The Four F’s of Feedback

[this is  a summer re-post series re-post]

Fast, Friendly, Frequent, Focused

Giving feedback sucks. For whatever reason many managers aren’t good at it. I won’t list all the reasons I’ve heard , but I’m sure you can think back to some of your own, perhaps from bitter experience.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

It doesn’t have to be torturous, drown-out, or dramatic. My clients who give fast, friendly, frequent, and focused feedback to their staff  have found it doesn’t take very long to see huge changes in performance, both individually and at the team level.

Fast

10 seconds is all you need to give feedback. Longer that that you’re not getting to the point. Think about what you want to say, then say it. End of story. Don’t make a big deal about it. Giving feedback should be as natural as breathing for a leader. Treat it that way.

Friendly

Giving somebody feedback is an act of love. You’re trying to help them get better. Helping people do better is part of your job. It’s not the end of the world. If the person you’re giving feedback to treats it that way, it’s their choice, and that’s a different conversation.

Keep it friendly, keep it relaxed, keep it informal. Remember also that while positive feedback isn’t as powerful a kick in the pants as constructive feedback, it’s more likely to result in the behaviour you want. You just have to give it more often. Catch them doing something right.

Frequent

My wife was driving back from giving a presentation in small-town Saskatchewan once. It was late, it had been a long day, and she was tired. She fell asleep in one town and woke up in another 50 kilometers later when the smell of farmers burning their fields got her attention. Good thing the highways in Saskatchewan are so straight.

Usually when we’re driving we are continuously making small corrections using the steering wheel, instead of waiting just before we hit the ditch to yank on the wheel to get us back on course. Feedback is the same thing.

Start by giving feedback once a day. You’ll quickly see what difference it makes, and you’ll want to do it more often.

Focused

By focused I mean specific and actionable. Tell them what you want them to do, what behaviour you want them to change (or keep doing), or what physical, tangible action they need to take in order to improve for next time. Feedback is useless if the target of your feedback doesn’t know what to do with it.

 

Bernie works as a leadership and business coach, consultant, and facilitator. He believes there are simple things outstanding leaders do well, and that not to do anything about bad leadership once you know about it is abuse. Check out what he does with RESULTS.com

Clarifying Your So-Called Passion

[this is  a summer re-post series re-post]

Three years ago I was going through the end of a 29-year marriage, and it was one of the most horrible experiences of my life (including the month my daughter spent a month in intensive care after she’d been born.)

In order to try to figure out what I needed to do next, one of the things I did was write a letter to my twelve-year-old self. I realize not everybody likes writing to help figure things out like I do – I also have journal-ed on and off over the years – but it’s a cool exercise to go through if you’re inclined.

It help me clarify what was important to me, what my healthy boundaries might look like, and it help me centre on that passion thing everybody is always talking about. I’m sharing it here on the chance that it might help somebody else write their own letter and make their own decisions. Not that it has to be as dramatic as my situation, but maybe it’ll help…

Letter to My 12-Year-Old Self

You’re a pretty cool kid. You’re smart, you’re funny, you’re creative. You have empathy and heart and love in buckets.

Find the people who like you for who you are, who push you, think deeply, and know how to love, laugh, and trust despite having been hurt. They’re awkward, geeky, often quiet, sometimes weird and occasionally fucked up. They are wicked cool, and so are you. You and they will create the future.

Don’t put up with other’s who disrespect you. You don’t have to like people that don’t like you.

You are not responsible for (or control) anybody else’s happiness. You can care for somebody, you can love them, you can want them to be happy. But you can’t make somebody happy, or fix them, or take away their hurt. You can be there for them. It’s like sharing a meal with somebody. You can keep them company, but you can’t chew and swallow their food for them.

Learn to say difficult things with as much thought and compassion as you can. People who deserve to know deserve to know the truth. They deserve to make informed choices for themselves. Just like you.

Nobody else is responsible for (or controls) your happiness. How you feel and what you decide to do about it is your choice. Nobody else’s. You get to choose how you feel. It doesn’t just happen.

Trying to escape your feelings doesn’t work. They will always be there. The longer you ignore them the more rancid they become. Turn and face them, work through them, and move on.

Learn to listen with your whole body, soul, and mind. Ask questions. Seek to understand. Listening is not the same as agreeing. Don’t confuse the two.

You like being right, but that isn’t always the most important thing. Learn the difference and why it matters.

Shitty things will sometimes happen for no good reason. Learn what you can from them and then move on.

Work with your hands when you can – it’s part of who you are. Learn as much as you can – it’s part of who you are. Create and contribute – it’s part of who you are. This is your joy.

Indecision is the Enemy

Indecision is the enemy

[this is  a summer report series repost]

We often feel as though things look like this: 360 degrees of choices. “What if I pick the wrong thing and then I’m headed in the wrong direction?”

But really, deciding where to start is the enemy of starting. The thing you pick doesn’t have to be the thing you do for the rest of your life. (Hint: it probably won’t be.) But you have no idea how the things you learn now will benefit what you end up doing in the future.

You can’t steer a parked car. Pivot as needed. Pick an option and go! Starting is progress. Indecision is the enemy.

— I’d love to know who wrote this. If you know the source please drop me a line and clue me in.

How Often Should I Give Feedback?

[this is  a summer report series repost]

My Smart House Cat

Sometimes our cat thinks she’s a dog. I believe this because when we house-trained our dog, we hung bells from the back door knob and he learned to ring them with his nose when he needed to go out. Persephone (my daughter named the cat for the Queen of the Underworld, which says more about my daughter than the cat, but not by much) observed this for a while, and then started to ring the bells herself.

I dutifully ran to the back door and let her out before realizing what I’d done. In that instant I’d trained the cat to expect that when she rang the bells somebody would open the door for her. Action and reward.

It’s been cold here in Calgary for a while, so even when we know Persephone is just checking to make sure the weather is the same out the back door as it was out the front just five minutes ago, she’s learned to be quite persistent. Eventually somebody will come along and let her out. Listening to the jangling bells is too annoying. Behaviour and reinforcement. The dog passed away about six weeks ago. We really could take the bells down, but I just don’t have the heart.

Many Fat Happy Monkeys

Training animals and giving feedback have some things in common. No, people aren’t cats, and humans aren’t monkeys. Yet there’s something to learn here. If you want to train a monkey to ride a skateboard, you don’t slap it on the skateboard and then yell at it for not performing tricks. First you put the skateboard in the cage. The monkey doesn’t freak out at this new and strange object that’s invaded its space.* You give it a slice of peach when it stays calm when the skateboard appears.

Maybe the monkey moves towards the skateboard. Peach slice. Maybe then the monkey touches the skateboard. Peach. The monkey sits on the skateboard. Peach. The monkey allows the trainer to push the monkey. Peach. Pretty soon you have a fat, happy monkey doing kick-turns and axle stalls.

The Human Advantage

Giving feedback to people isn’t really much different. The biggest difference is that because if we use language properly we can accelerate the process. Every movement, behaviour, or action in the right direction gets noticed and praised. Immediately, specifically, and sincerely. Progress ensues. Many fat happy monkeys, er, staff.

So what happens when the monkey throws the skateboard at the trainer? Nothing. Any body language, tone of voice, or facial expression that gives away anger is a clue on how to control the trainer. Animal trainers know that reacting to bad behaviour (shouting, waving arms, angry faces) is only letting the animal know what they need to do to provoke you.

Again, people are not monkeys (at least most aren’t). Funny enough it works the same way with many people. Emotions leak through, and that affects how the message we’re trying to give is received. Even on a subconscious level. If you can give specific, sincere feedback and still smile, then go ahead and give the feedback. If you can’t smile, then wait until you can. Otherwise you risk doing more harm than good.

Your Actions

In the next week, look for opportunities to give positive, specific feedback (or just a thank-you even) for people who are moving in the right direction. When somebody is trying, they’re actually looking for approval and encouragement.  Even if you suspect they got lucky or did it accidentally, recognize and reward at as many opportunities as you get. Don’t hold out on the peaches!

I wonder what it would take to get the cat on a skateboard?

Previous Blogs on Feedback:

Everybody Wants Feedback – having the courage to give feedback pays off for you, them, and the company
We Owe Ourselves Feedback
– how do you react when somebody gives you feedback?
Why Feedback Doesn’t Work

Train Yourself to Give Better Feedback
– start by practising this everyday for a week
Getting Better at Giving Feedback
– from their behaviour to your reaction and back again. Knowing what going on underneath the surface.

*I can’t remember where I read this example. If you know the source please let me know in the comments so I can give proper credit. Thanks.

Coming in Early is Not a Measure of Worth

Tired ChildSome of my clients praise the staff that come to work early and stay late. I think they’re focused on the wrong thing. I’d rather work with somebody that comes in late, leaves early, and still gets all their work done. That’s the key – are they delivering on their work? What is the quantity, quality, and timeliness of their work?

That’s where you get your value. If you don’t know if you’re getting value from an employee or direct report, maybe you haven’t defined your expectations very well. That’s your problem.

But they’re loyal! Maybe. Or they’re scared, or incompetent, or both. Get clear on what you’re expecting, then re-evaluate. You might have to communicate those expectations clearly. You might have some work to do here yourself.

Maybe they’re escaping from something in the outside world. Not very emotionally healthy, but okay. Someone who spends too much time in the office (for whatever value of “too much” you want to define) probably isn’t’ as productive as you think, at least not sustainable. Getting away, unplugging, refreshing, and having a healthy life (again, for whatever value of “healthy” that means for them or you) lets people come to work focused, alert, creative, and at their best.

And what happens if you hit a spike (or dip) in your business? Will you and your staff have enough gas left in the tank, enough capacity, to handle the extra demand?

Even entrepreneurs who are building a business need a break. Should have a break. Will do better and be able to think more strategically when they’re *not* spending every minute of their time on the business.

 

Your Vision Means Nothing

Truths About Leadership Nobody Wants to Hear Part 5

Your vision and leadership mean nothing – not without the credibility and competence to get things done.

Lot’s of people have lots of ideas. Some of them are even likable enough to get other people interested in working with them on those ideas. But without the ability to support that vision with your own hard work it’s probably not going to happen. Nobody likes to be the only donkey pulling the cart, not even other hired donkeys.

Credibility means doing what you said you would do. Competence means the ability to deliver on those promises. So be careful about what you promise, but once you promise it, move heaven and earth to deliver. Then together with your vision (and the ability to authentically share it) you’ve got a chance.

The Hard Work: 

Making others look good, also known as the Canvas Strategy:

“The person who clears the path ultimately controls its direction, just as the canvas shapes the painting.” – Ryan Holiday

Truths About Leadership Nobody Wants To Hear Part 4: Your Competence Means Nothing

Please Don’t Do This

Please don’t do this. This is a dick move. If you need me to explain why in detail, I’ll send you my hourly rates…
Dick Move

Unfortunately the company in question had a mealy-mouthed values-based response, including:

“Issues related to that message have been handled internally. The message sent does not align with our core values of personal growth and diversity.”

This kind of corporate-speak damage control that makes employees everywhere roll their eyes every time CEO’s start talking “values”, “vision”, and “mission”.

Try harder next time. Maybe say something authentic and meaningful.

Source: https://www.reddit.com/r/canada/comments/4q69fy/a_sickening_piece_of_corporate_propaganda_on_the/

Fail Fast is not “Bail Fast”

It’s an interesting balance to hold: being focused enough on our goals to put the time and work in to make them happen, and yet being “heads up” enough to scan the horizon for opportunities to exploit and move us forward. When do you give up on something that once was a good idea. When does persistence become psychotic?

There are behaviours at either end of the bell curve. Take the Dyson vacuum. It was ten years from start to success. And it wasn’t until the marketing campaign emphasized not having to replace the bag, not the loss of suction as the container filled up – the original inspiration for its invention –  that it began to sell. Ten years is a long time not to make money.

Then there was the local successful entrepreneur whom I met for lunch at a local motorcycle-themed restaurant. He scoffed at the current venture capital penchant for all giving the same advice to new entrepreneurs, including and especially the advice to “fail fast”. He scoffs and calls it “bail fast”.

He firmly believes two things: that you should be able to re-purpose a technology or invention to many different domains. His medical imaging technology started in the oil and gas exploration and exploration domain, and he can list another half-dozen applications off the top of his head.

He also believes that taking money from investors is a commitment. That if you shrug your shoulders and walk away from a project, especially when it means losing other’s money, you have failed as an ethical person. Not to say that there won’t be failures. What he sees is too many people walking away without having done everything they can.

And this is where “fail fast” really shows up. In this context it means: “figure out as quickly as possible what’s not going to work, and move to the next variation, opportunity, pivot, or experiment. Abandon what doesn’t work while moving forward. If you can’t do that, who knows, we might never have gotten bag-less vacuum cleaners.

The Hard Work:

What is something, big or small, that you should stop doing tomorrow?

More Powerful Than Passion

Mike Rowe has some interesting things to say about passion versus opportunity, and ends his blurb with: “Never follow your passion, but always bring it with you.

He also has some interesting things to say in his TEDTalk, although the video is a bit longer at 20 minutes.

Changing What Can’t Be Changed

Fit2

This article I wrote for Results Canada a while ago recently got republished. Since I first wrote it the book “Influencer” has added to the tools and techniques we can bring to bear on getting people to change for the better, and if this is a challenge you face it’s a book that I can recommend.

Enjoy!