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!

 

Execution Lessons from a High School Class

I like building stuff, and I used to be a Scout leader, so I found this article on building remote controlled cars to teach science interesting. Then I noticed there were a couple of project management guidelines buried in there too:

  • have sub-goals – quick payoff for effort that is near-term and achievable
  • tangible objects yield informed decisions
  • decide constraints (interfaces) before building (execution) begins

IMG_0700

http://makezine.com/2015/01/05/losing-to-my-high-school-class-a-big-win/

Smarter Better Faster

Never been a big fan of “SMART” lists, having watched people wrap themselves around the axle trying to fit whatever goal or task they’re trying to fit into the SMART paradigm. Which is why I was delighted to find this, the best explanation of how to use SMART goals properly that I’ve found so far.

Enjoy

Three Keys to Innovation

I had the opportunity to chat with Google’s western Canada director at a tech pitch contest last month, and I asked her how Google manages to keep being so innovative even though they are now one of the largest and most recognized corporations in the world. Her answer made me think “it can’t really be that easy?”, a signal which I’ve learned to pay attention to.

4919452005_b135f3ac41_z

Inside Google they use Chat and Hangouts (text messaging and virtual meetings) to make all decisions, collaboration, and creation. Nobody sets up meetings for next week if they can help it. They just hop on the existing Google tools (and yes, there are others that do the same thing) and start talking to each other. The default behaviour is face-to-face, the default time is now, and the default ownership is none.

The on-line tools are allow everyone to mark up a project, document, spreadsheet, or slide show. Nobody controls it so everyone can contribute. Your idea may not win, and that’s okay. You may not be the best person to lead or execute that idea, and that’s okay too. But nobody slows down the elaboration, collaboration, or refinement of an innovation. Nobody waits for a meeting, or a mark-up, or a review if possible. It’s all done in real-time, now, and “in-person”.

Of course, because it’s a tech company, they also track how many meetings and how many people take part in those meetings, every day.

The Hard Work: 

Get up and talk to the person you need to talk to. Or dial them up on Skype/Zoom/Hangouts. Or call them. And share the work – give them the pen/whiteboard marker/credit.

I think that last one’s the hardest.

HBRs Tips for Running Virtual Meetings