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Saturday, March 17, 2018

Dealing with an Absentee Boss

Dear Leader's Digest,

I have a manager who seems to be missing in action. In all fairness to my manager, my work is independent and in a different location. Nonetheless, his communication is superficial, and he doesn’t act as if he’s genuinely interested in my performance. He’s difficult to find (always in meetings), fails to provide me with vital information, and continually misses deadlines on information or decisions that I depend upon to do my job effectively. 

I decided to call him every other week to brief him on my work outlook, issues, successes, etc., but when I do he acts as though he’s in a hurry and I’m taking up his time. I truly find my work rewarding, but working for this unengaged manager is frustrating.


Cut off

Dear Cut Off,

You face an interesting decision. Do you talk to someone who doesn’t appear to care about your job, your results, or your relationship–and by extension might not care about any of your concerns? You weigh the possibilities and wonder if the odds favor you or not. He might suddenly “feel your pain” and take corrective action of some sort. He might smile politely and do nothing. He might act upset and say it’s not his fault that you’re located in a different building and then resent you for attacking his leadership style. Hmmm. What will happen?

So the real question is: What can you do to increase the odds that the outcome will be beneficial?

Before I offer any suggestions, let me say that our own research has revealed that the single best predictor of satisfaction with leadership is frequency of interaction. The more two people interact, the greater the satisfaction. People who are directed and reviewed by individuals in different buildings, or even different states, universally dislike the arrangement. You’re not alone. People rightfully wonder: How can my boss evaluate my performance, coach me, provide me with career advice, mentor me, and sponsor me to a better position without ever seeing me in action?

Within a corporate context, absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder. The more accurate expression would be: out of sight, out of mind. I mention this because you may want to take a job where you won’t constantly be facing such a large barrier. No matter what you do, the distance can be daunting.

If you love the job itself and really want to stick with it, here are few things you might consider.

First, ask what’s in it for your manager to correct the problems you mentioned. He is causing you grief by not providing you with essential information, meeting deadlines, or making timely decisions. You feel your pain, but if you can’t link his relatively insensitive and unprofessional behavior to something he cares about, you’re dependent on him caring about your pain–something that currently doesn’t seem to affect him.

So, here’s what you have to ask. In what way does his poor performance affect you–and then affect him? For instance, when he doesn’t give you time-sensitive information, you have to track him down, interrupt him in meetings, leave notes with secretaries, call his boss to see if he or she can find him etc. This can’t be pleasant for him. When he doesn’t provide you with X, harming your performance in Y, this is how it affects the department–which in turn causes problem Z for him. The point here is that if you only enter the conversation with the idea of his changing for the sole purpose of making your life better, it’s harder to achieve the results you want. Link his existing bad behavior to the existing negative consequences he’s already experiencing.

Second, ask what can be done that doesn’t call for him to change his behavior. How can you manipulate the environment? The idea of talking on the phone to update him may indeed interrupt him. How about e-mail that he can read at his leisure? There are some fairly decent video conferencing solutions out there. Maybe an electronic face-to-face will work for him. How can you get his support staff to be cued to send you critical information the minute he gets it? The point here is that it’s far easier to manipulate processes and *things* than it is to change human behavior. Look at environmental solutions.

Third, if you do choose to talk to him directly about the problem, bring your best skills into play. In the book Crucial Confrontations: Tools for Resolving Broken Promises, Violated Expectations, and Bad Behavior, they teach a step-by-step process for dealing with crucial confrontations. Here are a few tips from the book.

Be careful with your conclusions. You may believe that your boss is uncaring and unreliable (you didn’t say this, however you could easily conclude this), but this should never be your starting position. Pick one of the behaviors that has you concerned and deal with that behavior only. Don’t pile on a bunch of problems. In a similar vein, take special care not to pile on inflammatory conclusions. Trade “You’re unreliable, insensitive, and uncaring” for “Yesterday I was expecting the O’Malley workup but it didn’t come. I was wondering what happened.” Then stick to the problem of not delivering on his promises. Deal with untimely information, lack of support, and the other problems at a different time. Start small. Stick to behaviors.

Once you’ve decided which issue to deal with, carefully unbundle it. Even though you think you’ve picked one problem, it could easily have several component parts. For instance, if the problem you pick is a pattern, focus on the repeated nature of the behavior. Talk about the pattern, not a single instance. If the problem is now harming your relationship (and it sounds as if it is), then this may be the problem you want to address. Talk about the problem (say, not meeting deadlines) from the point of view of how it’s affecting how you work together. “When I don’t get what I need from you, I end up trying to track you down and I don’t want it to feel like I’m hounding you. I can see that you don’t like it and I’m starting to feel reluctant to follow up. And yet, if I don’t find a quick resolution, it affects my performance.” Pick one problem, unbundle it, and then pick the issue that matters the most. Ask: “What is the one thing I really want to see change?” and then focus on this.

Good luck as you step up to a tough situation. 

Prepare carefully, be on your best behavior, and hopefully you’ll start to resolve some of the problems that have you rightfully frustrated, one at a time.

To your greater success,
Peter Mclees, Leadership Coach, Trainer and Performance Consultant
Mobile: 323-854-1713

Smart Development has an exceptional track record helping service providers, ports, sales teams, restaurants, stores, branches, distribution centers, food production facilities, nonprofits, government agencies and other businesses create a strong culture, leadership bench strength, coaching skills and the teamwork necessary for growth. 

Having worked with several companies throughout their growth cycle, we have valuable insights and strategies that would help any late stage startup, small or medium sized company achieve sustained growth and prosperity.

7 Questions to Ask Employees During Coaching Conversations

I have learned that coaching means many things to many people. I often see a certain technique in practice that is referred to as "coaching" among managers, when really all that is happening in these instances is that counseling or feedback is being supplied.

Your employees aren't the only ones performing their jobs. As a manager, part of your duty is ensuring that other people's work gets done. So when staff members become unproductive, unmotivated, or disruptive, your first thought should be, "How do I get things back on track?" 

For example, on several occasions I have heard a manager say, "Let me give you some coaching around ABC," and he proceeds to explain to an employee why the employee failed to accomplish a task.

The manager then explains the way ABC needs to be done and sometimes will provide an example of how ABC has been accomplished in the past.

More times than not, I have seen the recipient of this so-called "coaching" walk away disillusioned by what he thinks was a coaching experience. As a result, coaching can get a bad rap and be misunderstood.

Put me in, coach

So what does a real coaching conversation look like? Well, something more like this: "So, how do you think your presentation on ABC went?"

The employee is given time to reflect, respond and be an active participant in the conversation.

The manager continues to ask the employee thoughtful questions and gives him ample time to respond. Such questions may include:

What do you think went well and/or not so well?
What would you have done differently?
How can you prepare better for next time?
What steps will you take between now and then to do so?
How would you like to be held accountable for your actions?
What can I do to support you?

Do you notice the difference? This is a true coaching conversation!
The employee is empowered to act, and with the support of his manager he gains clarity regarding the situation and comes up with an action plan to resolve it.

The employee gains confidence knowing that there's a viable solution that can be carried out, and he feels acknowledged and supported by his manager.

Taking the shortcut

Unfortunately though, in some corporate cultures, you would be hard-pressed to find these types of coaching conversations.

Some managers believe it's faster to get something done by telling employees what to do rather than having them work out solutions themselves.

This may especially be true if an employee is new to his or her role or the company, or has never done a certain task before.

However, if this behavior is endemic and repeated, both the employees and the company can suffer in the long run.

I'd suggest you read (Or reread) my blog entitled Coaching Works. Here's Why to inspire you to make the effort to become a more effective coach with the resulting improved performance of your people.

To your greater success,
Peter Mclees, Leadership Coach, Facilitator and Performance Consultant

Take the Next Step ...

Interested in learning how we can benefit you and your organization? We begin with a collaborative discovery process identifying your unique needs and business issues. To request an interview with Peter Mclees please contact: 

Email: or Mobile: 323-854-1713

Smart Development has an exceptional track record helping service providers, ports, sales teams, restaurants, stores, branches, distribution centers, food production facilities, nonprofits, government agencies and other businesses create a strong culture, leadership bench strength, coaching skills and the teamwork necessary for growth. Having worked with several companies throughout their growth cycle, we have valuable insights and strategies that would help any late stage startup, small or medium sized company achieve sustained growth and prosperity.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Dealing with Change: 6 Steps

Over the years -- through research, working with people at all levels in organizations and our own life experiences -- we have learned some techniques that can help you move from reacting to change to proactively rising to its challenge:

#1: Recognize that change involves loss.
Even positive change, by the way. For example, a job loss (whether through layoff or career advancement) means losing coworkers, familiar routines and surroundings, and a reassuring feeling of competence.

Get in touch with that loss. Experience it and put it in context with potential gains entailed in the change.

#2: Embrace the change.

This does not happen overnight. [See Step 3.] You may have heard of the Serenity Prayer (which can be viewed as a religious prayer or a secular self-dedication):

         ...grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change
        Courage to change the things I can and the Wisdom to know the difference.

#3: Approach change as a process.
Don't expect instantaneous comfort with the change. It's like a new pair of sneakers. That old pair is well worn in and comfortable. But it's ratty looking and starting to fall apart. A new pair just doesn't feel right, yet. But we know it will, after a few days. So we bear with the temporary discomfort.

Some changes may be welcomed, e.g., a new job, house or child. Some may not, e.g., going on without a loved one. Either way, change can be disorienting and uncomfortable or even painful, initially. But, this too shall pass.

And, typically, there are stages we move through. The following SARAHmodel, outlining classic stages of grief, applies to all types of change:

Shock -- numbness, confusion, disorientation 
Anger ... or (directed inward) -- depression, sadness, fear
Rejection ... including denial of emotional impact
Acceptance ... or (negatively) -- resignation, i.e., hopeless "acceptance"
Hope -- positive focus on the future

Although the manifestations, timing and sequence vary from person to person and circumstance to circumstance, we must accept and move through whatever stage we are in, in order to reach full acceptance and hope. Otherwise, we can get stuck in one or more stages, e.g., bitter resignation or vacillating between anger and rejection.

#4: Develop a positive outlook.
Negativity is a killer (sometimes literally)! Stress, brought on by negative thoughts and actions, can lead to a reduced immune system and a greater possibility of illness.
In this context of rising to the challenge of change, negative thoughts are paralyzers - telling ourselves (incorrectly) that we can't do what we need to do.

Turn those killer thoughts into more positive (and more realistic) internal dialogue. Practice the following process:
  1. Recognize: realize that you're thinking negatively
  2. STOP: visualize a STOP sign and tell yourself to Stop It!
  3. Restate: reframe into a positive statement
  4. Reward: even if it's just giving yourself a pat on the back
For example:
  1. Oh, this is impossible. I'll never be able to do this!
  2. Stop That! That's not true.
  3. This is hard; and I'm not sure yet how or when I'll succeed, but I will!
  4. Hey! I just changed a negative into a positive. Well done!
Initially, you'll probably miss more negative thoughts than you catch, but you'll get better and better; and the process will start to become automatic.

Have you heard that joke about the tourist in New York City, trying to find Carnegie Hall? He approaches a street musician and asks: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? The answer: Practice, practice, practice!

#5: Make a plan.
Translate your positive attitude into a positive plan of action. As with any good plan, include short-term goals and timetables. What will you do and when will you do it? Review the plan regularly and revise as appropriate. [See Step 6 below.] Get started and take one step at a time.

Perhaps most important, develop a support system. Surround yourself with positive people, who care about you. And let them in. Share the challenge you're facing, your stumbles and your triumphs.

One of the best-known support systems is Alcoholics Anonymous -- a wonderful model for coping with change. [We've already quoted from the Serenity Prayer used by that group.] Find a sponsor -- your own personal cheerleader and coach -- someone to turn to when the going gets tough and with whom to share successes along the way.

Better yet, a team of sponsors --working in coordination or separately. [A few years ago, we saw a TV news story about an entire town banding together to solve their joint unemployment problems in a very creative way.]

Perhaps that team consists of some combination of: a family member, a friend, a coworker, a mentor, a mental health practitioner, a professional life-skills coach, and/or training seminars.

#6: Allow yourself to be flexible.
Accept that life is a series of detours. The best laid plans...

Many times, when we least expect it, life throws us a curve. It's not the nature of the curve so much as our ability and skill to handle the detour that affects the outcome.

Expect such detours. For example, you may want to develop strategies for coping with your worst-case scenario.

Don't let the detours throw you. Simply revisit your plan and revise accordingly. Remember, you can handle this!

To your greater success,
Peter Mclees, Leadership Coach, Trainer and Performance Consultant
Mobile: 323-854-1713

Smart Development has an exceptional track record helping service providers, ports, sales teams, restaurants, stores, branches, distribution centers, food production facilities, nonprofits, government agencies and other businesses create a strong culture, leadership bench strength, coaching skills and the teamwork necessary for growth. 

Having worked with several companies throughout their growth cycle, we have valuable insights and strategies that would help any late stage startup, small or medium sized company achieve sustained growth and prosperity.

7 Mistakes When Communicating Organizational Change

I've helped a number of organizations learn why their change management initiative didn't succeed as well as their external and internal consultants told them it would.

What I've noticed over the years is an organizational change occurs, the organization communicates about the change, and employees indicate they don’t fully understand the change.  When I delve deeper I often confirm that although communication did occur, it was missing some or all of the following key components to make it more effective:

The Mistake:
Communication describes how the organizational change will impact the business, not its employees.

The Fix:  
Don’t just describe how business metrics, customers, processes, or strategy are impacted by organizational change. What is the impact on employees’ work, daily experience, or job stability? The main curiosity most employees have is “How does this impact me?” Acknowledge what will and won’t be different for employees.

The Mistake:
“Why” isn’t covered.

The Fix:
Don’t just cover what is changing and when. The “why” helps employees understand that this isn’t change just for the sake of change, and it can also illustrate that the change was thought through and justified. 

The Mistake:
Communication is one-way.

The Fix:
Many organizations do a good job of using multiple vehicles to communicate organizational change: emails, intranet postings, all-hands meetings. This approach helps ensure that every employee hears your message, but this alone doesn’t provide employees with an outlet to ask questions, offer ideas, or share their concerns. The more that people feel their voices are heard, the more buy-in you’ll get. Employees are typically closest to processes, so they are likely to bring critical considerations or ideas to further shape the change that otherwise may have been missed.

The Mistake:
Communication doesn’t continue over time.

The Fix:
Organizational change takes time. However, communication often doesn’t extend much beyond an initial announcement. What progress has the organization made in implementing the change? Is the intended impact occurring? Has anything unexpected occurred? How are employees feeling? What is left to come? Just as change takes time, communication should extend across time.

The Mistake:
Uncertainty isn’t addressed.

The Fix:
Even the best-planned organizational changes create some uncertainty. Leaders must also face the reality that more change may be needed in the future. Employees will appreciate your honesty if you indicate that there are things you don’t yet know. This helps them see you’re not hiding anything, which can help build trust.

The Mistake:
Managers aren’t leveraged in the communication process.

The Fix:
Managers need to have enough information to answer employees’ questions, calm their concerns, or clarify uncertainty. Managers may also need a system for escalating questions, ideas, or concerns they aren’t able to address. When preparing for an organizational change, prepare your managers and explain their accountability in communication. Check in with them throughout the change process to see if they need additional information or resources.

The Mistake:
Organizational change is positioned as a rare or one-time thing.

The Fix:
I rarely encounter an organization these days that’s not going through change, whether it’s a new executive leader, new technology put into place, a pending merger, or a reorganization. Although some types of organizational change may truly be rare, avoid describing all changes as “an event” because the next time you face a change, your employees will inevitably fret about “another change.” 

If change is constant — and this is true for most organizations — then over communicate your mission and vision. Emphasize agility and why it benefits the organization. Explain how employees play a role. Your employees will understand where you’re headed, understand how they may be part of the future, and expect change to be part of the ride.

When your organization makes changes, do employees understand why? Squash employee uncertainty and effectively manage change by including these seven components in your next organizational change effort.

To your greater success,
Peter Mclees, Leadership Coach, Trainer and Performance Consultant
Mobile: 323-854-1713

Smart Development has an exceptional track record helping service providers, ports, sales teams, restaurants, stores, branches, distribution centers, food production facilities, nonprofits, government agencies and other businesses create a strong culture, leadership bench strength, coaching skills and the teamwork necessary for growth. 

Having worked with several companies throughout their growth cycle, we have valuable insights and strategies that would help any late stage startup, small or medium sized company achieve sustained growth and prosperity.

Implementing Change Successfully

Kotter's Change Model
Learn how to implement change successfully.

Change is the only constant.
– Heraclitus, Greek philosopher

What was true more than 2,000 years ago is just as true today. We live in a world where "business as usual" is change. New initiatives, project-based working, technology improvements, staying ahead of the competition – these things come together to drive ongoing changes to the way we work.

Whether you're considering a small change to one or two processes, or a system wide change to an organization, it's common to feel uneasy and intimidated by the scale of the challenge.

You know that the change needs to happen, but you don't really know how to go about delivering it. Where do you start? Whom do you involve? How do you see it through to the end?

There are many theories about how to "do" change. Many originate with leadership and change management guru, John Kotter. A professor at Harvard Business School and world-renowned change expert, Kotter introduced his eight-step change process in his 1995 book, "Leading Change." We look at his eight steps for leading change below.

Step 1: Create Urgency
For change to happen, it helps if the whole company really wants it. Develop a sense of urgency around the need for change. This may help you spark the initial motivation to get things moving.

This isn't simply a matter of showing people poor sales statistics or talking about increased competition. Open an honest and convincing dialogue about what's happening in the marketplace and with your competition. If many people start talking about the change you propose, the urgency can build and feed on itself.

What you can do:
+   Identify potential threats and develop scenarios showing what could happen in the future
+  Examine opportunities   that should be, or could be, exploited.
+  Start honest discussions, and give dynamic and convincing reasons to get people talking and thinking. 
 +  Request support from customers, outside stakeholders and industry people to strengthen your argument.

Kotter suggests that for change to be successful, 75 percent of a company's management needs to "buy into" the change. In other words, you have to work really hard on Step 1, and spend significant time and energy building urgency, before moving onto the next steps. Don't panic and jump in too fast because you don't want to risk further short-term losses – if you act without proper preparation, you could be in for a very bumpy ride.

Step 2: Form a Powerful Coalition
Convince people that change is necessary. This often takes strong leadership and visible support from key people within your organization. Managing change isn't enough – you have to lead it.

You can find effective change leaders throughout your organization – they don't necessarily follow the traditional company hierarchy. To lead change, you need to bring together a coalition, or team, of influential people whose power comes from a variety of sources, including job title, status, expertise, and political importance.
Once formed, your "change coalition" needs to work as a team, continuing to build urgency and momentum around the need for change.

What you can do:
·       +   Identify the true leaders in your organization, as well as your key stakeholders  .
·       +   Ask for an emotional commitment from these key people.
·       +  Work on team building within your change coalition.
·       +  Check your team for weak areas, and ensure that you have a good mix of people from different departments and different levels within your company.

Step 3: Create a Vision for Change
When you first start thinking about change, there will probably be many great ideas and solutions floating around. Link these concepts to an overall vision that people can grasp easily and remember.

A clear vision can help everyone understand why you're asking them to do something. When people see for themselves what you're trying to achieve, then the directives they're given tend to make more sense.

What you can do:
·      +  Determine the values that are central to the change.
·      +  Develop a short summary (one or two sentences) that captures what you "see" as the future of your organization.
·      +  Create a strategy to execute that vision.
·      +   Ensure that your change coalition can describe the vision in five minutes or less.

Step 4: Communicate the Vision
What you do with your vision after you create it will determine your success. Your message will probably have strong competition from other day-to-day communications within the company, so you need to communicate it frequently and powerfully, and embed it within everything that you do.

Don't just call special meetings to communicate your vision. Instead, talk about it every chance you get. Use the vision daily to make decisions and solve problems. When you keep it fresh on everyone's minds, they'll remember it and respond to it.

It's also important to "walk the talk." What you do is far more important – and believable – than what you say. Demonstrate the kind of behavior that you want from others.

What you can do:
·        +  Talk often about your change vision.
·        +  Address peoples' concerns and anxieties, openly and honestly.
·        +  Apply your vision to all aspects of operations – from training to performance reviews.
+        +Tie everything back to the vision.
·        +   Lead by example  .

Step 5: Remove Obstacles
If you follow these steps and reach this point in the change process, you've been talking about your vision and building buy-in from all levels of the organization. Hopefully, your staff wants to get busy and achieve the benefits that you've been promoting.

But is anyone resisting the change? And are there processes or structures that are getting in its way?

Put in place the structure for change, and continually check for barriers to it. Removing obstacles can empower the people you need to execute your vision, and it can help the change move forward.

What you can do:
·       +   Identify, or hire, change leaders whose main roles are to deliver the change.
·       +   Look at your organizational structure, job descriptions, and performance and compensation systems to ensure they're in line with your vision.
·       +  Recognize and reward people for making change happen.
·       +    Identify people who are resisting the change, and help them see what's needed.
·       +  Take action to quickly remove barriers (human or otherwise).

Step 6: Create Short-Term Wins
Nothing motivates more than success. Give your company a taste of victory early in the change process. Within a short time frame (this could be a month or a year, depending on the type of change), you'll want to have some "quick wins  " that your staff can see. Without this, critics and negative thinkers might hurt your progress.

Create short-term targets – not just one long-term goal. You want each smaller target to be achievable, with little room for failure. Your change team may have to work very hard to come up with these targets, but each "win" that you produce can further motivate the entire staff.

What you can do:
·      +  Look for sure-fire projects that you can implement without help from any strong critics of the change.
·      +    Don't choose early targets that are expensive. You want to be able to justify the investment in each project.
·      +  Thoroughly analyze the potential pros and cons of your targets. If you don't succeed with an early goal, it can hurt your entire change initiative.
·      +   Reward the people who help you meet the targets.

Step 7: Build on the Change
Kotter argues that many change projects fail because victory is declared too early. Real change runs deep. Quick wins are only the beginning of what needs to be done to achieve long-term change.

Launching one new product using a new system is great. But if you can launch 10 products, that means the new system is working. To reach that 10th success, you need to keep looking for improvements.

Each success provides an opportunity to build on what went right and identify what you can improve.

What you can do:
·      +  After every win, analyze what went right, and what needs improving.
·      + Set goals to continue building on the momentum you've achieved.
·      +   Learn about kaizen,the idea of continuous improvement.
·      +  Keep ideas fresh by bringing in new change agents and leaders for your change coalition.

Step 8: Anchor the Changes in Corporate Culture
Finally, to make any change stick, it should become part of the core of your organization. Your corporate culture often determines what gets done, so the values behind your vision must show in day-to-day work.

Make continuous efforts to ensure that the change is seen in every aspect of your organization. This will help give that change a solid place in your organization's culture.
It's also important that your company's leaders continue to support the change. This includes existing staff and new leaders who are brought in. If you lose the support of these people, you might end up back where you started.

What you can do:
·        + Talk about progress every chance you get. Tell success stories about the change process, and repeat other stories that you hear.
·       +  Include the change ideals and values when hiring and training new staff.
·       +   Publicly recognize key members of your original change coalition, and make sure the rest of the staff – new and old – remembers their contributions.
·       +   Create plans to replace key leaders of change as they move on. This will help ensure that their legacy is not lost or forgotten.

Key Points

You have to work hard to change an organization successfully. When you plan carefully and build the proper foundation, implementing change can be much easier, and you'll improve the chances of success. If you're too impatient, and if you expect too many results too soon, your plans for change are more likely to fail.

Create a sense of urgency, recruit powerful change leaders, build a vision and effectively communicate it, remove obstacles, create quick wins, and build on your momentum. If you do these things, you can help make the change part of your organizational culture. That's when you can declare a true victory. then sit back and enjoy the change that you envisioned so long ago.

To your greater success,
Peter Mclees, Leadership Coach, Trainer and Performance Consultant
Mobile: 323-854-1713

Smart Development has an exceptional track record helping service providers, ports, sales teams, restaurants, stores, branches, distribution centers, food production facilities, nonprofits, government agencies and other businesses create a strong culture, leadership bench strength, coaching skills and the teamwork necessary for growth. 

Having worked with several companies throughout their growth cycle, we have valuable insights and strategies that would help any late stage startup, small or medium sized company achieve sustained growth and prosperity.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Why Feedback is Essential for Life and Performance

Two Facts About Feedback

1) Feedback is essential for life. Feedback from other people regulates and controls much more than the ebb and flow of face-face communication; it is responsible for our vital body rhythms, our emotional balance, our health, and our sanity. We cannot survive without feedback from other people.

Did you see the movie Cast Away, with Tom Hanks? The only way he survived psychologically and emotionally while he was alone on that desert Island was to invent someone he could talk to and get feedback from. He made a volleyball into a person's head (called Wilson) and then projected a personality onto it. It became his best friend. He talked to it, shared his feelings with it, and asked it for advice. Tom and Wilson shared a deep emotional relationship. Wilson kept him sane. If you haven't seen the movie, this might sound a bit crazy, but the fact is that without feedback from other people, our body rhythms become chaotic and we become ill at ease.

2) All behavior is a feedback loop. You want something, you try for it. If you fail, you can try the same thing again; or you can figure out what the first try taught you (feedback), redesign your strategy, and then try again. Get more feedback from your second try, and keep changing and refining until you get what you want. Try and refine, try and refine. There is not failure, only feedback.

“Hey, do you have a minute to talk?”

Separately, these words are harmless. But when strung together by a boss or manager, they’re frightening. Our minds race wondering whether we’re in trouble, and we jump to conclusions about what we did wrong. But why? Why does such a simple question inspire fear in people?

In many organizations feedback has adopted a negative connotation. If a manager wants to talk for a minute, we immediately assume it’s because we messed up and that there’s an awkward conversation ahead. After all, feedback and mistakes go hand in hand, right?

Wrong. Feedback and growth do.

Consider this: 98% of employees will fail to be engaged in their work when managers give them little or no feedback (OfficeVibe, 2015). No engagement means no results, no productivity, and ultimately, no growth. So even if we’re sometimes nervous or afraid to receive feedback, we’re stuck without it.

Theory Y management asserts that most employees have the potential to contribute in greater ways to the success of the organization  But without a healthy dose of feedback from the people around them every now and then, they'll never realize it. 

So, if feedback is still the breakfast of champions, then why do we still dread it? In some cases, the only time feedback is given to an employee was with the purpose of poking holes in one another’s performance, nitpicking on bad habits, or a performance review filled with “you need to do [x] more”. Also, let's be honest, giving and getting feedback is hard; it’s tricky to approach a personal conversation professionally. 

Giving Feedback: A Balancing Act

We all want to be good at our jobs. But how can we get there if we don’t know what good looks like? It's important to strike a balance between positive and corrective feedback. Show me a workplace where everyone is only told what they are doing wrong, and I’ll show you a workplace that’s unmotivated and unproductive. On the flip side, over-praising can be just as ineffective. How will we ever improve if we’re always told we’re doing a good job? Steering clear of constructive criticism altogether might feel easier at first, but it does your colleagues a disservice. Not to mention, constant praise can quickly go from motivating to insincere.

That’s why it’s crucial to find a balance. Luckily, we’re not totally in the dark on figuring out what that balance looks like. A study on the impact of employee feedback found that the ideal ratio of positive to constructive feedback is 5.6:1. While getting that ratio down pat may be unrealistic (and impractical), the essential takeaway is that praise is just as important in helping someone grow as corrective feedback is. The conversation is not only more comfortable for you when you can compliment your colleagues, but it’s also more valuable for them. It’s a win-win.

Getting Feedback: Keep It Cool

With the balance of good and not-so-good feedback, there will inevitably be times we hear constructive criticism that’s hard to stomach. But it’s important not to get defensive. While it’s up to our manager or colleague to read the room and broach the topic tactfully, we’re responsible for taking feedback professionally.

This used to be (and honestly, sometimes still is) really hard for me to do. One way to take feedback is with humility by remembering that it’s a conversation, not a lecture.

When you’re told of instances where you could improve or of a missed opportunity, instead of shutting down, handle it gracefully: Ask questions if you need more tactical advice, make it clear that you understand the feedback, and above all, say “thank you”.

This doesn’t always come easy, and it doesn’t mean you’ll always leave the conversation feeling like a million bucks, but it helps put the feedback in perspective. It’s a two-way road and collaborative effort in your growth. So instead of thinking of yourself as in the hot seat, remember that you’re part of driving the conversation.

The next time you hear the words, “Hey, have a minute to chat?” don’t flinch; jump right in. Feedback is not only important to motivate and grow a team, but also to build and grow your own career and skill set. Whether you’re on the receiving or the giving end, embrace feedback, don’t fear it. It may prove to be one of the best tools you have to develop in your role and to help others do the same in their own careers.

Three Reasons Why It Isn't Easy to Receive Feedback

You can improve the way you receive feedback by understanding the three major reasons people resist feedback.

1) Our Ego.

Ego has gotten a bad rep. But the truth is everyone has an ego, big or small. Having an ego doesn’t mean you have a big head. Simply defined, an ego is a person’s sense of self-esteem or self- importance.

Consider these stats from executive coach and author, Marshall Goldsmith:

• 70% of us believe we’re in the top 10% of our peer group.
• 82% of us believe we’re in the top 20%.
• 98.5% of us believe we’re in the top half.

You see the problem with these numbers? The fact is that we can’t all be in the top 50 percent — it’s basic math.

Feedback can threaten our self-perception, our ego. As Goldsmith states in his interview with Talent Quarterly, “It is very hard to face the reality of our own existence.” He goes on to include “the reality of our performance.”

Rather than examine our shortcomings, it is easier to play the role of a victim and blame the feedback giver. It is easier for us to be angry instead of depressed. We avoid feedback because it inflicts pain on our ego.

If we seek positive feedback only to boost our ego, then we miss the opportunity to receive valuable, corrective feedback that can help us grow.

“…the more we focus on maintaining our self-esteem, the more meaningless and less adaptive self-esteem becomes…Success is not about thinking highly of yourself, but persuading others to think highly of you. Conversely, people who ignore what others think of them and who try ‘just to be themselves’ will only be winners in their own imagination.”
Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Robert Hogan, Ph.D. The Psychology of Negative Feedback: PersonalityCoachability and Career Success

2) Our Brain.

Let’s dig deeper and examine the neuroscience behind why feedback makes us feel threatened. When we encounter something new, our brain seeks to minimize danger and maximize reward. If the new information or situation is perceived as dangerous, the brain goes into threat response mode, also known as “fight or flight.” This is our body’s primitive, automatic, stress response that prepares us to fight or flee from attack, harm, or threat to our survival.

Leading research on the social nature of the brain, presented by David Rock in “Managing With the Brain in Mind,” has found that social situations can also trigger the threat response. Specifically, our perception of five qualities (statuscertaintyautonomyrelatedness, and fairness) can activate either a threat or reward response. This is well known as the SCARF model.

By becoming more self-aware and understanding our reactions, we can proactively prevent, control, and shift our threat response to a reward response.

Our SMART training module on "Giving and Receiving Feedback" equips participants to understand and take advantage of the five qualities in the SCARF model.

3) Our Fear.
When you hear the words, “Can I give you some feedback?” where does your mind go? Do you expect receiving feedback to be a positive experience? Or do you anticipate the interaction will be negative? Despite the fact that feedback can be positive or negative (and that even negative feedback can have positive ends), our minds typically expect that receiving feedback will be a negative experience.

So when we hear those words, “Can I give you some feedback?” we tend to operate from a position of fear.

In “Feedback: The Leadership Conundrum,” Zenger and Folkman studied which factors can increase a person’s willingness to receive corrective feedback. They found that reducing individual fear has nearly 3 times more the impact than improving the skills of the feedback giver.

Five Reasons Why Isn't Easy To Give Feedback

With 1,600 people Googling “how to give feedback” each month, it’s clear: Many struggle with giving feedback.  But why should the feedback giver feel uncomfortable? Why can giving feedback be just as painful as receiving it? In this section, we’ll examine why giving feedback is difficult and often avoided.

You can improve the way you receive feedback by understanding the five reasons why giving feedback can be just as uncomfortable as receiving it.

1. Our Ego.

As we learned with the SCARF model earlier, in every interaction, our brain works to assess whether our sense of status is being threatened or rewarded. We’re programmed to care about our status.

When we give positive feedback and please the feedback receiver, our sense of status is rewarded. Alternately, when we give corrective or negative feedback, we risk displeasing the receiver. In short, most of us want to be liked, and being disliked is a blow to our ego.

2. Our Fear.

In any feedback interaction, the giver walks in with a degree of uncertainty. How will the receiver react? Will my feedback improve or worsen the behavior or situation? Will my feedback be taken the wrong way? Will it motivate or demotivate the receiver?

Giving feedback requires courage to overcome these fears.

3. Our Personality.

Ph.D. and executive coach, Marcia Ruben discusses the relationship between personality and feedback in her article, “5 Reasons It’s So Hard to Give Tough Performance Feedback.” Using the Myers-Briggs personality assessment, Ruben points out that how we process information (thinking or feeling) plays a role in how we give feedback.

Thinking Style

If you exhibit the thinking style, you make decisions based on logic and analysis. You consider the problem first, while the people come in second. This process is rational and impartial. Feedback givers who prefer the thinking style are typically good at identifying flaws, while being oblivious to emotional cues. The result? The thinking feedback giver can leave the receiver feeling hurt without realizing it.

Feeling Style

If you exhibit the feeling style, you consider people first, deprioritizing the problem. You are more likely to provide positive feedback and appreciation and avoid giving a critique or corrective feedback. The result? The feeling feedback giver can over-empathize with the receiver or give them a false sense of accomplishment.

4. Our Lack of Know-How.

Giving feedback is a skill, and an important one at that. However, it’s a skill that’s rarely developed. We don’t know how to give feedback. We forget to give positive feedback. We avoid giving negative feedback. And it’s not one-size-fits-all. What works changes from receiver to receiver and situation to situation.

Our SMART training module on "Giving and Receiving Feedback" equips participants to improve the way they give feedback.

5. The Receiver's Ego

Perhaps our biggest source of fear, and the main reason giving feedback is difficult, is that we don’t want to hurt the receiver’s feelings. In giving feedback, we know we can potentially make the receiver feel threatened by triggering the fight-or-flight response.

In a feedback interaction, the giver’s every word and action is interpreted, magnified, and scrutinized for meaning the giver may have never intended. The SCARF model outlined in the previous section defines qualities that can activate a threat or reward response. 

Understanding the model can alert the feedback giver to the receiver’s core concerns. With understanding, you can attempt to minimize the receiver’s threat response and maximize the reward response. Let’s examine how the feedback giver can minimize the threat of each quality.

Creating a Culture of Feedback

Creating a culture that supports feedback can increase the effectiveness of your feedback givers and receivers.

Here are four keys to creating a feedback culture:

1. Provide Training to Givers and Receivers

Both giving and receiving feedback are skills. What’s more, they’re skills that are rarely developed. To support feedback in your organization, provide training and resources to your employees.

For all employees:

• Train them on asking questions, seeking examples, and clarifying meaning and intent.
• Help them understand their resistance to feedback.

For effective managers and supervisors:

• Encourage them to openly seek feedback.
• Train them on how to communicate feedback effectively.
• Develop their skills in setting goals for employees and helping them achieve those goals.
• Build their expertise and credibility to give useful feedback.

2. Set the Tone From the Top

Like any element that you want to make part of your organizational culture, it starts at the top. Receiving and giving feedback well must be modeled. Your leaders must hone these skills and set the example. They must ask for feedback (up and down the hierarchy and sideways) and visibly show that they receive feedback well. And they must do it, and do it again and again.

3. Communicate Expectations Around Feedback

If giving and receiving feedback well is a quality leadership seeks, it must be made clear. Communicate, and communicate often. Set organizational expectations around what feedback looks like in your organization: Who gives it? Who receives it? How often does it occur? How do we do it? What is the goal of feedback? Make feedback part of your processes and traditions, from onboarding and appraisals to everyday conversations.

4. Empower Your Team With Feedback Tools

The right tools can make all the difference. You can facilitate feedback processes by giving employees an easy way to record notes from feedback sessions, conduct two-way feedback conversations, request 360 feedback, and give positive feedback via recognition.

To your greater success,

Peter Mclees, Principal
Mobile: 323-854-1713

For the past twenty two years, we've helped organizations create a culture of feedback and successfully coached and trained managers and employees to improve the way they give and receive feedback.