in what format, and with how much detail?
2. Provide more information than you think you need to, and then ensure the person wants that information in the future.
3. If you’re asked for information, ask why the person wants it, and if they want it in the future. Then provide the information before you’re asked.
4. If someone is overly involved in your work and you feel you have no freedom, state your observation and ask for information. That could sound like, “You’ve been involved with each major decision with this project. I’m used to working with less oversight. Do you have a concern about my approach?” Then you negotiate. Everything is a negotiation.
5. The approach in number four will likely put the other person on the defensive. A less confrontational approach is to discuss and agree upon levels of involvement and supervision when projects begin. That could sound something like, “What kind of involvement do you want to have in this project? What do you want to do? What do you want me to do? What kind of updates would you like, how often, and with how much detail?” It’s always easier to prevent a problem than to fix one.
6. Lastly, don’t take anything personally. Oversight and involvement may be a reflection of how someone feels about your performance, but it might not. When in doubt, ask.
I’m not sure why, I wish I could give you a good reason, but the vague phrases above are what come out of people’s mouth’s first when giving feedback. To prevent giving fake feedback, you have to prepare.
There is a reason you think the person is awesome or has a bad attitude. What did they do that created that impression? Until you can describe what the person did to create an impression, you’re not ready to give feedback. You’re better off saying nothing.
All of the phrases above are opinions with no facts. Opinions are judgments. Feeling judged makes people defensive. When people are defensive, it’s hard to listen.
The purpose of feedback is to help another person. Give the person enough information that they know what to replicate and what to change. Before you give feedback, write down three things the person did that created your impression. If you can’t give an example, wait to have the conversation until you can. It’s better to say nothing than to say something vague and unhelpful.
Vague positive feedback sounds inauthentic. Vague negative feedback is judgmental. Neither strengthens your relationship or are helpful.
If you really want to be heard and you want to be helpful, provide an example. No example, no feedback.
People don’t like the phrase “negative feedback” because it is, well, negative. So, someone came up with “constructive feedback”, i.e., “I have some constructive feedback for you.” I don’t particularly like that either. The definition of constructive is useful, and I think all feedback should be useful. I like the word “upgrade” instead. Upgrade implies the need for improvement, but it isn’t negative. The question is, which comes first, positive or upgrade feedback?
I always give positive feedback first. Not to make people feel better, but to ensure they hear the positive feedback. Most people want to be perfect. We want others to think well of us. Negative feedback calls our perfection into question and thus is hard to hear. When people get negative feedback, they naturally become defensive. It’s hard to listen when you’re defending yourself. If positive feedback comes after negative feedback, the positive feedback isn’t even heard. The negative feedback is all consuming.
When giving feedback, I tell people, “I have positive and upgrade feedback for you today. I’m going to give you the positive feedback first.” I give positive feedback, then I give upgrade feedback, and then I remind the person about the positive feedback, because I know the person is now consumed thinking about the negative feedback.
Think about yourself. If you receive seven pieces of positive feedback and one piece of upgrade feedback, what do you think about for the rest of the day? If you’re like most people, the rest of your day is about the upgrade feedback. We want to do good work and be thought well of, and negative feedback calls all of that into question and is thus, hard to hear.
Give positive feedback first, then give upgrade feedback, then remind the person about the positive feedback. People can handle feedback when it’s delivered by a trusted person in an objective way.
Most of us wait too long to give feedback. We worry, the conversation will take too long. The recipient will get upset and not want to work with us. Or we’ll get in trouble for giving feedback. So, we wait for the right moment, or performance appraisals, when the conversation becomes unavoidable.
Those of you who have had feedback training with me know you can deliver effective feedback in two minutes. Some of you have practiced giving feedback in 40 seconds.
We all know that exercising for 30-minutes a day is better than exercising once a week for two hours. Recency and frequency works with exercise and feedback. Shorter is better. Rather than waiting for the right time to give feedback, which will never come, create a structure to make feedback quicker, more timely, and as a result, easier.
Feedback is like your car’s GPS; it’s designed to help people achieve goals efficiently. If your GPS waited six weeks or six months to give you feedback, where would you and your car be? Peru?
Next year, do it differently. Create a structure now for 2023. Agree to give feedback weekly for five or ten minutes. Talk about what worked and what didn’t work in the past week. If you can discipline yourself to spend five minutes giving feedback as work is completed, feedback conversation will be more useful, less painful, and easier.
Yoga, wellness programs, and mindfulness will not prevent or eliminate burnout. Burnout is an organizational issue. If you want to prevent and eliminate burnout, focus on your organization, not individuals.
Burnout comes from a lack of role clarity and employees feeling like they can’t be successful at work, either because they consistently have more work than can be done in a regular work week or because they work for a manager who is a perfectionist, and nothing is ever good enough. Employees who constantly feel pressured at work or feel like they’re failing, regardless of the amount or level of work they produce, are susceptible to burnout.
Have you ever gone on vacation, had a relaxing time, and two days after you returned to your regular life, forgot all about that vacation? That’s like burnout. When the yoga class or vacation is over, you go back to your job with unrealistic expectations. Nothing has been solved.
Companies try to make employees’ experience more manageable with programs and perks, but what employees really need is a manager who clarifies roles so everyone knows who does what, helps employees manage their workload, and creates open relationships so employees feel comfortable saying when they’re overwhelmed.
Train your managers to do these three things to prevent and reduce burnout:
Clarify roles so people know what they’re accountable for and to eliminate redundancy. It’s very frustrating to feel overwhelmed, only to find that someone else on your team or in another department is working on the same project as you.
Manage workload and set realistic deadlines. If an employee regularly has more to do than can be done in a 40-hour work week, eliminate something – change deadlines, reallocate work, and evaluate if everything being done is necessary. If you can’t eliminate a project, evaluate if it can be scaled back. Is every bell or whistle necessary?
Create an atmosphere of psychological safety so employees are comfortable asking for help prioritizing work. Most employees suffer in silence until they’re so overwhelmed and exhausted, they quit. Finding employees’ resumes circulating on LinkedIn is predictable and thus preventable.
You can get employees talking by scheduling a short, weekly debrief – 10 minutes – of what’s working and not working.
Help employees prioritize responsibilities by assigning each priority a letter – A, B, or C – in order of urgency.
Ensure there are no consequences for sounding the alarm of needing help. Word gets around. If an employee is penalized for asking for help, other employees will learn not to do the same.
Allocate work to allow employees to be successful, focus on the projects that really matter and eliminate the rest, and create an organization in which it’s safe to tell the truth. That will solve burnout.
Hybrid meetings are more complicated and more difficult to run. There are lots of pitfalls. But with advanced planning and preparation, hybrid meetings can be well run and efficient.
Hybrid meetings defined: Some participants are together in-person, other participants attend from different locations.
Some pitfalls of hybrid meetings:
Can the people attending virtually hear people who are attending in-person, from a conference room?
Are the people in the conference room ‘talking’ to each other with their eyes while the virtual attendees assume they’re ‘talking’ about them?
Are people participating equally, regardless of their location (not unique to hybrid meetings)?
Are people texting each other about their real thoughts versus saying them out loud (also not unique to hybrid meetings)?
Did the facilitator provide hard copies of documents to in-person attendees and forget to send documents to virtual attendees?
The keys to running effective hybrid meetings – anticipate and practice before the meetings.
Do a dry run of a hybrid meeting before you run one. I run a practice session for all hybrid trainings I facilitate, even with repeat clients and multiple sessions with the same client. It’s not worth leaving anything to chance. Have two people in a conference room and another person attend virtually. Test the sound. Move around the conference room; sit in different locations. Can the virtual attendee see and hear, regardless of where in-person attendees are sitting?
Assess if you need an external camera and microphone. Getting these items set up may feel intimidating at first, but you only need to do it once. Once the technology is set up, it’s ready to use for future meetings.
Most conference rooms – even small ones – will need an external microphone so in-person participants can be heard by virtual participants. Trust me. I’ve learned this the hard way. The microphone in your laptop won’t pick up sufficient sound for virtual attendees to hear in-person attendees. You can buy a microphone for $30 at Best Buy or Amazon.
Plan how you will elicit balanced participation from attendees in all locations. Will you call on people? Consider sharing facilitation of different topics, so people in multiple locations lead different parts of the meeting.
Set expectations for participation when meetings start – using the chat and raise-of-hands feature, microphones on or muted, no distractions, and no messaging fellow participants offline. Don’t assume people know or will follow the guidelines from past meetings. Set expectations at the beginning of every meeting, even recurrent meetings.
When breaking people into groups during hybrid meetings, it’s tempting to put people in groups based on location, putting the in-person people together and the virtual people together. This practice exacerbates proximity bias (a topic for a future blog). While it’s harder to group in-person and virtual attendees together, it is more equitable.
Cameras on or cameras off? Discuss, decide, and tell participants in advance so virtual attendees are prepared.
Talk about the pitfalls of hybrid meetings with all attendees. Tell people to avoid ‘talking’ with their eyes to fellow in-person participants. Avoid having a camera capture the side of your face while you watch a different screen. Use the blur-your-background feature in Zoom if your background is distracting.
The key to leading effective hybrid meetings? Anticipate potential breakdowns. Prepare in advance. Communicate expectations with participants. Debrief meetings after they end. Make necessary changes. Repeat.