Manager as Coach

August 16, 2018

Making progress at something personally meaningful is the most powerful and motivating condition you can have at work. As a manager in charge of others, you should develop your coaching skills in order to help them experience this progress.

According to research, the single most important managerial competency that separates highly effective managers from average ones is coaching. And all managers—like directors and senior executives—are now expected to coach their direct reports.

However, while 73 percent of managers had some form of coaching training, according to research in 2006 from the leadership development firm BlessingWhite, only 23 percent of those being coached thought that the coaching had a significant impact on their performance or job satisfaction. Ten percent stated that the coaching they were getting was actually having a negative effect.

Clearly there’s a need to improve the quality of coaching training if managers want their coaching of others to be effective.

Managers may think they are coaching when they are simply teaching and advising. Or they may use the term “coaching” loosely, such as in describing any interaction with employees.

Coaching skills that are directive include teaching, providing feedback and offering suggestions. Non-directive coaching skills are about asking the right questions and listening. This non-directive approach with coaching is more challenging because it is about helping the individual solve his or her own problem.

Busy managers may find it hard to use non-directive skills as it takes longer and requires more patience. However, effective coaching requires exactly this in order to help employees develop the self-confidence and ability to solve problems on their own.

Another essential element to coaching is adopting a different mindset. Rather than be the natural problem solver that you are to get things done quickly, it’s important to let go of your assumptions, slow down and seek to understand the other’s perspective.

Ask probing questions that encourage your employee to explain the situation, the desired outcome and the potential steps for getting there. Learn to listen really well so you can encourage him or her and ask clarifying questions at the right time. Because when you ask good questions, your employee is empowered to believe he or she has the ability to find the answer. In addition, this employee will be more committed to the solution and more likely to fully implement it.

GROW

The GROW Model can be an effective and simple framework for structuring a coaching conversation. This model was originally developed in the 1980s by business coaches Graham Alexander, Alan Fine and Sir John Whitmore. The GROW acronym stands for:

 

  • Goal – Determine a SMART Goal that your employee is looking to develop. Ask probing questions to help determine if this is in fact the right goal for this person at this time.
  • Current Reality – Ask your employee to describe the situation. Questions can include: What is happening now (who, what, when, how)? What steps have you taken so far?
  • Options (or Obstacles) – Explore what to do next, but let him or her speak before offering your ideas. Ask: What else could you do? What are the pros and cons of that?
  • Will (or Way Forward) – This is about motivation, commitment and accountability. Ask: How will you remain motivated? When can we review your progress?

 

It’s important to follow these in succession in order for the model to be most effective. And remember to maintain this as a conversation so you can continue to build trust and learning is most likely to take place.

Finally, coaching should be done as a normal part of your interactions with direct reports. Look for coaching opportunities when he or she comes to you with an issue or problem to be solved. Instead of helping to solve the problem, help the individual learn to solve it on their own as way towards making progress on something meaningful to them.

Developing the non-directive skills of asking the right questions and listening well, altering your mindset and using the GROW Model will help you build your coaching skills as a manager.

More (Positive) Feedback Please

January 11, 2018

Feedback. We all want it and perhaps those in the Millennial generation crave it more than most. But is anything less than positive feedback really appreciated and effective at bringing out our best performance?

Years ago I wrote a blog post titled Six Tips to Successfully Deliver Employee Feedback where I suggested “. . . if we are doing something not so well, we want to know what this is and especially how to correct it. Don’t underestimate a person’s level of resilience because such feedback loops are vital to their continued growth.”

But in the current issue of the Harvard Business Review, an article titled Negative Feedback Rarely Leads to Improvement by Paul Green, a doctoral candidate at Harvard Business School, found that critical feedback from coworkers drove employees to adjust their roles to be around people who would provide more positive reviews. That is, when feedback was what they term “disconfirming,” the test subjects would seek others to provide “confirming feedback.”

Further, he found that when the relationship was discretionary—people didn’t have to work together—the person getting the negative feedback would just move away from that person or group. When the employees had to work together, however, the recipient of the negative feedback would look to connect with other people in the company in what they termed “shopping for confirmation.”

Negative feedback doesn’t provide the sustenance we need to enable us to maintain a positive view of ourselves, according to Green.

“The idea behind performance appraisals, and feedback in general, is that to grow and improve, we must have a light shined on the things we can’t see about ourselves,” says Green. “There’s an assumption that what motivates people to improve is the realization that they’re not as good as they think they are. But in fact, it just makes them go find people who will not shine that light on them. It may not be having the intended effect at all.”

What it comes down to is whether when receiving this critical feedback, the employee feels valued or not. Delivering the feedback sandwich of “here’s what you do well, here’s what you do not so well and keep up the good work” isn’t necessarily helpful. Instead, it should be about ensuring that employees first and foremost feel secure knowing that they provide value and their contributions are generally positive. Then the employee is able to hear and respond appropriately to the critical information.

In my work as a consultant and leadership coach, I find so often it is not the salary, job title, or other external expressions of worth, but whether or not the person feels they are valued by their manager, by their peers and by the company as a whole. And, ironically, conveying this appreciation of value to an employee costs the company nothing.

In some ways, this seems to further the argument that we should focus on maximizing strengths rather than minimizing weaknesses. But I think that would be short-sighted and reduce our ability to continue to grow and learn as we advance in our careers.

Regularly acknowledging and emphasizing the value employees provide means they may be much more open to hearing critical feedback. They may then be able to separate their job performance from who they are as individuals. Then they will be able to act on the feedback with a foundation of security that enables the courage to make necessary changes.

Three Steps to Effectively Using 360 Feedback

May 5, 2017

If you are lucky enough to receive a 360-degree feedback survey to help you grow in your effectiveness within an organization, it’s vitally important that you do something with the results.

Constructive feedback from peers, direct reports, and bosses enable you to confirm and capitalize on your strengths and to neutralize your weaknesses in order to become a more effective leader. When taken seriously, this feedback can be especially instructive and help you reach your potential.

All too often, however, the data collected is read and then promptly put away in a file cabinet where it’s forgotten. This contributes to what is often viewed as a waste in leadership development programs.

A 2012 Study found that American companies spend almost $14 billion annually on leadership development. Much of this is wasted because there is too much attention spent on gathering data or delivering information (e.g., classroom settings) and not nearly enough in planning and executing continuous improvement and accountability.

Critics may say 360 feedback surveys are not objective and therefore may not be reliable. While it’s true that the responses are subjective to the person doing the scoring, this doesn’t mean the results are not relevant or reliable. When 15 to 20 of your colleagues agree that you have a difficult time delegating, these subjective opinions are, in fact, a valid indicator of your workplace behavior.

The data collected can sometimes turn out to be contradictory, but this too can be instructive. If, for example, your direct reports all agree you are stellar at influencing and persuading, but your CEO says otherwise, it doesn’t mean you should discount the CEO’s perspective. It means that when presenting in front of the CEO you may not be as confident, comfortable or effective as when you’re presenting to your staff.

Ideally, all of your colleagues and direct reports would voice their perspective on your strengths and weaker areas in a direct and constructive manner. But we don’t live and work in this ideal world. The survey can often be a useful way to begin a conversation.

The information you receive in results of a 360 survey can often confirm what you already know and, more importantly, contradict or surprise what you thought you knew. This should be taken and used instructively to help you to grow. Constructive feedback is not always easy to hear and often requires a coach or manager to help you develop a plan for your learning as well as hold you accountable to it.

In my experience analyzing and delivering feedback from such surveys, most of my clients find the information accurate or at least can find a kernel of truth in the responses they receive. In this way, the individual is often able to see and accept what may have previously been a blind spot for them.

In many cases, the client seeing a behavioral attribute rated particularly low by so many colleagues can help motivate him or her to make changes. This is where the guidance of a coach or manager can be especially useful in helping to navigate a successful path to growth.

The most effective process to build on the feedback is to 1) Create goals specifically around weaker areas; 2) Develop a plan for how to accomplish such goals; 3) Have someone hold you accountable for achieving the goals.

SMART Goals

By taking the low scoring areas and building SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound) goals around them, the individual has something to work on. Writing this down and keeping it front and center keeps it actionable.

Development Plan

Once the goals are written, the next important step is to develop a plan for how to go about achieving them. Such a plan should document the necessary resources, knowledge and skills, mindsets, settings in which to practice new behaviors, and the specific individuals you will rely on for support and review.

Accountability

Few of us are disciplined enough to achieve such behavioral goals without another person holding us accountable. This is where the person’s manager (Chairman of the board in the case of a CEO) comes in. By being completely transparent with a Development Plan, the person’s boss can then encourage, support, direct and, most importantly, hold the individual accountable for the achievement of such goals.

Like any leadership development program, a 360-feedback survey is only helpful when it is combined with follow-up action. And the best way to learn anything new is not simply by reading, but by putting into action what has been learned. This can be especially challenging with regard to behavioral skills and therefore requires the three steps highlighted above.

Know thyself by taking the 360 feedback as a measure of where you are perceived to be today. Then take the appropriate steps to move this learning into actionable steps to implement behavioral changes necessary to become a better leader.

One Boomer’s Advice to Millennials

April 7, 2017

With the Millennial Generation now representing nearly 45% of the U.S. workforce, it’s clear we are experiencing a huge cultural shift. And while these younger workers may report to other Millennials, Generation Xers or Baby Boomers, there are certain protocols they should consider as they navigate their careers.

The Baby Boomer generation was largely responsible for launching the technological age we now take for granted. This required that Boomers continually adapted to change in order to stay relevant as the workplace became more technologically mechanized.

Millennials, on the other hand, don’t know life without computers and the Internet. But that doesn’t mean they don’t also need to continually adapt to change. In fact, it may be that their generation has experienced and will continue to experience more and more rapid change than those who preceded them.

Adapting to change should ultimately be seen as a way of being. This is not only true with regard to technological skills, but also business processes and the skills of interpersonal relationships, leadership development, and other soft skills. Lifelong learning requires maintaining curiosity and a beginner’s mind.

With that, I offer a few thoughts on what may be helpful to Millennials as they navigate the workplace not only with outgoing Baby Boomers, but also Generation Xers and their fellow Millennials.

Communication

Communicating effectively requires choosing the appropriate medium and using the correct message. Don’t assume that an emoji-ridden text message will be appropriate when in fact a face-to-face conversation is necessary. And a true conversation requires listening as well as speaking. It demands your full attention to be most effective. While everyone lists “excellent communication skills” on the resume, very few people are truly excellent at it. Make it a practice to continually hone your ability to write, speak and listen effectively.

Collaboration

Unlike previous generations, Millennials have been taught from early on to work and learn in groups. Collaboration is especially valuable in today’s workplace because most of the work is completed by groups of people. These groups are also more diverse and your ability to get along with your coworkers will determine how effective the group is at accomplishing its goals. This will require shared respect, trust, and effective communication. Make it a practice to continually learn how to navigate these relationships effectively.

Accountability

The modern workplace requires more self-reliance and therefore it’s important for you to take responsibility for your career. Accept that no one is going to determine your success or failure more than you are. While you will likely always have a boss, it is up to you to determine the level of direction and support you need in order to succeed at what you do. You need to take responsibility for continually communicating this to your boss. And understand that though you may be used to and feel you require constant feedback for how you’re doing, that may not be a priority or general practice of your boss. Be accountable for what you need to do your job and to advance your career.

Finally, as I’ve learned in my nearly 40 years of work, it is vitally important to stay authentic and live your values. There may be a time when you will need to make a change because where you work or what you do comes in conflict with who you are. Life is short and therefore you should do whatever you need to do to align who you are with what you do. And remember: Love people and use things. Because the opposite never works.

Communicating with Millennials in Mind

March 10, 2017

As the American workplace shifts from being filled with Baby Boomers and Generation Xers to dominated by Millennials, this generational shift also creates a cultural shift—one with younger workers who have different expectations and values than their predecessors. This is not your father’s cubicle.

While technology, globalization, diversity and many other factors continue to impact the modern workplace, Millennials are also directly influencing how, where and when we work.

The U.S. workforce is currently represented by Baby Boomers (27%), Generation Xers (27%) and Millennials (44%) with another 2% represented by those born before Boomers and after Millennials. And this shift to majority Millennials has created a dramatic shift in workplace culture that demands we redefine how to best manage people.

According to Bruce Tulgan of Rainmaker Thinking in a white paper titled “The Great Generational Shift,”  this radical shift in numbers is accompanied by a profound transformation

in the norms, values, attitudes, expectations and behaviors of the emerging post-Boomer workforce.

“Today’s generation gap, in contrast, is about much more than a clash of styles and preferences; much more than the creative energy of youth challenging the cautious wisdom of experience; more than the new butting up against the old,” writes Tulgan. “The ‘Generational Shift’ unfolding today is of historic significance, defined by the confluence of macro forces driving change at an extraordinary magnitude and pace.”

This dynamic has made it particularly difficult for managers as they are being asked to do more with less, operate with increasing ambiguity, supervise workers in diverse locations, and rely a lot more on interdependence with other departments and workgroups. All the while, the Millennials they are managing have a different level of expectations than their predecessors.

For example, Millennials may very well expect that:

  • Relationships are less hierarchical and more situational;
  • Learning and training programs are less directed and facilitated with a defined curriculum and specific goal-orientation than they are self-directed, collaborative, on-going, open-ended and multiple sourced;
  • Communication style is less formal and about going through proper channels as it is about being more constant, on-going, high-tech and high touch;
  • Attitude about life and career is less about building a life around their career as it is building a career around the kind of life they want to have;
  • What they are looking for in a manager can be summarized as “Please help me do my job . . . Give me guidance, support and feedback every step of the way;”
  • The performance evaluation should not be annual or semi-annual, but regular and frequent, ideally daily;
  • What Millennials are looking for first and foremost in employment is not so much job security, but flexibility.

While some may complain that these Millennials are too high-maintenance and that we shouldn’t have to bend so far to meet their preferences. The reality is that Millennials are bringing on this cultural shift that is both natural and necessary in order to assimilate their unique contributions in the workplace.

And what makes managers successful in this environment is the ability to deliver clear, consistent and constant communication to these younger workers.

In their research to measure the effectiveness of successful managers, Tulgan and his associates found that all of them had employees who consistently delivered the highest productivity and quality along with higher morale, team spirit and the best business outcomes. And their direct reports were more likely to describe them as “one of the best managers I’ve ever had.”

The common denominator among these successful managers was in the high-quality communication they consistently engaged in with every direct-report in ongoing, content-rich dialogue about the work. And things went best when managers consistently made expectations clear and provided candid feedback for each employee at every step.

This more involved, more present manager may rub some the wrong way, yet for younger workers, it may be exactly what they are looking for in order to be most productive. While some may see it as “telling me how to do my job” Millennials may instead receive it as “give me direction and support as well as immediate feedback so that I can do it on my own.”

And perhaps this deliberate hand-holding is necessary for the younger generation to learn before putting their unique spin on the work and then taking it to new heights.

The manager’s role will continue to evolve but the notion of clear, consistent and constant communication will prove especially effective as our generations continue to shift.

Personality Assessments Best for Existing Employees

February 8, 2017

In my work as a leadership coach I often use personality assessments to better understand my clients, especially with regard to how they show up behaviorally in the workplace. This gives me a different lens from which I can often view their blind spots and leadership potential.

Placing people into one segment of a four-square grid or attaching a label to them is not necessarily informative on its own, yet such assessments can be instructive in understanding how an individual interacts with others. When used in conjunction with feedback from co-workers, supervisors, direct reports as well as in-depth conversations with the individual client, I am able to assess where they are and what they may need to work on.

These assessments can add a great deal of value in workplace communication, improving teamwork, overall leadership development and other areas with existing employees. However, when they are used in the hiring process, they can often be counter-productive.

With more than 2,500 different personality tests available and up to 60 percent of workers now taking them, this is a huge industry—estimates of up to $500 million and growing as much as 15 percent annually. And these assessments are subject to very little regulation, in part because they measure intangible concepts with hard-to-calculate qualitative evidence.

While the majority of these assessments are used for career development, about 22 percent of organizations now use them to evaluate job candidates, according a 2014 survey of 344 Society for Human Resource Management members.

Many of these personality tests purport to show an individual’s tendencies, but not an absolute truth. And this is where making decisions on who to hire based on such tests can be especially troublesome. Let’s say, for example, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (or MBTI) determines that a job applicant is an introvert and you’re looking to fulfill a sales position. Would you look only at extroverted candidates or would you accept the fact that introverts can also be very successful at sales, though they may go about it differently?

When compared to other hiring selection practices, personality assessments are among the least effective in predicting job performance, according to by Frank Schmidt, a management and organizations professor emeritus at the University of Iowa. Schmidt says these tests are useful only when combined with other measures such as cognitive ability or integrity tests that have a higher predictive validity.

In fact, personality tests were found to be only one-third as predictive as cognitive exams and far below reference checks with regard to whether an applicant will be a successful employee.

Nevertheless, McDonald’s uses an assessment and asks prospective workers to choose which of the following best describes them:

“It is difficult to be cheerful when there are many problems to take care of” or “Sometimes, I need to push to get started on my work.”

The Wall Street Journal asked industrial psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic to analyze questions such as these. He said the first item captured “individual differences in neuroticism and conscientiousness.” The second captured “low ambition and drive.” A prospective worker is then pleading guilty to being either high-strung or lazy. Which is McDonald’s looking to hire?

Kroger’s questions were far simpler: “Which adjective best describes you at work: unique or orderly?” By answering “unique,” said Chamorro-Premuzic suggests “high self-concept, openness and narcissism,” and “orderly” expresses “conscientiousness and self-control.” Kindergarten teachers emphasize to children that they are all unique in an attempt to boost their self-esteem. Twelve years later, when that student chooses “unique” on a personality test while applying for a minimum wage job, the program might read the answers as a red flag because nobody wants a workforce filled with narcissists.

According to a 2014 Aberdeen study, just 14% of organizations had data to prove the positive business impact of their assessment strategy when it comes to hiring.

Using any assessment, the hiring manager should determine whether the results of the test will be predictive of future job performance. If there is not a clear affirmation, then focusing on other more important elements of hiring should be considered.

Personality assessments have enormous potential when deployed to existing employees as they can provide self-discovery, improved communication, team building, and other benefits. With regard to hiring, however, such tests have little predictive validity, low reliability over time, and fail to measure what is important in doing a specific job.

5 Steps to Behavioral Change

October 13, 2016

Whether you are trying to lose weight, run a marathon, secure a new job, or change your behavior to be more effective in the workplace, you are the primary driver of your success. As Henry Ford put it: If you think you can or you think you can’t, you are right!

I believe reaching any goal takes motivation, perseverance and discipline. A growth mindset is paramount to bring about goals that include behavioral change. And behavioral change requires the courage to step out of one’s comfort zone and deliberately practice new behaviors.

As a leadership coach, my passion is to help people reach their individual goals to become more effective leaders. These goals are often related to soft skills that require behavioral change.

Soft skills are the personal attributes that enable you to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people. They show up in areas such as self-awareness, interpersonal communication, empathy, managing conflict, executive presence, and generally being a good team player. Your aptitude in each of these may not have hindered your ability to secure a job, but they may be holding you back from moving forward in your career.

Often you may be unaware that these soft skills are even a problem—until you see them continually surface in your annual reviews, 360-feedback or comments from your supervisor. When they do, and when you are ready to deal with them to move your career forward, it is worth creating goals and taking the necessary steps to achieve them.

The first step is to focus your attention on the specific goal you are looking to achieve and make it SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time bound). Once you have this, I recommend these 5 Steps:

  1. Write it down. Unless you commit your SMART goal to paper or at least digital display and keep it in front of you, it will not remain top of mind. Find a way to remind yourself of your goal at the beginning of each day and you are more likely to make progress.
  2. Develop a plan. Decide how you will go about reaching your new behavior by determining the specific steps to take along with a timeline. Record what resources and encouragement you will need to assist you along the way. And monitor your progress.
  3. Enlist support. It is much easier to reach your goal with the assistance of others who can provide feedback regarding the way you show up with your new behavior. This could be your immediate supervisor, workplace colleague, or a coach. Regardless who you choose, be deliberate and actively seek their comments—good or bad.
  4. Practice, practice, practice. Nothing will enable you to master your desired behavior more than deliberate practice. And forget the myth of 21 days to form a new habit. In the case of behavioral change, establishing new behavior is likely to take anywhere from 8 weeks to 8 months. Don’t let this discourage you, and accept that this is a process, which requires adequate time to really become habitual.
  5. Continue learning. Demonstrating a true change in behavior requires that you continually make adjustments to what works and in what situations. Rarely will a specific behavioral skill work in every situation. Evaluate your performance regularly and make adjustments to reinforce or modify what you’re doing.

Recognize that as human beings, we are all perfectly imperfect. We are continually evolving and therefore shouldn’t expect to really ever be completed. This is part of lifelong learning and embraced that we are still growing—as opposed to dying.

With regard to behavioral change, you are the only one who can enable or impede your progress. Your beliefs, emotions and mindsets are your biggest assets or limitations. Once these are in your favor, create a SMART goal, follow the 5 Steps above, and you will attain your new behavior to move you forward in your career.

Raise Employee Engagement via Encouragement

September 8, 2015

Despite his best efforts, your employee misses a critical deadline and an important business outcome is in doubt. How do you respond?

This situation is something every manager or leader faces at some point.

Will your response depend on the individual employee or on how well you have been informed throughout the process?

Obviously, many factors weigh into your response, but your gut reaction is to either attack the person or attack the problem. And these two reactions can result in very different outcomes.

Those who attack the person may find that this employee can never adequately escape from your perspective that he has let you down. And this can be detrimental to both the employee and the organization.

Those who attack the problem may find that this can keep the employee from taking it personally and hopefully learn from the experience. It can also nurture the relationship you have with the employee and likely raise his engagement going forward.

Encouragement can raise employee engagement like nothing else. I’m not suggesting you say only nice things, but you can choose to encourage the positive and let the negative speak for itself.

Throughout much of business, there tends to be a laser focus on problem solving, which is to seek out what is wrong and find a way to fix it. A counter notion is appreciative inquiry, which is about focusing on what the organization is doing well in certain areas and find a way to replicate it in others.

Too many organizations focus exclusively on problem fixing that never relieve the employee or the organization from creating the problems. That’s because it is all too easy to find problems and fix them without really changing anything to keep them from happening in the first place.

Appreciative inquiry, on the other hand, is about recognizing what results in positive outcomes and spreading it around the organization. Often used to bring about strategic change, appreciative inquiry offers an alternative perspective that encourages rather than discourages, that builds up rather than knocks down, that spreads rather than eliminates.

In a recent front page New York Times article, this notion of positivity was focused on the Seattle Seahawks. Led by head coach Pete Carroll, the football team is having a great deal of success in part because he encourages his players rather than beats them up over miscues.

Remaining positive despite interceptions, dropped passes, missed tackles and even game losses has been instrumental to getting the most out of so many of the Seahawks’ late round draft picks and undrafted players. It has certainly played a part in their back-to-back Super Bowl appearances and expectations for returning again this year.

In the same way this positive philosophy is rare in the National Football League, it is also rare in business. That needs to change if an organization wants to be about collaboration, innovation, continual learning and success.

Collaboration requires trust that an individual will not be attacked for doing his or her best—unless, of course, this becomes a pattern rather than an exception. Collaboration requires taking risks and making ourselves vulnerable. That cannot happen if we’re running scared of making mistakes for fear of reprisals.

Innovation means trying new things and coloring outside the lines in order to find solutions. This won’t happen if we are avoiding experimentation for fear of personal repercussions. Out-of-the-box thinking can’t be based on fear, but requires a nurturing atmosphere to foster creativity.

Continual learning is required for organizations to thrive in the 21st century. This means constantly attacking what (not who) is wrong and find ways to fix or do it better. It requires allowing for mistakes, miscues and failures in order to find the best sustainable solutions.

Success is a road paved with failure goes the old saying. There can be no success if we don’t acknowledge our failures, learn from them, and move forward. Acknowledging these failures can be done in a positive light that encourages participants to own up to their part or negative where people hide or blame others.

Author and management consultant Peter Drucker once said: “The task of leadership is to create an alignment of strengths in ways the make the system’s weaknesses irrelevant.”

If this is not focusing on positive rather than negative, I don’t know what is.

Next time your employee makes a mistake, misses a deadline, or falls short despite his or her best efforts, use encouragement. You will find that, in the long run, this will bring about better performance and raise overall engagement.

Futility in Infrequent Feedback

July 16, 2015

Most annual reviews are dreaded both by those giving and those receiving them, yet they are a mainstay in the corporate world. This is because annual reviews can help people stay on track to meet individual, workgroup and corporate goals.

One of the problems is that annual reviews often feel contrived. Typically too much is riding on them because the feedback is focused on past failures, shortcomings and mistakes rather than corrective actions, training opportunities and future success.

As a result, it’s difficult to deliver constructive feedback on performance without the recipient taking it personally.

In many cases, an annual review is the only communication between a supervisor and an employee specifically related to performance. There in lies the problem. Communication about performance should be given much more often, and it should be given in ways that are supportive and instructive.

Feedback in the form of a 360 report can be helpful as it provides a more balanced perspective that includes the boss but other leaders, peers, direct reports and sometimes clients or customers. The sum of this report can make it easier to receive feedback because it represents how you show up in the workplace.

The great leadership coach and best-selling author Marshall Goldsmith in his book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There suggests getting four commitments from those providing feedback for a 360 report. These four commitments are:

  1. Let go of the past
  2. Tell the truth
  3. Be supportive and helpful—not cynical or negative
  4. Pick something to improve yourself—so everyone is focused more on “improving” than “judging”

When these commitments are kept, 360 results provide an accurate and objective perspective of the individual from which he or she can use as a guide to confidently continue doing what they do well and initiate behavioral change where necessary.

The biggest problem with feedback, however, is that it focuses on the past and rarely on the present or future.

In addition to feedback, we should also provide feedforward to encourage a more positive and dynamic focus on performance improvement. Feedforward is different from feedback in the following ways:

Feedback                                                      Feedforward
Past                                                                Future
Revisit failure                                                Envision success
Who you are (or were)                                 Who you can become
Can be difficult to give                                 Easier and satisfying to offer
Often taken personally                                 Received as supportive and instructive

Goldsmith offered many leaders the opportunity to participate in feedforward sessions where they were asked to play two roles: one who provides feedforward and one who receives feedforward. This was an experiential exercise where the participants did not even need to know each other because it was based on specific behaviors all of us can relate to.

Here’s how his Feedforward Sessions work:

  • Pick one behavior you would like to change, a change that will make a significant and positive difference in your life.
  • Describe the behavior to a fellow participant. This is done face-to-face. Example: “I want to become a better listener.”
  • Ask the participant for feedforward. Specifically, two ideas to help you achieve the change you seek in your behavior. (If participant knows you, he or she should not give any feedback about the past. It should be focused entirely on the future.)
  • Your job is to then listen attentively and take notes. Do not comment on, critique or even praise the suggestions in any way. Just pay attention.
  • Thank the participant no matter how good, bad, redundant or unhelpful the suggestions may be.
  • Ask the other participant what he or she would like to change. Repeat the process with you now providing feedforward suggestions.
  • Repeat this process with as many others as possible.

Participants report this exercise to be very positive and even fun. What’s truly great about it is that people feel as if everyone is in service of helping everyone else. It is not competitive, but truly collaborative. Goldsmith describes feedforward and the value of it in this article.

A similar idea is in clearness committees from the Quaker tradition, which provide a process of discernment whereby members assist one who has a difficult concern or dilemma by simply asking honest and open-ended questions. These questions are not leading questions or meant to challenge assumptions, but simply to help the individual find clarity in his or her own answers from within.

It can be difficult to ask such simple questions because we are wired to focus on offering advice and solutions. However, what we often need is simply someone to truly listen and help us in finding our own answers.

Feedforward sessions like clearness committees offer the opportunity for active listening and truly supportive attention. They provide a safe and helpful setting in which people can often gain insight into what they want to change or answer.

Regardless of the process, don’t wait for an annual review to best manage your direct reports. While feedback can be helpful, be mindful of the fact that focusing on the past and on failures or mistakes can only go so far. And don’t save it all up for a once a year opportunity.

Don’t let the futility of infrequent feedback undermine your ability to help your employees improve their performance.

Instead, help them achieve performance goals by being more proactive: take corrective action in the moment, catch them doing things well and acknowledge it, support them as they take on new challenges, and regularly communicate with them to ensure there are no surprises at the annual review.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/1752089487″>Success is ours!! :-)</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>

Higher Engagement by Meeting Employee Needs

July 23, 2014

Employee engagement is a vital component of successful organizations. Nothing helps spur innovation and raise productivity like a highly engaged group of people who are passionately involved in what they are doing.

“Because they [employees] care more, they are more productive, give better service, and even stay in their jobs longer,” writes Kevin Kruse, author of Employee Engagement 2.0. “All of that leads to happier customers, who buy more and refer more often, which drives sales and profits higher, finally resulting in an increase in stock price.”

Kruse sites 28 research studies showing a correlation between employee engagement and sales, service, quality, safety, retention and total shareholder return.

Employee engagement is about a person’s emotional commitment to the organization and its goals. Raising this emotional commitment cannot be done through some generic training course or corporate mandate.

Instead, the organization must appeal to the employees’ needs and meet these needs with specific leadership skill development.

Every employee has basic human needs that must be met in order for them to feel passionate about the work they do. When this need is met with specific leadership skills, the organization will benefit from more engaged employees.

The Passion Pyramid identifies five human needs that help ignite passion and the accompanying leadership skills required to create conditions to satisfy each need. It also describes the outcome or payoff to the organization for satisfying each need.

These human needs are:

  1. Be respected
  2. Learn and grow
  3. Be an “insider”
  4. Do meaningful work
  5. Be on a winning team

As I described in an earlier post, what employees say they want can vary a great deal from what managers think employees want. Many of these same human needs for increasing employee engagement were among the top ten things employees say they want. Specifically: 

  1. Full appreciation for work done (Be respected)
  2. Feeling “part” of things (Be an “insider”)
  3. Interesting work (Do meaningful work)
  4. Promotion/growth opportunities (Learn and grow)

Tying these human needs with specific leadership skill development can then help ignite the passion necessary to raise engagement. With intentional and orderly intervention, these leadership skills can meet the employees’ needs.

The leadership skills are also in a specific order as no team can be effective without building upon a foundation of trust. Coaching, counseling and mentoring can help with each individual’s specific growth opportunities and blind spots. And no organization can expect employees to be engaged without inclusiveness.

Aligning teams with the organization’s purpose, values and vision ties intrinsic motivation with extrinsic rewards. Finally, building a high performance team requires the foundation of all the preceding skills as well as a shared purpose and bond to succeed together.

These leadership skills help meet employees’ needs, which can help ignite the passion necessary to raise employee engagement in your organization. Isn’t it worth the investment to bring out the best in your employees so they can bring out the best in your organization?

Six Tips to Successfully Deliver Employee Feedback

June 28, 2013

Leadership involves many interpersonal skills and for some of us the ability to deliver effective feedback can be the most challenging.

Everyone who supervises other people is expected to provide feedback—both positive and negative—and yet it is often put off until annual performance reviews, which makes it even more stressful to both because of the context it’s given in.

For some reason the workplace is a difficult place for many people to regularly speak openly and honestly about the work that’s being performed. Perhaps the formality of many places makes a genuine compliment or complaint much more difficult to convey. Or maybe it’s simply the emotions it can stir up.

Whenever you say something nice or not so nice to someone, it is likely to be met with an emotional response. This can make you and the other person feel awkward, uncomfortable, or embarrassed in the workplace setting. And that alone can be reason enough to make you avoid saying anything at all.

But the more you exercise giving genuine feedback to others, the more comfortable you will become with it and this can benefit both you and your organization.

That’s because we all seek recognition and acknowledgement for what we are doing, whether we are willing to admit it or not. We want to know that what we do matters and that others are aware of it. Additionally, if we are doing something not so well, we want to know what this is and especially how to correct it. Don’t underestimate a person’s level of resilience because such feedback loops are vital to their continued growth.

When you deliver effective feedback to others, you are also seen as someone who is observant and concerned. Others see and feel this, which enables them to respond to it either by basking in the glow of recognition of a job well done or by taking corrective action to improve their performance.

If you find yourself avoiding giving face-to-face feedback to those you supervise, these six suggestions may provide a more comfortable approach.

  1. Deliver feedback (good & bad) all the time. Catch people doing things well and make a point to notice and compliment them right then and there. By the same token, when someone is doing something not particularly well, let them know it immediately. Don’t wait until an annual performance review to tell an employee they did something wrong nine months earlier.
  2. Make it specific and focused on behavior. Meaningful feedback needs to be about something specific in order for a change to result. This is also why it is so important to give it when you see it. And keep feedback about the behavior or the work. Remember to attack the problem not the person.
  3. Be direct and use a measured tone. Speak to him or her in a straight-forward manner so there can be no ambiguity. Keep your voice poised and calm. Give the listener an opportunity to ask questions or seek clarification. Maintain eye contact but don’t glare. Be patient and look for genuine understanding.
  4. Praise publicly and criticize privately. When you want to give someone a compliment on something done well, be sure and do this in a public forum whenever possible. Be sensitive to those who may be uncomfortable with this, however. And when you need to admonish someone, do this in a private meeting so you don’t humiliate or create resentment in the person.
  5. Offer support with constructive feedback. Don’t simply tell the individual what they did wrong and demand it gets fixed. Instead, offer a genuine desire to help through your support. This might be recommending a class or training, a mentor (including yourself), or perhaps a leadership coach. Sometimes it could just mean providing an open door for them in the future.
  6. Make clear your expectations. If you expect to see more of the same from the person you are complimenting, go ahead and say “keep up the good work.” By the same token, if you expect a change from someone you are criticizing, ensure that you make it clear that this is unacceptable and you expect to see what specific change and by when.

Providing meaningful feedback is not necessarily difficult, but it is a skill and like any other skill it needs practice to master. Start out small by offering compliments to one or two individuals for a couple of weeks. Then expand your feedback beyond them.

Make all your feedback constructive rather than destructive. Remember that the reason for feedback is for continual performance improvement. Focusing on this will ensure that others see the value of all your comments and respond accordingly.

The more regularly you can give feedback the more it will foster greater trust and strengthen overall employee engagement. And that’s important for everyone.

Retaining Your Top Talent

March 27, 2013

Now that the U.S. economy is beginning to show signs of life and companies are looking to hire again, it’s important to remember that this also opens the door for existing employees to explore their options elsewhere.

The last thing you want now is to lose your top talent to competitors. But if you don’t focus on the things that are important to these employees, you may find that they will indeed leave for greener pastures.

According to a recent CareerBuilder survey, nearly one-third of employers (32 percent) report that top performers left their organizations in 2012 and 39 percent are concerned that they’ll lose top talent this year. And while two-thirds of workers stated they are generally satisfied with their jobs, one quarter said they will change jobs in 2013 or 2014.

More than 3,900 full-time workers nationwide participated in the survey that was conducted online by Harris Interactive November 2012. The survey explored which job factors are most important to today’s workers.

“What determines job satisfaction is not a one-size-fits-all, but flexibility, recognition, the ability to make a difference and yes, even special perks, can go a long way,” said Rosemary Haefner, Vice President of Human Resources at CareerBuilder. “Being compensated well will always be a top consideration, but we’re seeing work-life balance, telecommuting options and learning opportunities outweigh other job factors when an employee decides whether to stay with an organization.”

A better job title is not important to more than half of workers (55 percent), however, upward mobility is key to job satisfaction and employee retention. Other things more important than job title include:

  • Flexible schedule – 59 percent
  • Being able to make a difference – 48 percent
  • Challenging work – 35 percent
  • Ability to work from home – 33 percent

Not surprisingly, nearly three quarters of workers reported that salary increases are the best way to boost employee retention while 58 percent pointed to improved benefits. Other actions workers said employers should take to reduce voluntary turnover include:

  • Provide flexible schedules – 51 percent
  • Increase employee recognition (awards, cash prizes, company trips) – 50 percent
  • Ask employees what they want and put feedback into action – 48 percent
  • Increase training and learning opportunities – 35 percent

Three areas I want to focus on include flexibility, being able to make a difference, and effective managers.

Flexibility
As I’ve written about previously, the flexibility to do the work when and where people want is an important way to stimulate employee engagement.

The premise of Results Only Work Ethic or ROWE is that employees are paid for results rather than hours worked. This provides both the freedom for employees and the results for employers. ROWE is based on the assumption that employees will do more and better work when given the latitude to decide how and when it is done.

In order to do this, of course, requires that these results are closely tracked and measured. If companies can do this and also trust their employees not to take advantage of the flexibility, then they should provide an opportunity for many to work at home.

Making a Difference
When it comes to being able to make a difference, employers need to continually remind workers the importance of their individual and collective contributions. Ensure that no matter the position, every person in every company knows how their contribution leads to the success of the organization. All of us can lose sight of this the further we are from the customer or the end result of our individual efforts.

Having a boss who reminds us of the benefit of our direct contribution can mean the difference between job satisfaction and the need to look elsewhere.

Effective Managers
Another thing to keep in mind is that people are attracted to and seek jobs at companies based on their reputation. On the other hand, people leave companies because of a bad boss. Although it may not show up directly in the research due to fear of retribution, many employees choose to leave a company not because they want better compensation, but because they don’t like their boss.

This dislike could be based on many factors, but it is worth looking into before it becomes an epidemic. Many managers and directors simply never got adequate training and instruction on how to be effective at leading people.

Talented people won’t let an incompetent or unfair manager stand in their way of job satisfaction, and will move on if necessary.

Ensure that your managers and directors know how to motivate and lead people in a way that brings increased productivity without sacrificing employee engagement. This may require training, mentoring, coaching or other interventions that are vital to keeping your top talent.

Don’t let your top talent leave now that the economy is improving. Instead, determine how you can provide what your employees need to increase overall productivity while also what they want to raise employee engagement. Then they will stay.

Rethinking the Role of Manager

December 4, 2012

Does your boss often get in the way of helping you be more productive? This is not entirely his or her fault as many organizational structures are based on an outdated incentive mentality that can actually be detrimental in today’s workplace.

The workplace has changed dramatically over the past 50 years. Secretaries are scarce, the metallic sound of office machinery is replaced by electronic tones of pagers and cell phones, and—rather than conversing around the water cooler—we are more likely to be texting or using social networks as a way to interact with others.

How we manage other people, however, has remained the same.

The role of manager varies depending on the industry and nature of the work, but when it comes to supervising others, there is very often conflict and disharmony.

In a recent working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research titled “The Value of Bosses” by Edward P. Lazear, Kathryn L. Shaw and Christopher T. Stanton, supervisors were found to have an enormous impact—good or bad—on productivity.

Among their findings, nearly 75% of all employees say their boss is the worst and most stressful part of their job. And 65% of employees say they would take a new boss over a pay raise.

The same study determined it is not what these bosses do, but what they don’t do that makes them so bad. This includes 1) failing to inspire; 2) accepting mediocrity; 3) lacking clear vision and direction; 4) inability to be collaborate and be a team player; 5) failing to walk the talk.

It turns out that the best bosses are actually teachers, and the report stated that teaching accounts for 67% of a boss’s effect on employees’ productivity.

What if your manager was focused on teaching and encouraging your intrinsic motivation to enable you to be more productive and happier in the process?

Too often motivation throughout many companies is based on the carrot and stick approach. For all but a very few types of manufacturing jobs or those requiring mechanical skills, however, this approach has been scientifically proven not to work. In fact, it can actually be detrimental to productivity.

So why is there so much time and money spent on extrinsic incentives in order to get employees to work harder? Extrinsic incentives include things like a high salary, bonus, stock options, and generous benefits, which are often what attract employees in the first place. However, it is the intrinsic incentives such as interesting work, flexible time on when and where to do the work, ROWE or results only work ethic, 20% time to follow interests, etc. that keep employees motivated and highly productive.

According to author Daniel Pink, intrinsic motivation is absolutely required and his model includes three essential elements: autonomy, mastery and purpose. Autonomy is the urge to direct our own lives; mastery is the desire to get better and better at something that matters; and purpose is the yearning to do what we do in service of something larger than ourselves.

Workers today face challenges that require right-brained, creative, and/or conceptual thinking. This “outside the box” thinking cannot be incentivized through conventional external means, but instead requires internal motivation.

Intrinsic nature means the job’s core responsibilities and you’re being paid to do something you find satisfying, says Timothy Judge, Mendoza’s Franklin D. Schurz Professor of Management.

After conducting a hundred job-satisfaction studies, Judge says he’s never found one where the intrinsic nature of the work itself wasn’t the most important predictor of overall job satisfaction.

So what if a manager’s role was not to incentivize, scold, or threaten those he or she manages, but instead to teach, inspire, and support the employee’s need for autonomy, mastery and purpose? This new role for manager would look a lot more like a coach, mentor or teacher who is in service of raising the level of productivity of others.

In this way the workplace could be less hostile and more cooperative, less competitive and more collaborative. Managers could contribute to the workplace environment in a way that creates higher employee engagement and greater productivity. And that would be good for any organization.

Three Rules of Thumb for Connecting in the Virtual Workplace

April 27, 2012

[Guest Columnist: Today’s post is written by Kyle Lagunas, an HR analyst at Software Advice.]

The modern organization has changed—it is decentralized and increasingly virtual. For decades, “The HP Way,” which advocates “managing by walking around,” was a prime example of how to run an organization. But as the workforce continues to become more mobile, the constraints of a structured nine-to-five schedule are becoming a thing of the past.

Your employee handbook says you have an open door policy, but in an increasingly virtual workplace, employees are not seeking to enter a physical office. As such, most open door policies are more metaphorical.

Employees want to reach you via chat, email, and collaboration platforms. There are several ways even the busiest leaders can chat, check in, and connect with their workforce, though you may not be familiar or entirely comfortable with them. With the right tools and the right attitude, though, you can breathe new life into your open door policy—and strengthen your employee relations.

Talking to employees face-to-face is one thing, but when you’re connecting with them online, the rules are a bit different. “Team spirit and a sense of shared mission are easily lost,” warns David Freedman, technology columnist for the New York Times’ You’re the Boss blog. Rather than jumping in head first, there a few rules of thumb to consider when connecting online:

1. Relax Informal check-ins are more comfortable for employees. A casual hello-how-are-you can offer an excellent opportunity for leaders to coach employees and get valuable feedback from them. When communications from leadership are limited to formal, unidirectional messaging, there’s not going to be a whole lot of meaningful dialogue occurring.

Chat clients are a simple solution for quick communications with your team. Some of us are familiar with this media, but others might struggle with the conversational tone, lowercase letters and lack of punctuation. Keep things short and respond quickly. The point here is that you’re making yourself available and approachable.

 2. You don’t have to be a tech guru If you’re not super savvy when it comes to technology, don’t sweat it. Your organization may already have tools in place and you shouldn’t be afraid to try your hand at them. In fact, your leading by example can encourage employees to dig deeper into the technology your organization makes available to them.

“Whatever your style is as a leader, find the tool that you are most comfortable with, and then go with it,” says Lori Knowlton SVP of HR at HomeAway. The important thing is to find the tool that suits you and suits your company.

3. Onboard your team Rally your team to a common communications and collaboration platform, and make sure they use it. The more people you have using the same tool to communicate, the easier it is to connect with them. Over time, the value of everyone working together on one system will make it a critical part of their routine.

HomeAway finds social collaboration tools like Yammer to be incredibly useful for fostering personable communication and dynamic collaboration across the organization. “We’ve seen a tremendous adoption across the organization,” says Knowlton. The vibrant company culture at HomeAway is a major contributor to their steady growth and success, and the value of this degree of buy-in is self-evident.

Interacting Critical, Tools Helpful
Interaction with a good boss is critical to realizing your full potential as an employee. With the right tools, keeping tabs on your people and your organization can become a part of your regular workflow. Go forth and dabble in a few different products until you find the right one, keeping in mind that many tools are free at their most basic level.

Kyle Lagunas is an HR analyst at Software Advice who reports on trends and best practices in learning and talent management systems.

Managing Accountability

June 8, 2011

“Accountability breeds response-ability.” — Stephen R. Covey.

Many of the organizations I see today reflect our society’s tendency to blame other people, act like a victim, and generally not take responsibility for our own actions. This lack of accountability is a problem in the workplace because it is unproductive, it negatively impacts employee engagement and it leads to poor results.

A productive workplace requires every employee to be held accountable for his or her actions. This begins with the leader and it needs to be modeled and practiced in all employee supervision.

In Denny F. Strigl’s new book “Managers, Can You Hear Me Now? Hard Hitting Lessons on How to Get Real Results,” the former CEO and president of Verizon Wireless offers many lessons on how managers fail and how they can improve.

Specifically, Strigl sees nine reasons managers struggle:

  1. They fail to build trust and integrity
  2. They have the wrong focus
  3. They don’t model or build accountability
  4. The fail to consistently reinforce what’s important
  5. They overrely on concensus
  6. They focus on being popular
  7. They get caught up in their self-importance
  8. They put their heads in the sand
  9. They fix problems, no causes

What I see common in all of these is that they are about specific behaviors. It’s no wonder research has shown that the single most important factor in success is not education, intelligence, experience and technical expertise. It is behavior.

Exceptional managers create positive results by specific behaviors that are consistently repeated day in and day out until they become a habit.

Accountability is the specific behavior that stands out for me and Strigl has what he calls eight accountability techniques that can be helpful.

1.      The Surprise Visit – Hopefully this will catch employees doing something well and provides an opportunity to commend them. However, it also helps managers identify what’s not being done well and rectify it right then and there before it can be covered up.

2.      The Unexpected Follow-Up Phone Call – When someone on your staff tells you something they are working on, don’t let it slide until the next time he or she brings it up. Make an unscheduled call and ask them about the progress to show you listened and are holding them accountable for it

3.      Coaching – As a manager, there is a coaching opportunity in every interaction with your staff that can have accountability attached to it. Practice coaching with accountability included until it becomes an instinctive management habit and is a part of every interaction.

4.      The 5:15 Report – This is a simple reporting system should take no more than 5 minutes for you to read and 15 minutes for an employee to prepare. Examples of what to include in such a report are: progress on goals, plans and pojects; emerging long-term issues; emerging short-term problems; improvement ideas; accomplishments achieved; business opportunities; unexpected events.

5.      The Performance Agreement – This is essentially a method for documenting what a manager and direct report agree the employee will accomplish over a specific period of time. To be effective, it should be simple and leave no room for misunderstanding. This can help directly measure one’s accountability.

6.      The Operations Review – This enables senior level managers the ability to review all functions within an organization, the performances of specific managers of those functions, the results managers have achieved, and the plans they have to reach future goals. It demonstrates accountability organization-wide.

7.      The Performance Appraisal – Often dreaded by both managers and employees, this should be a fine opportunity to review 1) the goals the employee met or exceeded; 2) the goals the employee has not met; 3) the manager’s recommendations concerning what the employee should do to meet his or her goals. It should be a helpful conversation that encourages accountability.

8.      The Performance Improvement Plan – This plan clarifies issues the employee is encountering or goals that he or she is missing and sets up a course of action for improvement. For the employee this can be a wake up call. The manager must be helpful, set a clear deadline, make it measurable, and support the employee through the process.

Exceptional managers are able to delegate accountability to their staff and remain accountable themselves. This accountability must be modeled continually in word, attitude and action.

In the same way children will ignore parents’ words when their behavior does not match, employees constantly monitor their manager’s behaviors to find congruence.

“When a manager is not accountable, commitments slide,” writes Strigl. “Decisions don’t get made. Responsibilities are not fulfilled. Worst of all, results are not delivered.”

And accountability is the tool that enables managers to deliver results, says Strigl.

What about you and your organization? Are you and the people who report to you held accountable? Is accountability a core value in your workplace?

The Value of 360-Degree Feedback

August 4, 2010

Like most employee evaluation programs, the 360-degree feedback process can be effective or ineffective depending on the guidelines, training and implementation accompanying it.

Feedback in this process is typically provided by subordinates, peers and supervisors. It also includes a self-assessment and may include feedback from customers, suppliers and other stakeholders.

Results can be effectively used by the person receiving the feedback to seek training and development for improvement if necessary.

However, there is some controversy regarding whether 360-degree feedback improves employee performance, and it has even been suggested that it may actually decrease shareholder value.

A 2001 Watson Wyatt study found that 360-degree feedback was one of the factors associated with a 10.6 percent decrease in market value of an organization. The study notes that while nothing is inherently wrong with these practices, many organizations implement them in misguided ways.

And a study on the patterns of 360-degree feedback rater accuracy shows that the length of time the rater has known the person being rated has the most significant effect on the accuracy of a 360-degree review. According to the study, the most accurate ratings come from knowing the person long enough to get past first impressions (one to three years), but not so long as to begin to generalize favorably (more than five years).

Organizations having success with 360-degree feedback processes report:

  • Organizational climate fosters individual growth
  • Criticisms are seen as opportunities for improvement
  • Assurance that feedback will be kept confidential
  • Development of feedback tool based on organizational goals and values
  • Feedback tool includes area for comments
  • Brief workers, evaluators and supervisors about purpose, uses of data and methods of survey prior to distribution of tool
  • Train workers in appropriate methods to give and receive feedback
  • Support feedback with back-up services or customized coaching

Organizations using 360-degree feedback without first providing the foundation for success can have negative consequences such as:

  • Feedback too often tied to merit pay or promotions
  • Comments are traced to individuals causing resentment between workers
  • Feedback not linked to organizational goals or values
  • Use of the feedback tool as a stand alone without follow-up
  • Poor implementation of tool negatively affects motivation
  • Excessive number of surveys mean raters provide few tangible results

When a 360-degree feedback process is not properly implemented it can seriously derail its effectiveness. Like any training or development program, this process requires guidelines and oversight to ensure it is implemented properly and fairly throughout the organization.

Since 360-degree feedback processes are typically anonymous, people receiving feedback have no recourse if they want to further understand the feedback. They have no one to ask for clarification of unclear comments or more information about particular ratings and their basis.

Too often the 360-degree feedback process is problem-focused rather than solution-focused. By focusing on the employee’s weaknesses there is less of an opportunity to build on the employee’s strengths. And great leaders are those who build upon employee strengths rather than on their weaknesses.

The best 360-degree feedback provides insight about the skills and behaviors desired to meet the mission, vision and goals of the organization. It enables each individual to understand how his or her effectiveness as an employee is viewed by others. The feedback is based on behaviors that other employees can see. And the process includes a follow-up plan or coaching in order to improve.

As with any performance feedback process, it can be a profoundly supportive, organization-affirming method for promoting employee growth and development. Or the process can reduce morale and motivation, and make things much worse for the individual and the entire organization.

Employee Feedback: Is There Ever Enough?

January 25, 2010

One of the challenges I encountered in my previous career was getting too little time with my boss and receiving too little feedback on my performance. Not getting regular accolades for what I did especially well and constructive feedback for how I could improve, left me at a loss for how to best provide my boss and the company with what they needed from me.

I am not in the minority. According to a recent study by Leadership IQ, 66% of employees say they have too little interaction with their boss. This number is up from 53% in May 2008, the last time this study was conducted, and could indicate that the recent recession played a part in the results.

And while 67% of employees say they get too little positive feedback, 51% also said they get too little constructive criticism from their boss. On top of this, employees who say they didn’t get enough feedback were 43% less likely to recommend their company to others as a great organization to work for. The survey included 3,611 workers from 291 business and healthcare organizations in the U.S. and Canada.

Too often organizations view opportunities for interaction with the boss and feedback as part of an annual review. In my experience, annual reviews are seen as an HR necessity rather than an opportunity to improve performance and strengthen relationships between managers and employees. These reviews typically focus too heavily on past performance, salary increases and potential promotions. The fact that they are done only once a year and often viewed as a burden to many supervisors, annual reviews are not fully appreciated for what they can deliver.

Employee feedback needs to be provided more frequently and needs to be effective so appropriate action can be taken immediately. Looking at it from an appreciative standpoint, feedback can open the door to constructive dialogue between a worker and his or her supervisor. Constructive feedback can help build upon and spread what is working well and it can minimize or remove what is not working so well. And the best feedback should not be one way in nature, but allow for true give and take so there is an opportunity for better understanding and to strengthen the relationship.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, employees may join a company because of its prestige and reputation, but they leave a company primarily due to their relationship with their immediate supervisor. Strengthening this relationship through regular dialogue can lead to greater employee engagement, increased productivity and potentially long term retention.

Organizations should demand that managers increase the amount and quality of feedback they give employees because it makes good business sense. This feedback needs to occur more than once a year and should include praise for positive performances as well as detailed constructive comments so that immediate corrective action can be taken if necessary. This is important not only because employees will feel better about doing their jobs, but because it can directly impact overall productivity as well as employee retention and recruitment.

Mark Craemer                           www.craemerconsulting.com