Getting high-quality, empowering feedback on your behaviour, performance and potential from your manager, colleagues and other key stakeholders is essential to improve your performance and successfully advance your career. It has significant benefits, including:
To get a comprehensive and balanced picture of how you are performing and ideas for improvement, it is important to invite feedback from key stakeholders beyond your manager, including colleagues within and outside your team, your customers, other superiors, suppliers, and other people you interact with regularly.
Below are three tips that will help you get better feedback that can accelerate your results, learning and career progression.
Avoid asking general questions such as “Can you give me some feedback?” or “How do you think I’m doing?”
Ask specific questions, ideally directly after the performance event. Effective questions include:
You probably already receive feedback from your manager. However, it if it is absent, too general, or not helpful, ask your manager for feedback and tell them the type of feedback that would be most helpful for you. Send them some of the questions above in advance of your next check-in and invite them to respond to these when you meet. Do the same with other stakeholders to ensure you receive higher-quality feedback.
Don’t take critical feedback too personally or get defensive. Instead, listen with an open mind. Ask questions to clarify anything you don’t understand. Remember that you are free to choose how you respond to the feedback. Your choices include acting on the feedback, taking time to reflect on it, or seeking additional feedback. See all feedback as an opportunity to learn and grow.
Remember that giving feedback (especially constructive feedback) is not easy, even for experienced managers. It is therefore important to thank people for their feedback, even when it’s hard to hear or isn’t communicated well. Tell people what you value most about their feedback. If you improve because of their feedback, share your progress with them. This will build trust and open opportunities for more feedback.
Employees I speak to are often disappointed by the amount and quality of feedback they receive. However, this is typically because they rely too much on one person – their manager – to provide regular and constructive feedback. If you want frequent and empowering feedback, you need to be more proactive. Take matters into your own hands and build into your flow of work a self-mastery habit of inviting feedback from multiple stakeholders, as well as your manager.
In this episode, James Brook, Founder and CEO of TalentPredix™, interviews Lisa Farrell, Head of HR at Landmark, about Great Places to Work.
To be effective, feedback conversations should be empowering. They should provide useful, timely and constructive guidance to help the individual to change their mindset and behaviour. Yet, many managers struggle with feedback conversations, especially those that involve providing constructive or corrective guidance. They fear stirring up conflict and worry about undermining their relationship with the individual. They often end up falling into one of the following traps:
Avoidance – they avoid the conversation in the hope that the problem will resolve itself or won’t cause too many problems. However, avoidance often leads to problems becoming amplified and resentment arising from inaction growing among other team members.
Using the popular “sandwich approach” – they dilute constructive feedback by layering it between two ‘slices’ of positive feedback, at the outset and end of the conversation. This typically results in an ineffective performer selectively hearing only the positive messages and leaving the meeting believing they’ve got little or nothing to improve.
Over-criticism – they use an autocratic, critical tone. They generalize their critical feedback to the person’s performance, and even personality, rather than focusing it on the behaviour that needs to be modified. This is very risky, as it can leave people feeling angry, insulted, and demotivated. At worst, it can lead to a messy termination process involving claims of bullying and unfair dismissal.
Based on decades of experience helping managers and leaders deal with challenging feedback conversations, I recommend applying the following 6 steps:
1. Use a framework to guide your feedback – Follow a straightforward process like our AIM Feedback Framework™ (see below) to ensure your feedback is candid, concise and maximizes the likelihood of achieving lasting change.
2. Focus on the behaviour, not on the person – Ensure you don’t criticize or judge the person. Be specific and clear about the behaviour that you would like to see modified.
3. Keep it brief – Feedback receivers prefer crisp and clear messages so don’t overtalk, or provide lengthy, rambling justifications.
4. Give the person an opportunity to clarify – Ensure you check that the person understands the feedback. Invite them to summarize what they’ve heard and give them an opportunity to clarify anything they don’t understand.
5. Acknowledge the person’s concerns – Calmly allow the person to express their point of view and any feelings triggered by the feedback. Don’t react if they express anger or defensiveness; listen empathetically and acknowledge their concerns. If their anger persists, invite them to take a break to reflect on the feedback for 24 hours before reconvening.
6. Invite and provide suggestions – Invite the person to come up with options that will improve their performance. Explore these in an open, constructive way, without passing judgment or allowing your preferences to dictate the course of action agreed. Provide specific suggestions to help the person improve. To encourage ownership and commitment, ask the person how helpful these ideas are and whether they can think of any other options that might be better or build on the suggestions provided.
Most of us are conditioned to focus more on the negatives we see rather than the positives. This is what psychologists call the “negativity bias”. It is therefore important for managers to consciously learn to spot and magnify strengths and effective behaviours.
By giving positive feedback and praise, managers will promote progress, excellence, and employee engagement. When people feel they are valued and their progress and achievements are recognized regularly by their manager, they are more likely to feel motivated and exert higher levels of discretionary effort (i.e., effort over and above the required level).
What action did they take and in what situation did it happen?
“In the project meeting yesterday, I noticed you interrupted Joe several times.”
What was the impact of the person’s actions (on their RESULTS, RELATIONSHIPS, and REPUTATION)
People don’t intend to act in a way that undermines their results, relationships and/or reputation. Remember that their intentions are typically positive, even when their behaviour causes unintended negative consequences. Unless the evidence points strongly in favour of malicious or negative intentions, give them the benefit of the doubt and trust that they intended to act positively in the first place.
“I was frustrated that Joe couldn’t make his points fully and we missed out on his valuable input.”
What does the person need to modify/magnify to strengthen their effectiveness and results?
Thinking about what the person can magnify is especially important when giving positive feedback on how the person can build on their strengths and effective behavioural patterns.
Offer specific suggestions and guidance to help the person modify/magnify their behaviour.
“When we meet with the team in future, it would be great to see you give Joe an opportunity to make his points without interrupting. You could also encourage him to contribute his opinion from time to time as we both know he is an introvert.”
We are currently experiencing a crisis of trust in leadership. This is patently obvious in the political arena; however, it is just as apparent in the business world. The decisions leaders take and how they choose to implement them impact the trust relationship with their workforce, not just in the short term, but for months and even years to come.
There are numerous reasons for declining trust in leaders in recent decades including corporate cronyism, offshore tax havens and tax dodging, prioritizing short-term profitability over sustainable growth and environmental responsibility and a growing income disparity between top executive pay and other pay grades.
Shifting demographics and generational differences are also impacting on workplace trust. Millennials and other younger employees aren’t willing to blindly follow and trust leaders anymore. In fact, studies suggest they are developing an ever-growing mistrust of authority figures and trust their peers more than the leaders in their company. This is, at least in part, because of the breakdown of the traditional ‘psychological contract’, or set of beliefs, perceptions, and informal obligations governing the relationship between an employer and an employee. Most employers can no longer offer secure work and career progression, so this ‘contract’ is breaking down. This is likely to be exacerbated in the coming years as the pace and extent of automation and digitization of the workplace accelerates, leaving many people unemployed or having to fight for temporary work as part of the fast-growing “gig economy”. Many millennials have already seen their parents made redundant which has made them wary of giving their unfettered loyalty and trust to organizations and their leaders.
Below are 5 steps leaders can take to strengthen trust with their people:
Pursue a higher purpose beyond profit
Recent history is full of examples where leaders have placed greed and short-term shareholder returns over creating sustainable value for customers, employees, and society. Many companies are still turning a blind eye to the impact of their short-term and exploitative practices, including paying employees (and others in the supply chain) below the minimum wage, using questionable employment practices, and awarding top executives disproportionately high pay increases and bonuses. Awareness of these practices among employees, customers and the public is growing because of increased transparency and growing global connectedness resulting from rapid advances in online media and social networks that bypass traditional borders and boundaries.
To build greater trust, business leaders should invite their people to shape a greater purpose for their organization that contributes to a better and more sustainable future for all. This involves establishing a compelling purpose, ideally one that benefits all stakeholders, including customers, employees, suppliers, and society. By taking a multi-stakeholder perspective rather than a narrow shareholder one, positive leaders leverage additional perspectives, ideas and commitment for positive change and innovation that benefits everyone, not just the owners and C-suite. There are a growing number of organizations that are seeing the financial and non-financial benefits of building strong purpose-based companies. Most integrate sustainability goals into their purpose, not as a token act of “greenwashing”, but to ensure their business is prepared for the era of green energy and sustainability we are entering. Studies clearly show the value of creating business that are a force for good in the world. Great examples include Unilever, Novo Nordisk Pharmaceuticals and Patagonia.
Ensure transparent and human-centred people practices
Social media has immense power to expose people and companies which are engaging in exploitative, potentially unlawful, or irresponsible behaviour. By ensuring all their actions and decisions are ethical, fit for public scrutiny and transparent, leaders can build a culture of openness, integrity and trust.
When taking a decision that is potentially risky or damaging to one or more groups of stakeholders, leader can ask questions such as: “Would I be happy for my friends and family to see this decision, and the consequences, reported on a major social media platform like Twitter?” As well as measuring themselves against this type of standard, the best leaders ensure their employees are held accountable to similar standards, reducing the risks of unethical behaviour or a poor decision that can undermine trust, reputation, and customer loyalty.
Bridge the gap between words and actions
It is imperative that leaders’ words are matched by consistent and reliable follow-through so people can trust they will do what they say. If leaders don’t follow through on their commitments, people will quickly lose trust and respect in them. Even little discrepancies between promises and actions can undermine trust as it is a fragile bond, especially when a leader is new in role and they are still building up connections and trust with their people.
Tackle misinformation and fake news
One of the downsides of pervasive social media is that it amplifies fake news and misinformation. It is important for leaders to understand and tackle untruths and misinformation decisively by highlighting inaccuracies, especially if they pose a risk to staff or the business. They should ensure people have good access to reliable, fact-checked sources of information they can count on.
Be honest about bad news
Attempting to shield employees from bad news undermines trust and disempowers employees as they can’t help to tackle the problem. It is therefore imperative that leaders speak as much as possible from their heart, adopting an ‘open and honest’ policy when it comes to dealing with negative news such as layoffs, failure to secure additional funding, poor sales performance, etc. In this new digital age, the truth will quickly be outed if leaders try to hide tough messages from staff, as the rumour mill is now super-charged by online communities and social media channels. It is clearly always important to judge the timing of the communication and deliver bad news in a considered and compassionate manner. However, it is vital to be open and honest insofar as possible.
Trust is at the heart of positive leadership. However, in a dynamic, digital world characterized by information overload, misinformation, fake news and growing employee and stakeholder scrutiny, leaders are struggling to build high levels of trust and respect among employees and other stakeholders. By being open, transparent, decisive and collaborative, leaders will build stronger bonds of trust with employees to unlock their engagement, effort, and excellence.
Recent studies show that 30-50% of new executives and leaders fail within the first 18 months. There are huge direct and indirect costs associated with such failure. The price of a failed leadership hire is estimated at 200% of first-year earnings and includes costs such as wasted recruitment fees, the cost of rehiring, poor productivity and lost customers. The toll for departing leaders is also very high. It includes damaged career trajectories, lost earnings, a decline in self-confidence and significant stress. The blame for leadership failure often lies with organizations that fail to provide effective support, guidance, and onboarding to new leaders. However, the reasons can often arise from the mindset, behaviours, and missteps of the incoming leaders. Some of the more common traps we see are as follows:
Failing to build strong relationships
When leaders transition into a new organization or business area, they often invest too little time getting to know their stakeholders and building a strong foundation of trust, respect, and openness. There are often good reasons for this, including getting pulled into resolving urgent challenges and crises by their boss and a desire to achieve early wins and maximum impact. However, this trap is often the one that undermines a leader’s effectiveness the most. They lose important insights about the organization or business area they are joining because of their failure to connect with and understand the expectations, perspectives, and styles of key stakeholders. By under-investing in relationship building, they will also be less effective in gaining the support and commitment of colleagues, direct reports, external advisors, and other constituencies who are essential to their success.
Arriving with fixed assumptions and beliefs
Leaders often fall into this trap as they are keen to prove their worth quickly by applying their experience to achieve quick wins in their new role. However, what’s worked in one context often doesn’t translate well to another. Although leaders may be able to get away with coming up with answers based on their past experiences during the initial weeks, this approach is likely to backfire if it becomes a regular pattern of behaviour. People soon tire of being told by the leader how things should be done based on what they’ve done in the past. They will start to question the leader’s judgement and commitment to the team and business, thinking to themselves “if it was so great at your previous company, why don’t you just go back there!”.
Many new leaders are keen to make people happy and win their backing and loyalty quickly. This trap is aptly illustrated by what we are seeing with many politicians today when they make lofty promises to their constituents that they can’t ever hope to meet. Such behaviour causes leaders to underdeliver on promises (often unintentionally) because these commitments are based on unrealistic optimism, poor assumptions, and an inadequate understanding of the realities. This self-sabotaging behaviour can quickly confuse people and leave them disappointed, undermining their integrity and damaging important relationships.
Forcing through change too quickly
Occasionally, leaders need to act quickly and be highly directive in the first few months in their new role. This typically occurs in turnaround situations where fast change is necessary to save the business. However, such situations are fortunately rare. Most leaders have time on their side during the first 3 months to learn about the business and understand the different options available to achieve the expectations of investors, employees, the board, and other key constituents. However, many leaders still jump in too quickly. They try to put their unique stamp on the organization by notching up some quick wins. They don’t establish clear priorities, overextend themselves and fail to achieve anything meaningful. To avoid this trap, new leaders should prioritize impact over action, establish a few key priorities for the first 3-6 months and defer complex decisions that require in-depth knowledge and insight. By taking more time to understand the priority challenges and aligning key stakeholders with the change agenda and process, leaders are more likely to succeed in delivering strong results.
Listening only to the loudest voices
Any new leader faces a multitude of different views and inputs from diverse stakeholders. The leader’s natural tendency will often be to listen most to the loudest voices, especially if these people are highly influential board members or investors. It is important for new leaders to resist this temptation and remain neutral until they understand the political structure and dynamics of the organization. To do this, it is important to meet with representatives from all key stakeholder groups, including direct reports, front-line employees, peers, their manager, customers, and key suppliers. This input will enable the leader to make better decisions based on the diverse perspectives they hear and better understand the alliances they need to build to deliver their strategy.
Inadequate discovery of the context and culture
As mentioned before, most new leaders don’t need to make big decisions on things like strategy, people, and products until they have gained a good understanding of the organization and are relatively confident in their knowledge. Specific areas leaders should prioritise understanding during the initial 90 days include:
As well as asking for all data and records that are important to aid this discovery, leaders should use their initial months to ask open and clarifying questions to understand different stakeholder perspectives. During this time, they should remain curious, non-judgemental, and critically minded so they can capture the full range of views and insights while surfacing questionable assumptions, biases, and flawed thinking.
Where it is evident that an external perspective would be helpful to make a better decision about an issue that is complex or requires specialist expertise, the leader can solicit the advice or guidance of an external advisor.
Context is crucial to the success of any new leader. Most leaders have a unique opportunity in their early months to undertake this discovery process in a thorough and systematic way, something that won’t be on offer once they’ve settled into the role.
Failure to adapt strengths, style, and approach
Leaders have different strengths, styles, and ways of working. Most develop well-established routines and habits in the way they use these, particularly if they have been in a role and/or organization for many years. But they need to avoid the trap of assuming what has made them successful in the past will guarantee success in future, as this is rarely the case. When taking on a new role, they need to ensure they adapt their strengths, style and approach to the specific challenges and needs of the organization. For example, if they have been leading a relatively new team and are taking over a well-established, high-performing team, they should adapt their style to ensure it is more participative and empowering. If they tend to be naturally decisive, opinionated and controlling, they may have to intentionally dial back on these strengths to avoid them being overdone with a more autonomous and experienced team. By adapting their strengths and style to the needs of their context, leaders can avoid getting trapped in past routines and habits that no longer work.
Becoming stressed and overwhelmed
New leaders often rush into their new job with a high degree of energy and enthusiasm. Because of their desire to make a positive impact as quickly as possible, they put in long hours and invest a great deal of physical, mental, and emotional energy in their new role. The competing pressures and conflicting demands on their time can quickly become all-consuming. If the leader neglects the warning signs, they can become overwhelmed, stressed, and even burned out. It is therefore important for leaders to decide early on how they wish to manage their workload and what boundaries they’ll establish between their work and personal life. This involves creating routines, boundaries, and productivity principles, including allocating sufficient time for planning, building relationships, and learning. To maintain their well-being, they need to prioritise self-care, including maintaining sufficient rest, regular exercise, and a healthy diet. Additionally, it is important to allocate and protect time for their favourite leisure activities and to be with their loved ones.
By helping new leaders become more aware of these common traps and providing them with a well-structured, supportive, and professional onboarding and transition experience, you can mitigate the risks of leadership failure during the first year, when the stressors and stakes are greatest.
If you would like to find out more about our transition support and coaching for new leaders, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Grit, a relatively new psychological concept offers fascinating insight into why some people succeed in their careers while others fail to achieve their full potential.
Angela Duckworth, a leading author and professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania defines Grit as the capacity to sustain both effort and interest in projects or tasks that take months or longer to complete. It is essentially a combination of perseverance and passion. The latter can best be defined as a “fire in the belly”, or positive energy to achieve and outperform against one’s goals.
Duckworth has found that people who are high in Grit don’t deviate from their goals, even in the absence of positive feedback and in the face of adversity. Although research on the concept is still in its early stages and far from conclusive, Grit appears to be positively related to success in many spheres of life and has been linked to important outcomes such as improved performance, career success, learning motivation, commitment and resilience.
So how can companies incorporate this promising new concept into their people management practices? Below are 3 ideas to get you started:
Assess for strengths and motivations when hiring people
The mantra “hire for attitude as well as skill” is widely espoused, yet few recruiters know how to translate this into practical action during the hiring process. One of the ways you can do this is by using strengths interviews and strengths assessments to measure not only the required skills and experience for the role, but also the person’s strengths, motivations, and values. A good alignment between these softer human factors and the needs of the role, as well as the work culture, will enable you to recruit people who are motivated to go way beyond the minimum requirements of the role. When people’s strengths, motivations and values fit the job and company well, they are far more likely to deliver excellence, embrace learning opportunities and stay longer with your organization.
Stretch people in areas they enjoy most
To develop higher levels of grit, ensure your people are provided with stretch opportunities that push them beyond their comfort zone. However, ensure this stretch is positive in nature. Positive stretch involves discovering a person’s underlying talents and strengths, then challenging them to take these to the next level by developing skills, experience, and flexibility in the way they apply these. It is important to provide coaching, support and feedback when encouraging people to stretch their strengths to maintain high levels of energy and avoid negative stress, panic and burnout.
Promote a growth mindset and learning culture
Perseverance involves working hard to achieve goals and sticking with a task even in the face of immense pressure and setbacks. There are different factors that accelerate perseverance, but one of the most important appears to be the extent to which people are encouraged to learn from setbacks and take ownership for their own learning. People with a growth-oriented mindset are better learners and demonstrate greater agility in adjusting to changes and setbacks than those who don’t believe they can learn new skills and abilities required for success.
Organizations can encourage growth mindsets by creating a supportive environment where failure is seen as part and parcel of the learning process and reasonable mistakes are tolerated. They can also ensure regular feedback and coaching through engaging performance dialogues and regular manager and co-worker feedback channels to empower people to learn, grow and improve their performance.
It is also important to create a work culture characterized by high levels of interpersonal connection and collaborative learning. By building strong support networks (both face-to-face and virtual) such as collaborative platforms and tools, hangouts, brainstorming/brainwriting sessions and socials, organizations will provide people with greater opportunities to solve challenges collaboratively, experiment and deliver solutions that multiply business results.
Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, 2016, Angela Duckworth. London: Penguin
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Positive leaders understand the importance of creating conditions where individuals and team can do their best work and achieve their full potential. They see people not as resources or assets, but as key value-multipliers of the business.
They understand the importance of meeting 4 key needs of employees so that they can thrive at work. Starting at the base of the pyramid below, let’s look at each in turn:
People require conditions where they feel safe, not just physically, but also psychologically. This means that they should feel the company cares about them and will minimize the risks of any harm to them, including emotional and mental suffering. The concept of psychological safety is becoming more popular now than when it was first coined in the 90s due to increased work pressures and the dizzying pace of change.
Having a workplace that is psychologically safe means that people feel able to show up at work every day without being embarrassed, marginalized, bullied, or unfairly disciplined. However, it also means that people are free to express their thoughts and emotions at work without worrying that they will be harshly judged or face other adverse consequences. People want to feel that they can count on their leader to look out for them and provide support, especially when tough problems arise that overwhelm them and lead to significant distress.
Steps leaders can take:
Everyone has a deep desire for belonging, at work and outside. They want to feel they are a valued part of their community or ‘tribe’, regardless of their background or differences. Belonging goes beyond acceptance and inclusion of diverse people, personalities, and perspectives. It involves giving people a voice in how their work is accomplished and in shaping the future of the team and organization.
Steps leaders can take:
Most people have a deep drive for achievement and success. They want to do well and achieve their goals and personal development aspirations. They want to feel they are empowered to act and supported to be at their best.
Steps leaders can take:
People have an innate desire to learn and realize their full potential. They want to grow both personally and professionally.
Steps leaders can take:
Provided the company has a well-defined purpose and strategy, peak performance comes about when leaders hire talented people and provide them with the right conditions where they can do their best work while at the same time fulfilling their key needs. Positive leaders understand the importance of creating a climate where people can thrive at work by taking practical steps to improve their sense of safety, belonging, achievement and growth.
For more details on how to design and implement an effective people strategy that delivers thriving workplaces, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Being motivated does not mean the same as motivation. We cannot fool ourselves into feeling motivated with the ‘fake it till we make it’ approach. We need to actually feel intrinsically motivated for long term achievement.
Commonplace ideas around motivation actually do not work for long term habit building. This is the ‘psych myself up’ sort of motivation where you listen to motivational speeches in the morning or look at your vision board.
All types of motivation are not the same and they were not created equal.
Extrinsic vs. intrinsic motivation
Extrinsic motivation is classically what we think of when we think about “motivation”. It is often associated with rewards and recognition, but in essence, it is any reason we do the work other than the joy, or satisfaction, of doing the work itself. Anything we promise ourselves for doing the work or anything that we get as a result of doing the work are all extrinsic motivators.
Conversely, intrinsic motivation refers to the activities you do because you enjoy the activity itself, or feel it’s important. It’s intrinsic to the work and it is for the love of it. When you are intrinsically motivated you do the work because it is internally satisfying. You would do it even if they didn’t pay you. It is the feeling of being in flow or feeling driven without the need for external motivators.
Honestly, how many times have you succeeded in your goals when trying to force yourself to do something you are not intrinsically motivated to do? Compare that with how many times you have succeeded in something you did, just because you loved it. Don’t get me wrong, extrinsic motivation is not bad; it is simply a poor driver for sustained effort and success. Without this sustained effort, you will not form long-lasting good habits.
Be motivated to do what you love
Think about a time you tried to psych yourself up for something you didn’t really want or did not feel intrinsically motivated to do. Perhaps you even went through the effort of making a vision board or setting smart goals. Maybe it worked the first time or for a week but I can almost guarantee that it did not work for you in the long term and may actually cause more harm than good. All you are doing is fostering a dependence on a temporary and unsustainable emotional state. The next time you have a bad day you will fail because you cannot psych yourself up to do the thing. There will always be bad days and you will still need to make the effort in order to succeed.
While writing this I am reminded of the Mark Twain quote “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” If you can find what your intrinsic motivations are and find a role or career that ticks those motivation boxes, then you will probably start to feel more motivated, energized and in flow than you have before.
A good career drivers or motivations assessment can help you figure out what your biggest intrinsic motivators are to help guide you in your future career path.
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