Leadership and the To-Don’t List

May 9, 2018

At some point in our careers we have to face the fact that it may not be our lack of skills, experience or overall accomplishments, but specific behaviors that may prevent us from getting promoted to a higher position.

What often defines those who are able to rise to the ranks of leadership is the self-awareness to recognize how certain behaviors are holding them back and the courage to do something about them. Though these behaviors may have helped you get to where you are, they may be the very things holding you back from going further.

It’s not so much what you do, but what you need to stop doing, according to leadership coach and author Marshall Goldsmith.

“The higher you go in the organization, the more your problems are behavioral,” according to Goldsmith and Mark Reiter in What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. “The higher you go, the more your issues are behavioral.”

And changing one’s behavior is extremely difficult. Consider new year’s resolutions, exercise commitments and diets that don’t lead to successful outcomes.

As a leadership coach, I work with those in—or hoping to reach—leadership positions, and most often it is not a lack of business or technical skills, but certain behaviors that are holding them back. And often it is not so much things they aren’t doing, but things they need to stop doing.

The great management consultant and author Peter Drucker said: We spend a lot of time teaching leaders what to do. We don’t spend nearly enough time teaching them what to stop.

In every performance review, employees should learn what they are seen as doing well and should continue doing; what they are not yet doing and should begin doing; and finally what they are doing, but should stop doing. For whatever reason, this last one often gets left off unless the behaviors are especially egregious.

This gets us to the To Don’t list. Unlike the To-Do list, the To Don’t list should include behaviors you need to stop doing as they are undermining your performance and your ability to grow in your leadership potential. This list should certainly contain items brought up in your performance review because they are the most obvious to your supervisor. But they may not be as obvious to your supervisor or called out in a way that can be helpful to you.

One way to compile this To Don’t list would be to review feedback from performance reviews, 360 assessments, and other ways you have been evaluated. Look for themes and consider not simply dismissing those items that you don’t consider important to change.

Take for example sarcasm. This is a trait that can come across to many as funny and perhaps lighten the mood in certain situations. Sarcasm is actually a passive-aggressive form of communication that can undermine trust. If your identity is associated with sarcasm, you might consider how this may undermine your ability to be seen as a leader.

Though you may claim that sarcasm or another behavior is just who you are and can’t be that bad if it’s gotten you this far. Consider that certain traits that may not have been a problem in getting to this point are actually preventing you from rising higher because leadership has different demands and requires different behaviors.

This can be things like speaking instead of listening, commanding instead of inspiring, making excuses instead of owning up, or clinging to the past rather than letting go that prevent would-be leaders from rising to the C-suite.

It’s worth taking the time to make your To Don’t list and treat it as importantly as you do your To Do list. First identify and write down those behaviors you wish to change. Then focus on changing them. And in the same way you are more likely succeed with your exercise or diet, enlist others to provide encouragement, support and hold you accountable.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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.

Reducing Office Politics Through Soft Skills

June 30, 2016

Admitting you don’t know the answer. Apologizing when you’ve made a mistake. Putting yourself in another person’s shoes. Not speaking poorly about someone behind their back.

These are things we learned as children and know we should practice as adults, yet because many of us don’t, our workplaces are unhealthy and prevent us from being more productive. Traits like empathy, transparency and clear communication are often missing and make for a corrosive work environment where office politics has become an accepted standard element of corporate life.

In a recent Harvard Business Journal article How Facebook Tries to Prevent Office Politics, author Jay Parikh describes that from the very beginning of the social media juggernaut, they wanted to be more thoughtful in all their interactions to avoid letting “office maneuvering poison work life.”

Parikh, global head of engineering and infrastructure, offers five tactics Facebook discovered to keep their culture healthy and productive. These all include elements of trust, transparency, curiosity, and are focused on the soft skills so vital to effective workplaces.

“We equip our employees with the communication skills needed to be empathetic and to solve these issues in constructive ways,” writes Parikh.

Some examples of ways Facebook reportedly encourages employees to avoid the trappings of office politics include:

  • Make “escalation” legal so skip-level meetings are actually encouraged to ensure everyone is on the same page. This has enabled them to help uncover areas to improve, build greater engagement and establish cross-team collaboration among other things.
  • In the hiring process, interviewers need to document feedback on the candidate that everyone on the hiring team can see only after they have submitted feedback of their own. This keeps everyone accountable and prevents personal bias in decision-making.
  • Performance evaluations include twice annual 360-degree reviews to ensure assessments are fair and prevent favoritism or unwarranted punishment to take hold. HR partners have access to the information so no one person can inhibit another’s potential within the company.
  • When an employee does claim politics is to blame for a decision, their manager or other leader seeks clarification to get at the root of the concern. By reducing assumptions, everyone is encouraged to be accountable and to fully understand the other’s perspective. Oftentimes, politics isn’t the cause so much as misunderstanding.

All of these examples in theory can be helpful in building a more engaging, productive and enjoyable place to work. If Facebook is truly practicing these behaviors, I suspect this is an important reason for their rapid growth as well as their ability to retain and motivate high-caliber employees.

More organizations should encourage practicing behaviors that include empathy, transparency, curiosity and clear communication. When all members of the leadership team are actively embodying and demonstrating these behaviors, it sends a strong message that it is more than an external public relations message and integral to the values that the company stands for.

Leaders who courageously embrace attributes to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people will send a strong and clear message on what behaviors are rewarded throughout the company. Then and only then will other employees see the wisdom in following along.

And the result will create a healthier workplace where office politics don’t impede optimal productivity and all employees feel more engaged.

Managing Millennials

February 17, 2016

The largest generation in the U.S. workforce today is composed of people born after 1980, and they represent Generation Y or Millennials. These 54 million workers are often called digital natives because they do not know of a world without computers and the Internet.

And while they may not fully appreciate that FAX machines and interoffice memos were once essential, it’s important to see the value of their unique perspectives and contributions.

Millennials were educated working in groups and therefore may be more accepting and effective in work teams than others. They are likely to be more technically savvy and connected. And while they may want regular feedback acknowledging their contribution, they also want to be challenged in the work they do.

Previously I wrote about Millennials as Managers with regard to how these younger workers show up as leaders and how they can best manage others. In this post, I’d like to address how those of older generations can best manage Millennials.

The generations are roughly sorted as: Traditionalists (1927-1945), Baby Boomers (1946-1963), Generation X (1964-1979) and Millennials (1980-1999). The values and work ethic of each can vary immensely, and this impacts how to best manage them.

One methodology for managing will not necessarily work for an entire generation of people, of course. Workers are individuals and a method that works for one person, won’t necessarily work for another—even if they happen to be born within a similar timeframe.

Nevertheless, there are some common characteristics Millennials may share due to the timeframe in which they were raised, and it is therefore useful to consider how this shared perspective may require managing them differently than those who were born earlier.

Millennial workers may be misunderstood by those of other generations. According to research discussed in their book Managing the Millennials, authors Chip Espinoza, Mick Ukleja and Craig Rusch found the perceptions managers have working with Millennial employees can also be viewed as the Millennial’s intrinsic values. For example:

Manager’s Perception Millennial’s Intrinsic Value
Autonomous Work-life fusion – It’s about getting work done; not punching a clock to satisfy office processes.
Entitled Reward – Being recognized and rewarded for their contribution; Millennials want more than just an opportunity. They want a guarantee their performance will count for something.
Imaginative Self-expression – Offering a fresh perspective that they want to be heard and their ideas taken into consideration.
Self-absorbed Attention – In search of trust, encouragement and praise for how they individually are contributing to the whole of the group.
Defensive Achievement – They are more interested in how to focus on building their strengths than having their weaknesses pointed out.
Abrasive Informality – Though their behavior may be interpreted as disrespectful, their casual communication style is simply how they grew up learning to express themselves.
Myopic Simplicity – They may see their own individual task as essential without fully appreciating other tasks around it.
Unfocused Multitasking – If they have always juggled several tasks at a time, they may find it difficult to really appreciate the benefit of full focused attention on one thing at a time.
Indifferent Meaning – They can’t care about their contribution unless they know the meaning behind it.

This difference between a manager’s perception and the Millennial worker’s intrinsic values can lead to a great deal of conflict unless the manager is aware of it. This doesn’t mean managers should abdicate all responsibility from workers because they hold these intrinsic values. Instead, they could seek to find mutual understanding in the difference.

Ideally, this would take place in the normal course of working together and not held off until that dreaded and often detrimental annual performance review. By then, it is often too late.

Authors Espinoza, Ukleja and Rusch further outlined nine managerial competencies that can be essential to managing Millennials effectively. These competencies may both reduce tension and create an environment in which both the manager and the employee can thrive.

  1. Be Flexible – to enable the autonomous, work-life fusion
  2. Create the Right Rewards – to engage them; often simply through verbal recognition
  3. Put Their Imagination to Work – allow for their self-expression to be incorporated
  4. Build a Relationship – listen to what they have to say and encourage their development
  5. Be Positive When Correcting – focus on strengths to build up their confidence
  6. Don’t Take Things Personally – don’t mistake their informality as an affront to you
  7. Show the Big Picture – help them see how their contribution connects to others
  8. Include the Details – spell out expectations until you are certain they are clear
  9. Make it Matter to Them – connect their aspirations to the organization’s objectives

None of these are necessarily revolutionary nor would they be less useful when managing Gen Xers or Boomers. However, it is important to consider that the Millennial worker may be especially predisposed to function at a higher level when working in an environment where these competencies are demonstrated by those who manage them.

And managers who seek to fully appreciate their workers’ unique perspectives will find a way to engage them and bring out their best.

10 Tips to Improve Your Relationship with Your Boss

January 8, 2016

People use Google to search for information on everything from local weather to “what happened in Paris” shortly after the terrorist attack. And sometimes people search random things they’re currently thinking about with the hope they’ll find help.

“I hate my boss” is currently typed into Google’s search engine about 1,600 times each month in the United States. This must represent only a fraction of those who say this out loud to their spouse or friends each month.

In fact, a Gallup survey of more than 7,000 US workers found that half of them had left a job at some point in their careers solely because they could no longer put up with their manager, thus proving the adage that people join a company based on its reputation and leave it due to a boss.

No matter where you work, your boss has a great deal of control over your destiny and it’s important that you do all you can to nurture this relationship. The idea of managing one’s boss should be taken very seriously.

Communication is often at the heart of a poor relationship between a boss and subordinate as this can quickly lead to a lack of respect and trust. But it could also be due to many other factors that are both within and outside of your control.

The most successful relationships are those where bosses and employees really get to know one another, says Piera Palazzo, senior vice president of Dale Carnegie Training.

“That’s different from years ago, when you weren’t supposed to ask any personal questions,” says Palazzo. “Those lines are blurred now, people want you to care about them, particularly if there’s something going on in their lives that might affect their performance.”

In my work coaching individuals, the discontented relationship with a boss is a common concern. So often my help begins with working on communication—both speaking and listening. This includes clearly stating what you need from your boss in order to be successful, and actively listening to what is said and not said, or reading between the lines with written messages.

Like so many challenging relationships both in our personal and professional lives, poor communication often takes center stage. And if you put the cause of the problem entirely on the other person, you are clearly not taking responsibility for your role in the challenge.

So what can you do to improve this? Here are 10 ways to improve your relationship with your boss:

  1. Ensure clear expectations. Nothing can derail a boss-employee relationship more quickly than unclear expectations. You should drive your one-on-one meetings and be certain you are crystal clear on what you are expected to do.
  2. Know how to best communicate. Don’t assume your boss has your same communication style. Determine the best time of day, day of week, email, etc. to communicate. Keep your boss informed well in advance to minimize surprises.
  3. Demonstrate your value. Don’t be afraid to challenge assumptions and offer your own ideas, but do it respectfully. And when you are in conflict, take it as a sign that one of you knows something the other doesn’t, or that one of you is looking at the situation from a different perspective. Then bring that to the surface to bridge the gap.
  4. Get to know your boss personally. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that your boss has friends, family, and a personal life with passions just as you do. Be curious and show an interest just as you would with your other co-workers.
  5. Make your boss look good. Don’t suck up, but don’t push back either. This doesn’t mean you should be disingenuous; instead be authentic, respectful and professional. The level of professionalism you demonstrate not only benefits you, but also reflects highly on your boss as a leader of others.
  6. Put yourself in your boss’s shoes. A little empathy goes a long way and it shouldn’t be discarded when it comes to those above us in the organization. Try to see things from his or her perspective when you don’t agree with a decision.
  7. Ask for feedback. If something is not going especially well or you feel you aren’t clear on how your performance stacks up, ask about it. Don’t wait to be surprised in the annual performance review.
  8. Ask for help and advice. Determine whether you need direction, support, both or neither, and let your boss know. This is one of the most important aspects of managing and being managed by someone. And like all of us, your boss will appreciate being asked for his or her opinion.
  9. Stay above gossip. This is detrimental to employee engagement and especially your career advancement. Stay clear of those who engage in it.
  10. Know when it’s time to move on. You can learn a great deal from a bad boss, but if he or she is derailing your morale that’s impacting your performance, it may be time to look for a new job either inside or outside of the company.

And if it is time to look for a new job, be sure you know what it is you’re looking for in an ideal boss. Then learn all you can about your potential new boss during the interview. You don’t want to leave a bad boss and then run into another one, or you may have to take a lot more responsibility for it not working out this next time.

I recently learned that when choosing where to attend college, high school seniors should spend a lot more time interviewing professors in their field of study rather than relying on the university’s reputation alone. This relationship with the professors is often a better indicator of the true value you will derive from your educational experience. The same could be said for your boss in the workplace.

It’s ultimately about building a strong relationship just like any other. It takes time to establish rapport, instill trust, and find a common understanding for how to work together well. And this is your responsibility. It’s vital to work on this so you can be fully engaged and bring your best self to the workplace.

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/13657368@N00/1752089487″>Success is ours!! :-)</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>

Values-Based Recognition for Employee Retention

July 2, 2015

Retaining the best employees is difficult, especially when the economy is on the rise and new opportunities are opening up all around. But keeping your talent is essential if you want to remain competitive.

In the 2015 Employee Recognition Report published by SHRM and Globoforce, employee turnover/retention is the biggest challenge now facing HR leaders. Not surprisingly, employee engagement is a close second. Some 40 percent of all companies surveyed said the loss of personnel was a top concern. Another 29 percent were stressed about finding replacement talent.

Why do employees leave companies: higher salary, better benefits, a shorter commute? There’s a saying that people join a company due to its reputation, but they leave because of their manager.

Perhaps it’s the rise of the notion of free-agent nation with each of us looking out only for ourselves rather than the company as a whole. Maybe it’s generational as there are now more Millennials in the workforce than Generation Xers or Baby Boomers.

Research conducted by Marshall Goldsmith for Accenture found that when high potential leaders were asked why they would stay in their own company versus taking a better offer elsewhere, the answers were never about money. They were always about happiness, relationships, following dreams, and meaning.

I’ve worked for some successful start-ups that had a laser focus on customers, with employees coming in a very close second. Once these companies went public, however, shareholders took over the second if not the first spot. And the top two were the only ones that got attention.

According to the SHRM/Globoforce report, lack of recognition at work is one of the most cited reasons why employees leave their jobs. Employees feel their contribution in achieving the company’s goals are not valued by their peers or manager.

Why don’t we celebrate success? Why don’t we congratulate our peers and our direct reports for their work? The simple act of saying “thank you” or “great job” has somehow become difficult to get out of our mouths.

Many companies are taking steps to address this more formally by implementing specific recognition programs because frequent and immediate recognition have been found to increase employee engagement and reduce turnover.

However, unless these recognition programs are aligned with a company’s values, they will have little effect. Values-based recognition seems to make employees feel they are valued and their contributions are fully appreciated.

And while more than 80% of large companies offer some kind of formal recognition, values-based recognition is still practiced by only a little more than 50% of these companies—though it is on the rise. And with good reason.

In the SHRM/Globoforce report, recognition was perceived to positively impact engagement for 90 percent of respondents practicing values-based recognition versus just 67 percent for non-values-based programs. Retention was also directly affected with 68 percent of values-based programs perceived with a positive impact versus just 41 percent for non-values-based programs.

With your company’s values as a guide, link your recognition programs directly to them in order to reinforce their importance and encourage employees to practice behavior that you want your company to represent.

This will not only enable you to hold on to your best and brightest employees, but also make everyone more engaged, which can boost productivity. Values-based recognition will also attract new job candidates looking for companies that demonstrate their core values in the way they treat employees.

So consider skipping bagel Fridays, the monthly pizza party or generic birthday cupcake each month in favor of specific, timely and frequent recognition that is deeply tied to your company’s core values. This will encourage your employees to stay and be more engaged than just about anything.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/61166346@N06/5954679540″>Retention and Engagement</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>

Appreciation for a Job Well Done

August 21, 2014

Employee engagement is by far the single most important HR challenge for organizations because it impacts recruitment, retention, absenteeism and productivity.

In fact, according to a 2011 Gallup poll, the annual cost of lost productivity on the U.S. economy due to actively disengaged employees is $370 billion!

And finding a way to improve employee engagement can be as simple as showing appreciation for a job well done.

According to a 2013 survey of 803 human resource employees by the Society of Human Resource Management and Globoforce, direct supervisors have a great deal of power over employee engagement. Here are the responses from this question:

“In your professional opinion, which of the following items have the most impact on employee engagement at your organization?”

  • Appreciation by direct supervisor                                                  71%
  • Opportunity to advance                                                                  41%
  • Salary and bonus                                                                            36%
  • Ability to be effective in one’s job                                                   35%
  • Company’s care for employees’ well-being                                    30%
  • Confidence in executive leadership                                                29%
  • Relationship with peers                                                                   22%
  • Belief in company’s mission                                                            18%
  • Appreciation by peers                                                                      11%
  • Job title                                                                                               4%
  • Other                                                                                                  2%

 

The same survey found that only 26% of employees are satisfied with the level of recognition they receive for doing a good job at work.

One of the reasons for this is that all too often it is only during an annual performance review that we acknowledge the contributions of our employees. This is short sighted.

Annual performance reviews are too infrequent to be useful for giving valuable feedback—both positive and negative. Giving specific praise and actionable criticism is often far removed from the examples it may point to. In addition, these reviews are often limited to the perspective of an immediate supervisor rather than involve feedback from peers and other employees.

Most employees and their supervisors dislike the entire annual review process so much that they are usually late and are completed only after continual hounding by human resource departments.

As a result, these reviews serve primarily as an opportunity to negotiate promotions and raises rather than a constructive learning and trust-building opportunity.

More that half (51%) of the HR people surveyed say their organization’s existing performance review process needs to be completely overhauled.

Obviously, there is a need to change the way we are seeking to engage our employees. With that in mind, here are three suggestions for raising employee engagement through showing greater appreciation: 

  • Give specific genuine praise every time it’s warranted. Don’t let an opportunity go by without thanking your employee for the extra effort or extraordinary results they achieve. It’s not just about the money.
  • Celebrate individual contributions. Don’t think that by singling out individuals you are slighting others. Every time someone on your team does something special, be sure to acknowledge it publicly in your meetings.
  • Change performance reviews so they are a continual process rather than once a year event. Use every one-on-one interaction to deliver direct and specific feedback on performance so there are no surprises. Acknowledge recent accomplishments and set new

While I’m not suggesting you’ll be able to turn an actively disengaged employee into a fully engaged employee using these suggestions, I do believe you will raise overall engagement so that your people will feel their contributions are appreciated.

Greater appreciation will stir motivation and that will lead to greater engagement. Showing appreciation may be the most cost-effective means of increasing employee engagement.

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.

Engaged Employees Make all the Difference

October 6, 2011

Is employee engagement really important or is it just nice to have and something to think about once economic times improve?

The fact is companies with a high percentage of engaged employees are more profitable than those with fewer engaged workers. High engagement can improve employee retention and raise customer perceptions that directly lead to better financial performance.

Overall, most companies have about one-third of their employees fully engaged in their work. Yet recent surveys suggest that as many as four out of five workers would leave their current job if they could, but most think they would have trouble finding another one right now.

Engaged employees are those who are involved in and enthusiastic about their work. Those who are not engaged are satisfied but are not emotionally connected to their workplace and are less likely to put in extra effort. Those who are actively disengaged are emotionally disconnected from the work and workplace and jeopardize the performance of their teams. Their physical health may also be at risk.

A recent Gallup survey found that in the average big company only 33% of employees describe themselves as fully engaged in their work, 49% say they are not engaged and 18% say they are actively disengaged.

Gallup’s research found there is a strong relationship between engagement and high-performance outcomes which include customer loyalty, profitability, productivity, turnover, safety incidents, shrinkage, absenteeism, patient safety incidents, and quality (defects). They also learned that organizations with a high percentage of engaged employees have nearly four times the earnings per share growth rate compared to organizations in the same industry with lower enagement.

In what Gallup calls world-class organizations, the ratio of engaged workers to actively disengaged workers is about 10:1. Whereas in average organizations, the ratio of engaged workers to actively disengaged workers is about 2:1.

All too often, employee engagement is viewed as an HR initiative to improve morale among employees when things aren’t going so well. These intiatives do little to raise the level of employee engagement, and sometimes they even undermine it. That’s because employee engagement is distinctively different from employee satisfaction, motivation and organizational culture.

In the best companies employee engagement is a strategic approach for driving improvement that is directly linked to achieving corporate goals and organizational change. It can lead to employees who are more emotionally attached, involved and fully commited to their organizations. And it can profoundly increase productivity.

Employee engagement should be an organization-wide effort, and so much of its execution is dependent on good managers. As I wrote about in a previous post, employees join an organization based on the reputation of the company or the quality of its products or service. But they most often leave because of their manager.

In a down economy when hiring is stagnant and organizations are trying to get the most out of the people they already have, managers can engage employees in many ways. This includes clarifying expectations, providing adequate resources, giving recognition, encouraging their professional development, helping them connect to the organization’s purpose, and measuring and discussing progress more often than once each year.

Managers who do these as part of an overall employee engagement strategy are more likely to produce high-quality work and retain employees.

At a time with high unemployment, stagnant wages and workers staying in their jobs only because they fear they cannot find something better, it is the perfect time to execute an employee engagement strategy to energize your people.

In most organizations employees are the biggest expense and, far and away, the greatest asset. Now is the time to invest in a strategy that will raise the number of fully engaged employees and increase your profitability. You’ll be glad you did both now and when the economy improves.

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?

Performance Previews: Linking Each Other to Our Success

March 3, 2011

The current turmoil over union rights in Wisconsin as well as the overall economic challenges facing both public and private organizations should provide a springboard for altering the way we do business.

While I am not suggesting abolishing unions, I believe there is an opportunity for significant change in employee relations at this pivotal time. This change could have wide spread implications leading to increased fiscal accountability, higher productivity and greater employee engagement.

In a recent New York Times editorial titled, “Why Your Boss is Wrong About You,” Samuel Culbert argues that one way to do this is by doing away with performance reviews because they are entirely unfair. Performance reviews are too focused on pleasing the boss rather than achieving results, he says.

“They are an intimidating tool that makes employees too scared to speak their minds, lest their criticism come back to haunt them in their annual evaluations,” writes Culbert. “They almost guarantee that the owners — whether they be taxpayers or shareholders — will get less bang for their buck.”

Culbert is a professor in the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the author of “Get Rid of the Performance Review! How Companies Can Stop Intimidating, Start Managing — and Focus on What Really Matters.”

As I wrote in a previous post, performance reviews are all too often an HR necessity rather than an opportunity to improve performance and strengthen relationships between managers and employees. New methods such as Results Only Work Environment or ROWE can be helpful in holding the employee more responsible for achieving results.

Culbert suggests taking this ROWE methodology a bit further in what he sites as performance previews, which are a way to hold both boss and his subordinate accountable for setting goals and achieving results. A true partnership can then exist between supervisor and employee to reach goals that are based on shared interests and responsibility.

Once goals are established, the decision regarding how the work gets done can be made between the two people most responsible for it and independent from the organization. This relationship is based on mutual respect and can capitalize on the unique strengths and knowledge available rather than from some objective standard found in boilerplate review paperwork.

I once held a position where, despite my success in achieving the financial-based, project targets in the management by objectives (MBOs) agreed to in my employment agreement, I was not given my annual bonus because my supervisor decided I had achieved these only through his intervention. Though I disagreed with his assessment, I had little recourse.

What if instead we had worked as a team and his success was also determined by the achievement of these goals? Rather than he as my supervisor determining my compensation based on his own subjective interpretation of who did what and how the work got done, he judged this purely on results?

All too often in competitive workplace environments, there is too much office politics, jockeying for position, and silo mentality that is in the way of getting the work done. Performance previews may provide a viable alternative to performance reviews, especially if they lead to increased communication, teamwork and achieving the organization’s goals.

The current economic crisis provides us with a great opportunity to revamp the way we do business and implement a win-win solution such as performance previews.

I welcome comments on how your organization would benefit or suffer from such a change in the way to evaluate employees.

Performance Management Process as a Model for Better Employee Management

November 9, 2010

[Guest Columnist: Today’s post is written by Sean Conrad, a senior product analyst at Halogen Software.]

As managers, we sometimes get caught up in the formality of our performance management process. We focus on the questions in the forms, the ratings, the meetings, the approvals. We forget that performance management is really just about good employee management.

If you peel back all the trappings, you realize that performance management is really about communicating expectations, giving clear direction and context for work, and supporting employee development. Ideally, these are things a manager should be doing every day, not just at performance appraisal time. They are the basics of good employee management, and the performance management process should really just be a way to periodically formalize and document these activities.

Communicating Expectations
To succeed, our employees need to know what we expect of them. This should also include how we expect them to do it. Assessing performance of competencies as part of your performance appraisal process is one way to do this.

You should also have an ongoing discussion with each employee about the competencies that are important to the company and those that are important to their specific role. You should talk about how each competency applies to the employee’s role and talk about when, where, and how they can practice the specific behaviors. Instead of leaving it to annual performance appraisal time, weave discussions about competencies into your day to day dialogue about performance.

Coach your employees to further develop key competencies. Where warranted, assign employees development activities to help cultivate specific competencies. And don’t forget the importance of modeling. Lead by example.

Giving Clear Direction and Context for Work
Performance management processes typically focus on the evaluation of performance on past goals, and the establishment of new goals. As a manager, you should also clearly link each of your employees’ goals to the organization’s high level goals. This helps them understand how their daily work contributes to the organization’s success, and gives them a sense of their value and importance.

But a once a year “set and forget” approach rarely works to direct employees and encourage high performance. As a manager, you should check in with employees on a regular basis to see how they’re progressing.

  • Make sure their goals are still relevant and adjust them if necessary.
  • Discuss challenges and offer help.
  • Review priorities.
  • Answer questions.
  • Explain how their work is contributing to larger organizational initiatives or priorities and update them on organizational progress.

This regular dialogue communicates the importance and value of goals to your employees. It also communicates your commitment to your employees and to their success.

Support Employee Development
As you work with your employees and dialogue about competencies and goals, stay alert to “teachable moments” and “learning opportunities”. Your ultimate goal should be to help your employees improve and succeed.

While your annual performance appraisal meeting is a great time to discuss learning needs and put formal development plans in place, you should really keep the focus on learning all year long.

Look for opportunities to coach your employees or teach them more about the larger organization, its mission, purpose, challenges, industry, etc. Model the skills or behaviors they need to further develop and give them tangible — in the moment feedback — on their performance. Offer a variety of learning opportunities, including books, articles, seminars/webinars, job shadowing, workplace buddying, post-mortems, etc. Make it okay to make mistakes as long as they’re leveraged as learning opportunities. And coach, coach, coach…

Leverage the Power of Performance Management by Making it a Year-Round Activity
Performance management shouldn’t be a once a year formality. The activities it encompasses really form the foundation of good employee management, and should therefore be year-round activities. By communicating expectations, giving clear direction and context, and supporting development, you foster strong performance and ultimately organizational success.

Sean Conrad is a senior product analyst at Halogen Software, one of the leading providers of performance appraisal software.

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