When we think of resilience, authenticity, decision-making, quality questioning, maintaining psychological wellbeing, relationship building, giving feedback, listening… we talk about developing these as skills. Teaching people for them to learn. This is not the most effective way and here’s why…
I’ve started writing on Medium. Jump over there to follow me if you’d like. And I’ll keep posting intros to those pieces here too so you can see what might be of interest.
This piece is about how we’re all looking in the wrong place to find our best selves, and the security and freedom we seek.
I had this manager, early in my career, who always got the best out of me. I didn’t realise how rare this was at the time, but I actually looked forward to her emails. I didn’t quite get why I worked so well for her and struggled with other managers until she gave me some advice: don’t ask a question unless you are genuinely interested in the answer. Suddenly I realised why I always looked forward to our interactions – because I felt my expertise and opinion were valued. Importantly, I also never felt like she was testing me or trying to ‘catch me out’ These days we call that psychological safety and it’s one of the few research-backed ways to create a high performing team.
Creating psychological safety formed the foundation of my management and leadership philosophy. I was 100% confident that I was executing it until an offhand comment from a member of my team. He told me that when I asked a difficult question he felt I was looking for a particular answer, and judging him until he got it right. Shocked, I interrogated everyone.
It turned out I was making a face. A face known to my team as “the Melissa face” or “The Eyebrow”, which intimidated my team into talking until they got the answer they thought I wanted. I was oblivious to something completely obvious to everyone around me and I was driving behaviour completely counter to my intentions.
So, I asked for help. I told them to let me know every time they saw the Melissa face.
Turns out there was some psychological safety on my team, because the next time I did it I had fingers pointing at me in triumph and shouts of “there it is.” And because I had real time feedback I had an epiphany – this face was my thinking face. I made it when someone challenged the way I thought about things. Ironically, the moment I was most impressed with someone’s input and wanted them to continue…they were reading as negative feedback and shutting down in response.
This shook me to the core but also thankfully helped me correct something very important to me.
Critically, it made me realise the importance of 1) creating an environment where critical feedback is given and taken in good humour 2) asking the right question – people have no idea what you are trying to do and can’t tell you whether you’re successful unless you ask and 3) always asking the follow-up questions – have I become better?
My unsolicited advice? There is no shortage of learning to be had – it comes at us through a fire hose of well meaning vendors, personal learning networks, social networks and the publications we follow. But the most valuable learning happens when you ask the people around you for feedback on the things that are most important to you. Do it daily.
[Image credit : www.fastdecals.com]
They’re just no good at their job, I keep having to pick up the slack? I haven’t got time to do my own work because they’re incapable of doing their’s. If only they could sort it out we’d all be better off. I don’t even know why they’re still here – they don’t contribute anything.
Back in April and May it was #FeedbackCarnival time where the culmination of many brains showed just how challenging giving honest feedback can be and some ideas for how we can start to change that. Ian Pettigrew built on this with a great model for where helpful feedback sits – the top right of this 3-by-2 – where what you’re saying to the person is true, and it’s said with a positive intent to help the individual, as well as and the team or organisation around them.
Trouble is, that’s not generally what’s happening. What I see is people pointing the finger at ‘those people over there’ – They’re the problem. If it wasn’t for them we’d all be ok.
This feels to us like the best (easiest) option because it avoids us having to look at ourselves as a potential contributor to the problem – and therefore a potential solution. Looking at ourselves can be uncomfortable. And, if we don’t feel safe and supported to do that, we’ll just avoid it.
But not only are we pointing to those people over there and saying they’re the problem, we’re even giving them financial rewards (or positive feedback) that they’re doing the job we need them to do. You can read about it in here, a piece shared by a fellow colleague who also cares about great leadership, Kay Buckby. My reaction to it was (a very eloquent) “Bonkers!”.
So when people aren’t performing in their jobs.
We point the finger of blame at them for all the ills of the world.
And we reward them for it, to make sure we draw an even thicker veil over the whole unsightly problem.
If doing the same things and expecting different results is a sign of madness then I’m not quite sure how to articulate this as anything other than Bonkers!!
Not surprisingly, underlying all of this, a seam of frustration bubbles away within the team, within the manager – and most importantly – within the customers on the receiving end of the poor service. The customers just won’t stick around. They’ll vote with their feet. The manager and team might eventually take evasive action from this person (if the person doesn’t leave first) but, to begin with, their stress responses will be triggered.
This stress response narrows their perspective on the situation and drops their cognitive abilities, reducing the possible solutions they can see for solving it. It reduces their feelings of emotional generosity towards ‘that person’. It causes them to look for evidence to back up their belief that they’re useless. And, given that our thoughts and feelings show up in how we behave, their stress and frustration will leak out through their body language, their words and their actions.
One paradoxical result of this is that, despite their poor performance, the manager doesn’t feel they can do without this person – better the devil you know, what if we get someone else and they’re worse, how would we cope with a vacancy if we can’t find a replacement?
All of these are fear-driven responses (and stress is triggered again).
So, what’s the alternative?…….
…….A world of high emotional intelligence*.
I believe in a world where people are treated and behave like adults. Adults who can make informed choices and who can take responsibility for their own situation.
I also believe we all want to do a great job, but sometimes things get in the way of that which means our performance can dip. And if those things have been in the way for a long time it can be hard for us to remember what it was like to come to work and feel good about it. This means that, as adults, we still need support, guidance and feedback from others to keep us on-track. And we still appreciate a reward (verbal acknowledgement is often enough) for when things are going well.
In this world when a leader has someone in their team who’s under-performing, the first thing they do is ask what’s going on, then they listen and they ask questions. Partly to inform themselves of the situation, and also to let the person vent about what’s going on. They aren’t afraid of this venting. They know that emotions are the things that motivate us to make changes in life, and when they’re swirling inside us they can’t take us in any productive direction. The simple act of verbalising what’s going on straightens these emotions out and gives us a clearer sense of which way to go.
From this listening and asking, the result is often that the individual will spot a way forward for themselves. If not, the leader will have learnt enough about the situation to offer advice, guidance or training that will actually be helpful and relevant. Or they may be able to offer relevant feedback based on what they’re seeing of this person and in the wider team context.
All of these things help the person become unstuck and their performance improves.
And even if it doesn’t improve, the leader can look themselves in the mirror with the belief that they did what they could to help, and that perhaps this just isn’t the right job, or right business for them. Which means a parting of company on good terms, with dignity and respect – and without the need to pay out bonuses to hide a problem! All of which maintains great relationships with the rest of the team, and their trust in you – which means they’ll also feel safe to share what’s going on for them. Creating a virtuous circle!
And I know what you’re thinking.
When could I ever get the time to have these conversations?
Well, they don’t actually take that long. If we’re given the space to think and speak with someone who really cares and who really listens, our brain can be pretty effective at getting to the crux of what’s going on.
And remember, in having these conversations – maybe weekly – we get into good habits of processing what’s going on for us, and they mean the team’s performance will never get to the place of you compensating for the stuff they let drop, which automatically gives you back a load of time.
And if you really believe that your team are the key to your collective success then you’ll prioritise these conversations over anything else.
*You can find out more about the difference emotional intelligence makes to a business here.
Photo credit – http://redsarmy.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/kg-head-in-hand.jpg
This is me…………… www.wildfigsolutions.co.uk
Executive Coaching and Leadership Development
Thank you to everyone who’s contributed. It’s only because of you that this curation is possible and able to benefit others with this same challenge.
It all started with a post I began to write after a Pilates class…..
“Every week in my Pilates class there’s at least one of us that needs help to perfect a move.
> Sit right back, put all the weight into your heels so you can lift your toes. > Keep your hips facing forward and twist at the waist. > Lift your chest keeping your back in neutral.
And we adjust what we’re doing and then go “Oh! That’s how it’s meant to feel”.
And sometimes words aren’t enough and our instructor needs to come and show us one-to-one. Perhaps just visibly. Perhaps physically adjusting our bodies for us so we can really feel the difference.
We think we’re copying her when she stands at the front of the class. And yet sometimes we’re just not. Sometimes we’re really completely oblivious to how our own bodies are actually moving.
Timothy Gallwey talks about this in The Inner Game of Tennis. How he has to get players to stand somewhere that they can see their reflection so they can watch their swing. And then they see “Oh! I really am finishing too high”.
Because we really can be oblivious to what we’re actually doing compared to what we’re supposed to be doing – we all have Blind Spots.”
From those origins, the Feedback Carnival was born with this invitation for people to add their thoughts and observations; “Feedback would happen all the time if……”
So this post is my curation of all that insight to bring you some of the thinking that’s out there into one place.
A key point made by David Goddin in his post is that feedback benefits from being observations, not judgements, and so with this post my intention is to share the insights from all the contributions without judgement of whether they are right or wrong, good or bad. They are what they are and you will be able to read; debate with whoever will be helpful for you in that; and choose what is right for you – because some parts will be more helpful in some contexts than others. So while you read, I invite you to have your context and your purpose with feedback in your mind, and maybe start with a question.
What might help you?
What might help those around you?
What might help your organisation?
So, why should we care about feedback? What’s the purpose?
I think without exception, all the writers have believed that feedback is a helpful thing. Helpful for our personal development, and therefore helpful for those around us – and beyond – because it raises our awareness and so enables us to develop and improve what we do and how we do it, which improves ours and others performance, and therefore improves overall organisational results.
Peter Cook wrote a great example of how embracing feedback and doing something about it, coupled with persistence, got him the result he wanted for his career.
Heather Kinzie wrote about our fundamental human need of being wanted – or of receiving attention. This need for attention, which is very obvious in children, remains with us as we grow older, and feedback is one way in which we can meet this need in others. If someone’s given us feedback, they’ve seen us, they’ve noticed us, and they’ve cared enough to say something about it, and that has us feel OK – something Gemma Reucroft experienced when offering feedback to a colleague.
Kandy Woodfield acknowledges the purpose of feedback as providing a sense of belonging, a purpose, aspirational goals and trust in each other.
So the purpose of feedback isn’t just about that external results and performance stuff out there, it’s about the stuff that goes on inside each and every one of us every day. Perhaps if we took care of the internal stuff, the external would be more likely to take care of itself?
So what does that ‘helpful’ feedback place look like?
Many people acknowledge that feedback already happens all around us all the time, if we stop to notice it. However most of the content has focused on improving the ‘traditional’ work-based feedback situation. The place of ‘this is how you’re doing in your job’ or ‘this was the impact on me when you did that’.
As 70:20:10 learning strategies continue to be the focus for improved sustainability of learning, effective feedback will have to be central to that, given that it sits in the 70% of on-the-job learning, and in the 20% of coaching and mentoring, as well as in the 10% of classroom learning which Rachel Burnham picked up on with some practical examples of making feedback part of a learning environment.
Jo Stephenson has a dream for how her future place of feedback will look “I’m dreaming of time when it’s common practice that feedback talk happens as standard, within the 1:1s I’m part of. It’s expected, it’s what we do here. We value it.”
Feedback would happen all the time if… we helped managers with structure and guidance
Giving feedback is a key management skill, yet, so many managers I meet worry about how to do it. Let’s face it – we don’t have many great role models out there, do we? Looking at some of the TV programmes with a ‘feedback’ element probably won’t help ….
Britain’s Got Talent has a great feature – if the judges don’t like someone’s performance they press a loud buzzer and a big red cross lights up, how well would that go down at work? To be fair, they do back it up with comments, ‘that was lousy’, ‘You have a dreadful singing voice’, ‘ I hated it…’ How helpful is that to the individual? How does it help them to improve?
The ‘X Factor’ works along similar lines, quite subjective – not always helpful even with the positive comments: ‘ I really love your voice’ ‘ You did really well tonight’ WHAT did the singer do that was good? We learn a lot from feedback about what we do well but it has to contain information about our behaviour or performance for it to be useful to us.
The reaction to positive feedback can often be one of embarrassment or discounting – “Oh, it was nothing” or “It wasn’t really me, it was a team effort”. As we are not used to receiving enough well delivered feedback we can be unsure about how best to respond to it. The more we give feedback the better others get at responding to it and appreciate it as it is intended. Behaviour breeds behaviour, feedback breeds feedback …
A series on BBC 2 – The Speaker, was looking for the Young Speaker of the Year and there were some amazingly confident 14-18 year olds on that programme. The judges and mentors were particularly good at giving helpful, constructive feedback. They clearly described what they liked or didn’t like, why it worked or didn’t work and if it didn’t what else the presenter could have done instead. So there’s a great structure for you …
What and Why for positive feedback and for things you’d like someone to do differently or better, use the What, Why, What structure. For example:
WHAT – you asked that customer some great open questions
WHY – that worked well because you were able to gather all the information needed in order to solve their problem.
WHAT – you did most of the talking in the last meeting
WHY – that didn’t work because you didn’t get any ideas from the team
WHAT – you could have done instead was ask questions and pause more …
This simple structure ensures the focus is on changeable or repeatable behaviour and actions rather than on personality.
> What tips would you give to encourage managers to be more confident in giving helpful, actionable feedback?
As part of my #FeedbackCarnival I’m delighted to host this piece from Peter Cook. Peter isn’t your average leadership and OD professional / speaker / author given that he’s also a highly respected member of the music scene and brings those music skills and experience into his work. Here Peter shares three key aspects to helping feedback happen all the time…..
So I started with the post, and it grew, and it grew – limiting beliefs, our past, our present, our brain’s propensity to spot the bad, our ego….. I was chatting to Phil Willcox about it and that it might need to become a series of posts, when he had the awesome idea of having a #FeedbackCarnival in the same way that Steve Browne and Sukh Pabial have done before, and similar to Kate G-L‘s Advent blog series.
So, let’s see what amazing things we can discover, what breakthroughs we can inspire, what some combined brainpower can do to move away from feedback being such a ‘thing’ that we continue to struggle with.
To help guide your thinking I have a theme to follow….. “Feedback would happen all the time if…….”
All you have to do is –
Cisco have a PEER COACHING CULTURE – who, what and why?
Their definition (Robbins ’99) is what I know as ‘buddy coaching’ but with some added bits around solving workplace challenges together which almost makes it feel like it borders onto mentoring.
In Cisco VUCCA is making work so fast & unpredictable and they’re losing time as peer coaches to take that time to reflect….this sounds interesting…how they make this peer coaching stuff work in an agile space…..
It’s about relationship with process and ourselves – do you start your day driven by your emails? Do you even stop to check in with yourself, let alone check in with those around you? How do you make relationships work in these organisations.
Cisco’s 30 years old but was only 7 when Robbins wrote his Peer Coaching definition – things have changed! Cisco’s now one of the key players in tech – aspirational. When you look inside, it’s a matrix org with low hierarchy and high span of control with an informal culture but formal processes – incredible paradoxical space!
They develop managers to be able to coach in a moment when the need demands it. It’s a fluid approach but with development sessions to start them off with the skills they need. But now, how can peer to peer coaching support this fast business?
3 ingredients for them to create the culture and mindset they want in the business….their SECRET SAUCE!…..
1. Co-creative relationships – the whole is greater than the sum of the parts
2. Go-Giving – not like the Go-Getting of the 80’s. People want to leave a legacy of something they’ve done or given instead of wealth – attitude of more generosity. Having an ‘in service of’ mindset – working with others with a positive intent.
3. All Potential – what if you don’t have the best ideas, what if you stop your ego and be open to anything & believe that anyone can contribute.
This stuff applies to anything – skills don’t.
To build on 1:1 peer to peer they’re developing people to take a ‘1 to many’ coaching approach.
Real life examples from managers in Cisco…..
– A group of managers together on a ‘conscious leader’ development programme now continue to work together to support each other – even to the extent of working together with ideas about going for a promotion – each of them wanting the same job. Egos stripped away. The stuff they shared in the group grew relationships beyond what’s normally seen in business – stuff they might not have even told their husbands and wives.
– Creation of new content by working with others around you – develops bravery by working together.
– The attitude is spreading beyond boundaries and gaining momentum.
– Working with other teams who might have challenges to see how things can be moved on, or where you might have had similar examples you can share with your peer to support them.
– ‘Conscious leaders’ are being invited into other countries and teams to bring new thinking and generate innovation.
Taking us to an example of how this can work….a bit of NLP here for the room to try…..
Close your eyes
Think of a colleague you’d like to give some feedback to
Now feel yourself giving that feedback to them
Notice how you’re feeling
Have you avoided giving that feedback and started to think about something else
Now open your eyes and look again at the 3 secret sauce ingredients
Imagine you’re co-creating – neither of you has the answer but by starting the conversation you believe that something greater will come of it.
Imagine you’re go-giving – what’s going on for them, what do they really need, what would you really want for them
Now imagine anything’s possible
Close your eyes again
Recall those 3 channels
Say the feedback, out loud if you want, in answer to these questions…
– where do they succeed?
– where do they fail?
– what is their unintended impact?
Did you notice a difference between those two?
Give yourself a couple of words for what that difference was – ‘collaborative’ ‘structured’ ‘supportive’.
A simple mindset shift to change your attitude to others and the impact you can have on them.
Saying that the ‘conscious leader’ development process starts with ‘I’ where you get clear on what’s important to you. Then layer on with those around you. Up to the point where they have a symbolic session of stepping across a line in response to challenging questions to test their commitment to the change. Going deep with this stuff through searching questions. And demanding significant commitment from the leaders on the programme – no sessions can be missed. There’s no option on that.
“Peer coaching is a powerful co-creative relationship that enables an expansive environment for reflection, refinement, building, sharing, development, experimentation and innovation in service of the whole” (Red Hat People & Cisco)