Tag Archives: Human Resources

Feedback…Criticism or Opportunity?

Every once in a while, I like to get back to the basics.  The basics for me are always about people and how we relate to each other.  This post addresses giving and receiving feedback. I know, it is an old topic but I’ll stop talking about it when more of us get better at it. In the meantime, here it is…again.

===============================================

canstockphoto6447088“Feedback is the breakfast of Champions” or so says Ken Blanchard. But I’m wondering how many of us truly have an appetite for it.   After all, it has a way of feeling like bad news much of the time.

Why is that I wonder?  Well, first of all a very common view of feedback is this.  Feedback equals Criticism.

When I looked up the word criticism, here are some synonyms that greeted me…reprehend, censure, reprobate, condemn, denounce. Okay then, I can’t wait to get me some of that!

Often too, the experiences we have around performance management time can bring on an allergic reaction to feedback because, despite good intention, it is often delivered badly and received equally badly…a breakfast of champions complete with sour milk.

Perhaps, then, the task for all of us is to shift the perspective of feedback from one that equals criticism to one that equals opportunity.

So, where is the opportunity in both providing and receiving feedback?

For the Recipient there is opportunity:

For personal growth

We only see ourselves from the inside out.  The value of having others observe us and give us information about what they see helps us ‘round out’ our impression of ourselves.

To make positive change

Information about ourselves gives us a chance to make changes that have some personal meaning.  The hardest part about making change is the commitment it takes to sustain new behaviour.   Knowing why a change is important helps us to remain on course and raises the potential for experiencing positive results from our efforts.

For the Provider there is opportunity:

To build relationships that include trust

Feedback becomes a gift when it is presented sincerely and without judgment.  As well, when it is given as part of a conversation rather than a laundry list of things to fix, it is more palatable for the recipient and allows for deeper understanding on both sides.

To convey belief in the recipient’s capabilities & potential contribution

Giving feedback allows us to paint a picture of what we believe another is truly capable of and to shape our expectations around those beliefs.  If we simply demand a certain level of performance without inviting input or considering what people might need to make it possible, we will likely be met with resentment rather than interest.

Okay, so this might address some of the why for shifting a negative perspective of feedback to a more positive one (and there are doubtless more reasons for doing so as well) but it doesn’t speak to the how.  So here are a few thoughts on that:

As Providers of feedback, if we take the opportunity perspective we must:

Be clear about what we’re looking for

This means that if we are going to observe someone going about their work and then provide meaningful and useful information to them, both parties have to be focusing on the same things.  Feedback, after all, is comprised not of a single conversation but a series of conversations that lead to change and growth.

Make conversation and observation a daily habit

Sitting down with someone once a year to talk about performance and outcomes does not encourage an opportunity based perspective on feedback.  Instead, it becomes something one dreads.  Having daily conversations with people and making daily observations about their activities facilitates good and useful exchanges of information.

Avoid the “poop sandwich” approach

Who is not familiar with this?  Its starts with something positive; ends with something positive and then sandwiches the negative  you-know-what in between.  I personally don’t like this approach because it feels contrived.  And, by the way, no one is fooled by it.

As Recipients of feedback, in taking the opportunity perspective we must:

Participate in the conversation

In my experience, people who say nothing during a session that includes personal feedback can have plenty to say when the session is over, and to people who can only commiserate.  While this might feel good at the time, it really isn’t very helpful.  Participating in the conversation means asking questions.  It sometimes means disagreeing and challenging.  But it also means there is opportunity to understand as well as to be understood.  That alone has great value.

Take the view that feedback is as often positive as it is negative

Whenever someone says, “May I give you some feedback?”  It is tempting to say “Uh-Oh.  What have I done now?”

To be open to receiving feedback I think we must also do our best to wipe out the negative “tapes” that play between our ears about it.  In short, an open mind helps.

The truth is, these discussions are rarely easy.  They take thought, and work, by both parties.  And, because we have this tendency to equate feedback discussions with personal shortcoming, we avoid having them; wait to the last minute to have them; or rush through them in a way that does more harm than good.  I think shifting our perspective  away from criticism and toward opportunity might help

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

Advertisements

6 Comments

Filed under Coaching, communication, Human Resources, Performance Management

Successful Leadership ~ The Story of a Man

I wrote this post in 2010.  Being part of this retirement celebration reminded me that when it comes right down to it, it is our humanity and what we do with it that makes the difference between success and failure.  Nothing else really seems to matter that much.

=====================================================

The other evening I attended a retirement celebration for a former colleague.  It was a wonderful gathering, a room packed full of people who were there because they genuinely liked and respected the man who was about to embark on the next phase of his life.

In his business career, the man did not rise to the top of the executive ladder.  Nor, I would hazard to say, did he make lots of money or enjoy an opulent lifestyle.  He may not even be widely known to people much beyond his immediate sphere of influence.  But his impact has been felt. He is successful.  He is a leader.

Throughout the course of the evening, many people got up to speak.

His bosses praised his leadership in community activities; his ability to galvanize his local workforce; and his good humour and cheerful disposition.  Those bosses, who were younger than he, thanked him for his guidance and mentorship.

His colleagues spoke about lifelong friendship; told stories of the fun they had together and how they all managed to work hard in spite of their youthful exuberance.

His staff thanked him for his support and guidance.  While they were happy for him as he moved on to other things, they were sad too, as they told their own stories of meeting challenges together; overcoming obstacles; achieving goals; and yes, having fun all along the way.

His sons told stories of their life as they grew up.  The stories were witty and poignant and full of pride.  They were two young men who had grown up to be fine, funny and thoughtful, two young men who thanked their parents for giving them a good start in life.

When it was his turn, the man did not talk about his accomplishments at all.  Instead, he spoke with pride about the accomplishments of others, especially his children. He talked about the constant love and support he received from his wife. He talked about what he had learned over the course of his career and from whom.  He made many self-deprecating remarks.  And he said thank you…a lot.

Much has been written about the characteristics of successful leadership and while I certainly think there are core elements associated with it, there are other lessons in there somewhere. Like:

Successful Leadership is not formulaic.  It is open to interpretation and it requires the involvement of the whole self.

For instance, while we know that good communication is key to good leadership, how we communicate to get the desired result will vary depending on the leader. The man was successful because he did not pretend to be anyone else.  His communication style included fun, laughter and humility.  It worked for him simply because it is who he is.

And:

Successful Leadership is more about love than we would like to admit.

Okay, I can feel people cringing as they read this because injecting the word love into a business environment starts to feel a bit, um, ethereal.  But, there are all kinds of love…love of challenge; love of ideas; love of people; love of good honest work.  And, it is this love that carries successful leaders through thick and thin.

At this retirement party there was indeed love, and respect, for the man who for thirty-five years, took all of himself with him wherever he went.

So, imagine your own retirement party. What do you want people to say about you?  What kind of memories do you want to have? What do you want to give? What will it take for you to get what you want?

Think about it.  And, if you feel so inclined, I’d love to hear what you come up with.

2 Comments

Filed under Building Relationships, communication, Employee engagement, Leadership, Leadership Style

Distraction…A Challenge to Good Leadership

Adlai Stevenson once said, “It’s hard to lead a cavalry charge if you think you look funny on a horse”.

I’m not sure what he meant by that specifically, but I’m thinking it has something to do with allowing distraction to get in the way of getting things done.

Of course, staying focused (most of the time anyway) is easier said than done.  After all, distraction, or the potential for it, is everywhere, rendering the leader’s lot a tricky proposition.

But, there are a few things you can do if you want to avoid spending time on things that really don’t matter that much.  And, there are usually some habits lurking about too that you might well do without.

For example:

Too much “me”.  Not enough “ you”

Here’s a new flash.  You’re human.  You are as vulnerable as anyone else to bouts of self-doubt and self-consciousness.   When this happens, your focus is going to be on yourself more often than on those you are there to lead.  You need to find ways to deal with that if you want to get out of your own way and keep the distraction factor down to a dull roar.  Usually it involves spending some concentrated time on some “know thyself” activities, things that will allow you to see yourself from a variety of perspectives.

How you choose to do it is usually a personal matter.  Self-assessment can take many forms and involve other people…or not.  However, here are a couple of things you might consider:

Take some Tests:  There are many good psychometric tests available that will allow you to get connected and acknowledge yourself for who you are, warts ‘n all.  Here’s a website that might help.

Hire a Coach: Leaders choose to do this for a variety of reasons. Working with a coach to gain clarity about yourself and particularly how others see you, are among them.

Just Ask people:  This can be a formal process or an informal one but the point is, we only see ourselves from the inside out.  If you want to know how you affect the environment and the people around you, and you trust the opinions of those you ask, sometimes it will be enough.

Too Much Time on the Ground

It is hard to stay focused when you are up to your neck in minutia.  And yet, some leaders allow themselves to get embroiled with the smallest of details. When this happens, it is easy to lose sight of the larger goals and become bogged down with side issues that have little or nothing to do with very much of anything.

So, what to do? Well, here’s a thought or two:

As a leader, you choose good people, train them, and give them the resources they need to do their jobs.  If you have done this well, then you must trust yourself, and them, enough to let go and let them get on with it.  Over- involvement in the nitty-gritty of the work takes you away from what you are really supposed to be doing.  Your job is to find the right forest.  Allow other people to take care of the trees.

The Seduction of the latest management Fad

It is easy to become distracted by new management approaches that “everyone is doing”.   You know, the kinds of processes that, when implemented, are purported to simplify your life, increase your bottom line and make everyone a hero.  For instance, was there ever a time when you found yourself sitting in a “quality circle” ? I don’t mean to pick on quality circles per se, but these things have a way of taking on lives of their own and before you know it, your goals are going one way and the people who are meant to achieve them are bound up in processes that get lost in bureaucracy, and complicated administration.

Management processes will help you get things done.  However, it is important to put them in perspective, to use them as tools to reach your goals rather than have them use you for their own sake.  Just because something is new and everyone is doing it, doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you.

Explore, challenge and experiment, by all means but always with the achievement of your goals in mind. And, by the way, if you are a leader who has not been given a choice about what processes to follow, perhaps the best thing to do is to find the bits you can use to get to where you are going and leave the rest.

=====================================================================

The bottom line is, it is difficult to lead well while distracted.  And, it is still possible to look funny on a horse even when you’re focused.  The difference lies in the amount of time you’re willing to spend worrying about it.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

13 Comments

Filed under Leadership, Leadership Development, Management, Organizational Effectiveness, Self Knowledge

Feedback…Criticism or Opportunity?

Every once in a while, I like to get back to the basics.  The basics for me are always about people and how we relate to each other.  This post addresses giving and receiving feedback. I know, it is an old topic but I’ll stop talking about it when more of us get better at it. In the meantime, here it is…again.

===========================================================

“Feedback is the breakfast of Champions” or so says Ken Blanchard.But I’m wondering how many of us truly have an appetite for it.   After all, it has a way of feeling like bad news much of the time.

Why is that I wonder?  Well, first of all a very common view of feedback is this.  Feedback equals Criticism.

When I looked up the word criticism, here are some synonyms that greeted me…reprehend, censure, reprobate, condemn, denounce. Okay then, I can’t wait to get me some of that!

Often too, the experiences we have around performance management time can bring on an allergic reaction to feedback because, despite good intention, it is often delivered badly and received equally badly…a breakfast of champions complete with sour milk.

Perhaps, then, the task for all of us is to shift the perspective of feedback from one that equals criticism to one that equals opportunity.

So, where is the opportunity in both providing and receiving feedback?

For the Recipient there is opportunity:

for personal growth

We only see ourselves from the inside out.  The value of having others observe us and give us information about what they see helps us ‘round out’ our impression of ourselves.

to make positive change

Information about ourselves gives us a chance to make changes that have some personal meaning.  The hardest part about making change is the commitment it takes to sustain new behaviour.   Knowing why a change is important helps us to remain on course and raises the potential for experiencing positive results from our efforts.

For the Provider there is opportunity:

To build relationships that include trust

Feedback becomes a gift when it is presented sincerely and without judgment.  As well, when it is given as part of a conversation rather than a laundry list of things to fix, it is more palatable for the recipient and allows for deeper understanding on both sides.

To convey belief in the recipient’s capabilities & potential contribution

Giving feedback allows us to paint a picture of what we believe another is truly capable of and to shape our expectations around those beliefs.  If we simply demand a certain level of performance without inviting input or considering what people might need to make it possible, we will likely be met with resentment rather than interest.

Okay, so this might address some of the why for shifting a negative perspective of feedback to a more positive one (and there are doubtless more reasons for doing so as well) but it doesn’t speak to the how.  So here are a few thoughts on that:

As Providers of feedback, if we take the opportunity perspective we must:

Be clear about what we’re looking for

This means that if we are going to observe someone going about their work and then provide meaningful and useful information to them, both parties have to be focusing on the same things.  Feedback, after all, is comprised not of a single conversation but a series of conversations that lead to change and growth.

Make conversation and observation a daily habit

Sitting down with someone once a year to talk about performance and outcomes does not encourage an opportunity based perspective on feedback.  Instead, it becomes something one dreads.  Having daily conversations with people and making daily observations about their activities facilitates good and useful exchanges of information.

Avoid the “poop sandwich” approach

Who is not familiar with this?  Its starts with something positive; ends with something positive and then sandwiches the negative  you-know-what in between.  I personally don’t like this approach because it feels contrived.  And, by the way, no one is fooled by it.

As Recipients of feedback, in taking the opportunity perspective we must:

Participate in the conversation

In my experience, people who say nothing during a session that includes personal feedback can have plenty to say when the session is over, and to people who can only commiserate.  While this might feel good at the time, it really isn’t very helpful.  Participating in the conversation means asking questions.  It sometimes means disagreeing and challenging.  But it also means there is opportunity to understand as well as to be understood.  That alone has great value.

Take the view that feedback is as often positive as it is negative

Whenever someone says, “May I give you some feedback?”  It is tempting to say “Uh-Oh.  What have I done now?”

To be open to receiving feedback I think we must also do our best to wipe out the negative “tapes” that play between our ears about it.  In short, an open mind helps.

The truth is, these discussions are rarely easy.  They take thought, and work, by both parties.  And, because we have this tendency to equate feedback discussions with personal shortcoming, we avoid having them; wait to the last minute to have them; or rush through them in a way that does more harm than good.  I think shifting our perspective  away from criticism and toward opportunity might help

What do you think?

21 Comments

Filed under communication, Human Resources, Performance Management

5 Principles for Highly functioning Teams…Lessons from the Snowbirds

I love the Snowbirds, no, not the ones that migrate in their RVs every winter to warmer climes, but the The Canadian Forces Snowbirds.

I love them because apart from putting on a pretty spectacular show, they offer a clear demonstration of what can happen when you get collaboration and teamwork right.   The truth is, they have to get it right. Lives depend on it.

In most organizations, the necessity for getting it right is less dire.  However, the extent to which we work effectively together usually dictates our capacity and potential for success. And so, I think there is something to be learned from precision flying teams like the Snowbirds.

While I have only had the opportunity to observe them in action at an air show, these observations put me in mind of some principles that might very well apply to all highly functioning and effective teams.  So here they are:

Principle #1: Choosing team members carefully is vital to team success

In order to achieve optimal team performance, choosing the right participants is critical to getting the team off the ground. To do that, those decisions need to include very precise specifications around skill, experience, values, behaviour and potential. Poor choices can lead to some disappointing results at the very least.  Indeed, a poor choice made for the Snowbird Squadron has the capacity for a disastrous result.

Principle #2: Each team member must be clear about the team purpose and his or her purpose within the team.

It is the job of the leader to ensure that each team member knows why the team exists; what the team must achieve; and his or her role within the team.  Lack of clarity creates confusion and places team members out of alignment with each other and with their overall purpose.

Principle #3: Those on the ground are as important as those in the air

In most organizations there are those who are more visible than others.  These are the stars, the ones who are highly skilled in one particular area of the team’s work.   It is easy to assume that these people are the team.  However, those in the air can only be there if they have the benefit of the skill and knowledge provided by those on the ground.  For instance, there are nine CT-114 Tutor jets in the Snowbird fleet.  Each plane has its own dedicated technician who ensures his/her plane will fly safely and optimally for the pilot.   In other words, nine pilots in the air cannot do their jobs safely or well without the support of the rest of the team no matter how skilled they may be.

Principle #4: The team is always evolving

In any team, team members come and go.  Every time a new member joins the team, its dynamic changes and those who remain are charged with responsibility of supporting, training and integrating those who join.

A Snowbird pilot is assigned to the squadron for three years.  After that he is typically reassigned.  The turnover is planned in such a way that the more experienced pilots play a role in the indoctrination and training of the new ones.  In this way, the team continues to grow in depth and maturity while keeping the experience fresh for everyone.

Principle #5: Trust is the glue that binds highly functioning teams together

I would suggest that in a team such as the Snowbirds, the absence of trust would keep them all grounded.  This is also true of other teams in other organizations and that makes building trust among team members a very big deal.

After all, no one would be able to fly like this without it:

What do you think? What would you add?

3 Comments

Filed under communication, Leadership, Leading Teams, organizational Development

Getting back to work ~ What Motivates Us.


I hate to say it…but I will.  Summer is coming to a close.  It feels a little sad saying adios to the hazy, crazy, sometimes lazy days of summer.  And yet, to me, there is always a ‘new start’ feeling about September.  I guess it must be that, for most people, summer vacation is over and it’s time to get back to work.

Some of us will approach this prospect with enthusiasm and some, well, some will spend time singing the back to work blues.

As a leader, it is reasonable to assume that you would prefer the enthusiasm option to the blues option.  But, like everything else, you’ll likely have to work for it.

So here’s a reminder from Daniel Pink about what truly motivates people to do their best work, (post vacation or otherwise) and it has nothing to do with money.   In fact, according to Pink, (and intuitively, I agree) there are three things that, in combination, will charge our batteries and get us happily moving forward.  Here they are:

Autonomy ~ freedom to, independently or with others of our choosing, work creatively and produce something we can be proud of.

Mastery ~ opportunities to learn, grow and build on our interests, knowledge and abilities

Purpose ~ Connecting to something greater than ourselves that we can believe in and strive to fulfill.

Here is a wonderful RSA Animate production called Drive: the Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.  It is ten minutes long but, for any leader, is worth the time to see because it gets to the heart of what motivates us.

This presentation suggests to me that to keep the effects of lethargy (whenever it may arise) from diminishing our activity and blurring our focus, we must find ways to emphasize or integrate the principles of autonomy, mastery and purpose into our everyday work life.

With this in mind, here are some questions for you, as leader, to consider:

Autonomy:

Given the nature of your business, how might you provide opportunity for people to work autonomously?

How flexible are you when it comes to work arrangements?

What would happen if you were to make each person’s operational framework larger and allow more independence? What might it look like?

What would you need to make it work?  What would you have to do to fill that need?  What would others have to do?

Mastery: What opportunities do you provide for people to get better at what they do?

How do you approach development planning?

How do you acknowledge accomplishment?

What value do you place on curiosity, risk and learning?

What are you willing to try, to allow your people a chance for growth and greater contribution?

If you were to take what you are doing now to increase peoples’ level of mastery and multiply it by two, what would it look like? What do you anticipate would be the outcome?

Purpose: What purpose does your organization serve?

Does everyone in your organization know it? Understand it? Believe in it?

How often do you remind people of your organizational purpose?

How do you help them make the connection between what they do and how they contribute to the fulfillment of the purpose?

==============================================================

There will of course be other questions that come up for you but the point is, there are times when this notion of achieving a working environment that values autonomy, mastery and purpose requires some active consideration.

I just happen to think that the autumn, (when we tend to need time to cast fresh eyes on our life and work), is one of those times.

What do you think?

7 Comments

Filed under Building Relationships, communication, Employee engagement, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Values, Leading Teams, motivating & Inspiring

The Importance of Being Care-full

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Want of care does more damage than want of knowledge”

Never is that more true than in the workplace.  Of course, there are those who continue to believe that caring for the people we lead is unimportant or a sign of weakness.  After all, they would never accomplish anything if they had to spend all of their time worrying about everybody who works there.  And others are often heard to say, and quite proudly too, that they take care of their people, which is a totally different thing.

The flaw in this kind of thinking is that caring for those under our charge isn’t about mothering.  It is about inviting people to bring all of themselves to work every day and helping them give their best effort willingly to something that matters both to them and to the organization.   I think it safe to say that engaging people in this way gets results.  That makes it pretty important.

So, what does caring for people look like from a leader’s vantage point?  Well, I have some thoughts about that.  Here goes:  Judicious leaders care enough to:

Be interested in each person, his/her skills, talents and ambitions

This is a good place to start and is not dissimilar to taking inventory.  You have to know what, and who, you’ve got before you can decide how you are going to help them use it and grow it for both individual and organizational benefit.

Be clear about their expectations:

No one can produce desired results if they are working with a murky set of expectations.  So it is incumbent upon the leader who cares to be able to state what s/he expects, as simply and succinctly as possible and to ensure that the person to whom s/he is speaking understands those expectations in the way they were meant.

Tell hard truths

We are all familiar with times when it is easier to avoid the truth than to confront it.  But, when someone is not performing well, it is essential for the leader to address it.  This often requires some pretty uncomfortable discussions, and can result in equally painful decisions.  Caring sometimes means helping others step up… or step off to something else.

Hold people accountable

So you’ve had the conversation.  You and your colleague have come to an agreement about what s/he will accomplish and how you will support him/her.  It sounds good and you both leave the room feeling good.

Caring leaders know that it doesn’t end there.  Follow-up is necessary, first, because those under their charge may need some help; second they may need some encouragement; and finally they may need some reminding about the commitments they’ve made.  Holding people accountable for doing what they say they are going to do sends the message that their efforts matter to the success of the whole.

Risk their own vulnerability

Relationships, even those that are forged for professional reasons, are two-way propositions.  Leaders who care and want to build strong connections with others are willing to share their own stories, something of themselves that makes them human.  No one is a super-hero.  If we try to be that, we don’t have time to concentrate on much else

Challenge people to stretch

Sometimes people are capable of going beyond what they have agreed to do, and yet, haven’t.  Or, they are assigned something they believe to be too challenging for them, and don’t think they can do it.  In either case, the leader who cares will provide a needed nudge, will challenge, cajole, encourage and inspire that extra effort that brings them over the top and helps them win.

Clear the way

Leaders who care will anticipate and provide needed resources.  And, they will address obstacles that get in the way of success.

Let go

So by now you’ve made a heavy investment in someone’s development to the extent that s/he is now a top performer. It is natural to want to hang onto that person.  After all, s/he is making a huge contribution to your results.

Letting go is hard but it’s also an important part of organizational, and personal, development.  Those who go on to greater things will appreciate that you cared.  Those who feel held back will quickly forget that you did.  Besides in letting go, you get to….

Start Again

This may be good or bad news from a leadership perspective but the truth is that people come and people go.  I like to believe that the person who has built a good reputation as a leader who cares attracts those who are willing to learn and to meet him or her halfway.

What do you think?

15 Comments

Filed under building awareness, Building Relationships, communication, Employee engagement, motivating & Inspiring