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Giving Feedback – 3 Funny Examples of Giving Employee Feedback

Get the words to say the hardest things in two minutes or less. If you work long enough, you’ll eventually be confronted with these situations. Giving feedback doesn’t have to be hard.


Get Help When Giving Feedback

Last week one of my friends was concerned about something happening at her son’s school. She wrote out what she planned to say and sent it to me to read. Her notes were long, with lots of unnecessary details. I read five paragraphs before understanding what the situation was even about. I revised the notes. My notes were three sentences and easy to write. Why? Because it’s not my child, not my situation.

What makes giving feedback and making requests particularly difficult is our emotional involvement. We’re connected to the outcome. The stakes feel high. And that emotion makes everything harder.

If you’re struggling with a message you need to deliver, get some help. The person who helps you craft a succinct, specific, and unemotional message doesn’t have to be a feedback expert or a manager. The person just can’t be involved. As long as the person isn’t emotionally involved, they’ll be helpful.

When you ask for help, don’t ask for advice. Instead of asking a friend or colleague, “What would you do in this situation,” ask, “What would you say?” These are very different questions. You want the specific words to resolve whatever you’re struggling with.

Asking someone for help planning a challenging conversation or message begs the question, isn’t asking for that type of help a form of gossip? It could be. So be careful who you ask.

When asking for help planning a message or conversation, ask someone in your organization who is at your same level or above (title-wise) or ask someone outside of the organization. Change the names of the people involved; protect people’s anonymity. And be clear if you are asking for help to plan a conversation or if you are venting. They are not the same.

The most effective feedback and requests are unemotional, factual, and succinct. Sometimes we need other people who are not involved to help us get there.


Talk About Life – at Work. It’s Time to Get Personal.

It’s been almost two years that we’ve been looking into people’s homes on Zoom. Life and work have changed, and people have a variety of feelings about those changes. Some people miss working in person and can’t wait to go back to the office. Some people love working from home and never want to go back. What’s important is the ability to talk about how we feel and what we need from work – with the people we work for.

Most people suffer in silence, concerned to ask for what they want or need at work. Managers find out their employees are unhappy when they come across employees’ resumes on the internet.

The world has changed and how we interact needs to change to. Your manager may not be able to allow you to work from home all the time, but she certainly won’t if you don’t tell her what you want.

We need to cross the line, having conversations that perhaps we haven’t had in the past.

Managers, in addition to checking in on work progress, talk about how employees are doing and what they need going forward to be satisfied and do their best work.

Questions to ask during regular check-ins:

I’m not a fan of asking, “How are you doing?” It’s a vague question, and vague questions produce vague answers. But many employees will go their whole career without being asked how they’re doing. It demonstrates caring. It’s a place to start.

Here are some better questions to ask employees:

  • What’s changed for you in the last 18 months?
  • What have you learned about yourself in the last 18 months?
  • What has changed about what you need from work, if anything, in the last 18 months?
  • What would you tell me if you weren’t concerned about how I would react?

Managers, even if you ask these questions, employees may not feel comfortable answering. Managers can lead by example by talking about themselves. Share how your life, needs, and desires have changed. Share your own constraints. When managers show vulnerability, they convey it’s ok for employees to do so as well.

Also, tell employees that you really want to know the answers to the questions and assure employees there won’t be negative consequences for speaking candidly. Projects won’t be taken away. Careers won’t be impacted. You’re just talking. If employees never want to come into the office or travel, or want to work part-time, yes, jobs and careers may be impacted. But a conversation is just that, a conversation.

You won’t get what you don’t ask for.


Onboarding New Employees Virtually – Build Relationships First

Starting a new job is like the first day of school. It’s scary. Who will I have lunch with? How do I make copies and get reimbursed for expenses? Who do I need a good working relationship with? Starting a new job virtually is even more challenging. Who are these people I work with and how do I reach them?

We need to help new employees acclimate to people and processes, and this introduction increases tenfold when starting a job virtually.

“People leave managers not jobs” is an old phrase. I’ll widen the net a bit – people leave companies, not jobs. People unhappy at one company often take a similar job at a different company. They like being an accountant, auditor, marketing manager, they just didn’t like working for __________ (fill in the blank) at __________ (fill in the blank).

Here are six practices for helping new, virtual employees acclimate and feel at home quickly:

  1. Focus on relationships first and workplace goals second.

I onboard all new employees – virtual or in-person – with a handful of Team Building and Manage People Candor Questions. My first meeting with employees has nothing to do with goals or objectives. Instead, we talk about working-style preferences and pet peeves. We get to know each other and build trust. As Stephen Covey said in his book the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, “Deposit into the emotional bank account.” And as William Ury said in his book on negotiation, Getting to Yes, “Go slow to go fast.”

2. Make it safe and easy to ask questions.

Few people like to admit they don’t know something. I’d rather have my new employees pick up the phone or email me with a question than spend 60-minutes of frustration searching for an answer.

Ask, “What questions do you have” each time you meet and wait longer than you think you should for the answer. People always have questions. Make room for them to ask.

3. Have multiple people train new employees.

Training a new employee develops the person doing the training and builds immediate relationships.

4. Set up a system for people to ‘interview’ others throughout the organization – a virtual meet and greet of sorts.

5. Have team meetings on video.

I know, I know, people are tired of video meetings. Make them short, sweet, and regular.

6. Meet one-on-one weekly with new employees.

I suggest weekly meetings for at least the first six months, and protect the meeting time. If one-on-one’s with employees get cancelled, reschedule immediately. Cancelling meetings with direct reports without rescheduling sends the message that the direct report isn’t important.

Working with people virtually isn’t that different from working with people in person. Pick up the phone. Use video. Talk with people weekly. Ask questions. Wait for answers. Make sure new employees ‘meet’ and are exposed to a lot of people throughout the organization. People leave companies, not jobs.


Don’t Leave Them Guessing

You open an email (or a few hundred) telling yourself you’ll reply later, but never do. Feeling ambitious, you agree to a deadline you can’t meet. Needing a break, you take time off over the holidays but don’t put an out-of-office message on your email.

We’ve all taken too long to reply to an email, missed a deadline, or simply taken too long to provide someone with information. It’s ok to take time to respond, to not have all the answers, and to take time off. We simply need to provide a timely and accurate status update.

When people don’t hear back from us in what they consider a timely way, they start to wonder (at best), and judge us (worse), or tell others we’re non-responsive and unreliable (worst). Don’t make people wonder if you received their message, send a timely status update and tell the truth.

If you’re behind and need more time than usual to respond to emails, tell people that. Respond to each email within 24-hours and tell the person you received their message and it will be (fill in the blank) a week or two before they hear back from you. When you get an email that requires research, respond within 24-hours and tell the person it will take however long it will really take to find the information. If you’re out of the office and don’t plan to read or respond to emails, tell people the dates you’re out.

In the absence of knowledge people make stuff up. And it’s never good. Filling in the blanks isn’t malicious. People simply have a need to know what’s happening. And when we don’t know, we invent stuff. It’s how the brain works. When we don’t hear back from people in what we consider a timely way, we start to wonder. “Did she get my message? I haven’t heard back. She must not like me. Maybe she’s out of the office? Maybe she doesn’t work here anymore?”

It’s ok to need time to respond. It’s ok to be running behind. It’s ok to take time off. Simply let people know the true status. Manage your reputation and business relationships. Don’t make people guess.


Leaders – Encourage Employees to Disagree

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 Monday.”

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 in a meeting but managers hear otherwise informally.

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 shouldn’t 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 – publicly and privately.

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. It may not even be true. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Ask for input. Ask again and again and again. Employees may eventually believe that you really want their input.
  3. Ask for input in different ways – in-person roundtable discussions, email, surveys (if you wish).
  4. 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.
  5. Share what you learn after gathering data. Give more information than you think you need to.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Don’t Make Decisions From Fear – Play the Long Game

We all know people who have been furloughed, taken pay cuts, or who were laid off over the past few weeks. It happened fast. Business has slowed or ceased in many industries, businesses are shut, people aren’t working.  There are loans and tax refunds in place to motivate employers not to reduce employees’ hours or to reduce headcount.

Business leaders are doing the best they can to make decisions that will keep businesses afloat. It is a difficult time to run a business and manage people.

I too am confronted by these decisions in my own business. I had a new person who was supposed to start on March 16th. I have part-timers who aren’t coming in right now. I have an open job I’m not filling.

I want to suggest you play the long game letting your personal and professional goals drive your decision making, and I know this is very, very difficult. It’s difficult for me too.

Maybe you need to lay people off or reduce hours or compensation. Communicate with those employees from a place of TLC – communicate early and often. Give as much information as you can. Be as generous as you can.

Generosity comes in all forms. It is not necessarily financial.

Tell employees the benefits that are available to them. Be realistic about when employees may receive checks. But also share how you feel about these employees and how difficult it is to reduce compensation and jobs. People want to work for people who are authentic and care about them. Don’t be afraid to show you care. Call and check-in with employees who aren’t working. Ask how they’re doing. Demonstrate concern.

There is a long game in how we make business decisions but also in how we treat people. Treat people like they’re family and you’re working to have a long-term relationship.

Lastly, try not to make decisions from fear. This is a tricky one and one I can’t say I’m doing well.  I’ve made a few too many recent decisions out of fear. But fear is not a powerful place to stand. Fear is paralyzing and limiting.

When making personal and professional decisions, consider your long-term goals. Ask, “What do I want my business to look like in one year, three years, five years? What do I need to do today to achieve those goals, within today’s scary reality.” Act from your goals, not your momentary fear. You may need to remind yourself of this from moment to moment. I know I do.

Think future. Be realistic. Act with care and humanity. Play your long game personally and professionally.


How to Talk About Social Distancing and the Coronavirus at Work

I have a nanny who works in my home. She isn’t afraid of getting sick with the Coronavirus. She was going to the gym, before gyms were closed. I couldn’t tell her not to, however badly I wanted to. I could tell her not to come to work, but that doesn’t help me. How does a nanny work from home?

You are likely in a similar situation. You canceled your spring break trip, your direct report didn’t. You are practicing social distancing, your coworker who sits in the desk next to you isn’t. You’re keeping your kids at home; your next-door neighbors are not. Your kids want to play together.

You can’t legally tell an employee or coworker what to do when they’re not working, but you can tell your coworkers, friends, and family members that you’re uncomfortable. You can make requests and express concern.

My son is on the cusp of the cutoff to go to kindergarten in September. He just makes the deadline. I’ve been asking his preschool teacher how I decide if I should send him to kindergarten in September. His teacher’s criteria for determining if children are ready for kindergarten is self-advocacy. Can children ask for what they need and get their needs met. This is an interesting criterion that I see adults struggle with all the time.

Do we (the adults) regularly ask for what we need and want? Are we willing to be uncomfortable on our own behalf, on our employees’ behalf?

The coronavirus is testing all of us. It’s testing our patience, resilience, and self-discipline. It’s also testing our personal courage in the area of speaking up.

Here are a few ways to talk about the coronavirus at work:

Share your concerns. Tell the people you work with, “We work closely together. I’ve heard you talking about attending parties and other events with groups of people outside of work. I am very nervous about contracting the coronavirus virus. This is making me uncomfortable. I can’t tell you what to do outside of work. Can we talk about what types of social distancing we’re both willing to practice so we’re both comfortable?”

This will take courage. If you can’t advocate for yourself, who will?

Make requests. Tell your boss, “I’m really committed to the project I’m working on with _______. I’m working very hard to stay healthy and practice social distancing. I’ve heard _________ talking about going to parties and gatherings with other people outside of work. We’re working closely together and it’s making me uncomfortable. I want to be a good coworker and employee and protect myself. Can you help me?”

Self-advocacy takes courage.

Caveat – Vet any conversation you plan to have with your HR person or in-house counsel. Make sure what you ask for is legal in your home state.

Share your positive intentions:  “I want to be a good coworker.” “I want to do good work on this project.” “I want to be easy to work with.”

Share your concerns:  “I’m concerned about getting sick. I’m trying to limit my exposure to the coronavirus.”

Share your observation: “I’ve heard you talk about spending time with groups of people outside of work.” “I’ve noticed you spending time with groups of people.”

Share how you feel: “This is making me uncomfortable.” 

Make a request: “Can we talk about how we can keep each other safe?”

Creating a safe workspace and working environment requires the courage to speak up. Plan, practice, and prepare your conversations. Don’t speak off the cuff. Vet what you plan to say with your HR person or in-house counsel. Speak from your positive intention. Be courageous. Be safe.


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