Archives for posts with tag: feedback

This well-known saying often attributed to French lawyer and politician Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin, highlights the balancing act required of politicians in our society but the behaviour of some, begs the question;

Are they truly our representatives or do they dance to their own tune?

In a representative democracy, politicians are sent to parliament or congress to put forward the views and aspirations of the people who elected them but once there, they must make laws for all citizens and there is where the problems can begin.

In most countries, elections are only held every 3-4 years so there is an inevitable lag between voter intent and political action, yet in the 21st century, the mood of the public has never been more evident to those in power. There are polls almost daily that seek to take the temperature of the electorate and these have shown that in most Western nations, the broader public has consistently proven to be ahead of governments on key social and even geopolitical issues, so why it is that more than a few elected representatives seem to be actively pulling in the opposite direction?

The 2016 election ‘circus’ in the US was ample evidence of this phenomenon with some candidates putting enormous effort in to being as far from the ‘mainstream’ (i.e. rational thinking) as possible but it is also apparent in Australia at present, where polls indicate that an important civil rights issue due to be put before a national referendum will pass with a significant majority, yet a number of politicians have already announced they will vote against the proposal, even if the nation votes in favour of it.

In a country where voting is compulsory and participation is close to 100%, the intent of the people is rarely in doubt, so how does their personal agenda even warrant a mention?

Notwithstanding that post the next election these folks will likely be unemployed,  there is in their behaviour, a cautionary note for us all. The GFC has painfully brought home the lesson that when people are entrusted with our money or granted authority over us, we must actively take an interest in what they are doing and saying and if they seem to be acting in their own interests rather than ours, we must hold them accountable.

As the old Russian proverb goes: “Trust but verify”. To do otherwise is asking for trouble.

The message for leaders? Staying in touch with your customers and your people is critical. If you are not paying attention they may change direction and you will be left running after them, trying to figure out what went wrong…


Carrying out a ‘performance management’ (I prefer performance improvement) discussion can be one of the most challenging tasks a leader can undertake.

Many leaders avoid these altogether or try to palm them off onto HR.Some wait until the pain of non-performance is so great that it exceeds the discomfort of having the discussion.

The truth it that it doesn’t have to be that hard. Really…

So how can you reduce the discomfort?

Well first, let me repeat my suggested NAKED LEADERSHIP problem solving mantra:

When despite your best efforts, something goes wrong and someone screws up, the first question you need to ask is

“How much of this do I own?”

That’s right – you, the company and anyone with a degree of influence over what has gone wrong.

You must with excruciating fairness, thoroughly explore the procedures and processes, including recruitment and selection, the communication, timely feedback, measurement, coaching and training (all documented of course!) and anything else that you have a responsibility to provide, to see if it has gone awry.

If you don’t bother and you eventually fire the employee, anything missing in the above can be cause for an unfair dismissal case.

More importantly, this process can help identify if someone else is likely to have the same problem. if that is possible, then you have a system problem more than an employee one and ‘shooting’ this person is not going to change that.

If after reviewing these key areas, you come to the conclusion that you have done as much as you can to help your team member onto the right path and they are not performing, you need to find out why and that means a coaching meeting.

Now a key point: Never, Never get emotionally involved in the issue. It may affect you and even your own KPIs but it is essential that you ‘park’ this and that it remains an objective discussion about the problem not the person.

You must play the role of an Umpire and a Coach.

  • In any performance meeting your job is to gather as many available facts and evidence as you can and then treat it like a mystery or a puzzle: The mystery is: Why is this employee not performing as required?

This is an entirely different approach to going in and telling them to pick up their game or else!

If you attack they will fight back, or dodge the issue or cry or call the union or HR. That’s Humans 101.

Remaining calm and impartial can help people accept responsibility to self correct.

It is crucial that you ask ‘open’ questions and let them do most of the talking. This can be as simple as sitting down and factually laying out the areas of concern. Avoid any emotional statements or accusations.

Use neutral questioning language such as: “Jeff I wanted to talk to you because I have noticed that your last three reports have been submitted at least two days late and contained a number of errors (place the reports on the table for him to review) . I have looked over the performance requirements of your role and your training in this area (place these on the table for him as well) . Can you have a look and help me understand how this has come about?”

Do not speak again until he does. Allow as much time as it takes.The silence is a tool – avoid filling it with personal justification for talking to him. In other words Shut up…

Your whole purpose is to provide information and then have Jeff measure himself against his job description, work requirements and any instructions you have given him.

When he comments he may simply accept responsibility or may try to make excuses. Either way you need to ask him if there is any specific reason why this is happening. Remember we are trying to determine the cause, not pin the blame.

  • Avoiding unnecessary criticism or visible annoyance (including tone of voice) can get much better results.
  • Remember you are not doing anything to Jeff. You are simply holding him responsible for the work for which he is being paid.
  • It may take some practice to remain detached but it makes it a better process for everyone. The employee doesn’t feel like a naughty child and you don’t feel like an angry parent.

If you get emotionally involved, you are as the old saying goes “Making a Monkey for your own back”. Getting emotionally involved can cause you to say things that you will regret or be perceived as unprofessional or hostile. Not a good look.

After he has clearly seen the contrast between what is required and what he has been doing, ask:

“So Jeff, as I have pointed out, your work is important to our team and I really need to be able to rely on you. Can you tell me how you plan to get back on track?”

Get specifics and a commitment within a time frame that works for you.(You must allow a reasonable time to correct performance). You also need to offer any reasonable support to help him. That is not only a requirement under most workplace laws it is good business. replacing employees is expensive!

Remember it is not your job to do Jeff’s job, it is his.

You simply need to provide him with necessary resources and support so he can perform. If he consistently fails to perform you simply repeat the process but let him know that this cannot continue happening.

I have found this approach usually identifies problems and in the vast majority of cases, the employee accepts responsibility and self corrects. Most people want to do a good job but they also need to have an Umpire and Coach to keep them on track.

Playing this role is a lot less stressful than playing judge and executioner.

Remember a coach can still ‘bench’ or replace a player if necessary.

Working with many organisations over the years, I have seen both effective and not so effective communication cultures.

This can stem from a number of causes.  Leaders will often take silence as a sign that everything is okay, rather than actively engaging their team in discussions.

On the other side, team members may not feel that they can be honest with their boss because there may be repercussions for them or that ‘nothing will ever change.’

This may has been sufficient in the past when many companies were monolithic and just ground along while employees stayed ‘for life’ but in the 21st century and in an incredibly competitive world, we cannot afford to have our best assets, (our people) communicating poorly with us or each-other.

These days change is a part of life but most humans don’t like it. It unsettles us and creates fear and if we do not have an open communication culture we will not see the problems before they occur.

So if we want to get the best willingly from our people, we need to ensure that we are supporting a culture of openness and that in turn will ensure that we are always aware of the health of our organisation.

Openness does not mean communication chaos or wishy-washy ‘mission statements’ but rather communication accountability.

As I relate in NAKED LEADERSHIP, while I was working in the US at Continental Airlines, the new CEO – apart from updating everyone in the company by voice mail once a week – announced that anyone could make an appointment to see him to speak honestly about how things were going, regardless of their role from baggage handler to senior manager. The same went for the VPs and Directors down the line and their team members. This in a company of over 50,000!

Once people realised that he was serious, it basically lowered the power gradient to zero and was one of the key factors in bringing the company from bankruptcy to consistent profitability while others struggled.

Of course I have heard the protest “But I would spend all day hearing people complain about trivia!” Actually that didn’t happen.

Because people knew they could see the CEO or VP directly it made them feel more comfortable in being honest with their manager and where necessary bringing up problems at that level. For the reluctant manager he or she knew that if they didn’t listen and if their behaviour didn’t align with our values, it could go all the way to the top very easily.

When you tie this in with a strong set of values – one of which is listening to feedback (NAKED LEADERSHIP – Naked Clue #2 Ask Questions and Shut Up and Listen”) it is amazing how culture can transform and cope with most things.

With a workforce, we have a dynamic organism that can be deeply affected by misunderstandings, rumours, superficial disappointments and this leads to poor relationships.  In order to be able to anticipate or overcome problems within our organisations we need to be constantly asking questions and listening carefully to the answers.

From time to time I have assisted companies during negotiations with union representatives and quite often, the initial mood is of defensiveness on both sides. After listening to what appear to be the issues, I begin asking simple questions such as “What do you really need?” or “What is the real problem here?”“What are people really upset about?” – Drilling down it often turns out to be nothing to do with the stated issues. They are symptoms of a sense of ‘injustice done’ for both parties. The relationship had broken down through poor communication.

Had there been a lot more questioning and listening going on in the first place, the issue may not have arisen at all.

Of course to make this a success, leaders need to be able to take feedback without getting defensive and that takes practice. Lots of practice…

(See NAKED LEADERSHIP – the 7 Naked Clues for how to do this)

After listening and questioning, we must also remember that what we say to a team member carries with it the weight of our position. What we think may be a straightforward comment can have very negative consequences when interpreted from ‘below’. Having the emotional maturity to be mindful of the effect of our words by keeping the receiver in mind is critical to a successful relationship of any kind. This doesn’t mean apologising for feedback (or trying ‘good-bad-good’ which doesn’t work) because as a leader you are their coach but simply avoiding unintended gaffes.

If we begin to create an atmosphere (within or team and our company) where employees feel able to speak honestly without fear of censure, problems can be detected much earlier, ideas can be sought and a strong values-based culture can be built and that is a real competitive advantage. It will make change much easier to endure and the workforce more engaged in the process.

Finally, in order to underpin the sense of trust we want to build with our people so they will communicate and work with us willingly, we, as leaders, need to have the courage to speak up when we see things that are inappropriate, inequitable or unjust.

Having the courage to question inaccuracies, inequity, misrepresentations or unfair comment or action is a key element of good leadership. Part of our job is to ‘protect and serve’ our team members, so that they perform at their peak.

It can be uncomfortable for us questioning our boss or peers behaviour in order to right a wrong but it comes with the territory. Either you are a leader or you are not.

How you do it (Naked Clue # 6) is important but our career progress must never happen at the expense of justice. The value of integrity cannot be overstated. If you are consistently honest and fair, your reputation will follow you – as it will if you are not.

In many cultures complaining (whingeing or whining) seems to be looked on in a negative way and if it is without real reason or substance that is understandable. No-one wants someone raining on their parade (or their day). In the workplace however, it is often treated even more harshly in the belief that complaining will bring down morale. Most leaders will attempt to get the complainer to stop and some may even ‘performance manage’ them if they continue but I believe that this is counterproductive. If we look at this on a macro scale we can see that what is happening in Syria at the moment is a result of unaddressed grievances and approach is to try and crush the dissent. In reality, history has shown that all this leads to is better recruiting for the dissenters. Whether on a macro or micro scale, human behaviour is pretty consistent. In a relationship, if one partner doesn’t feel listened to or understood, the relationship will often break down. This is a very similar dynamic to the workplace.  Many years ago I tried a little experiment with an employee representative from an operation that I has been assigned to run. This person had a reputation for being very difficult and vocally negative towards managers and her reputation reached me even before I had assumed the leadership role. Rather than avoid her or confront her in an adversarial way, I invited her to meet with me and asked her to tell me her story and the history of the operation. This took her by surprise. As she recounted the history, she included many of the grievances that had arisen over time and interestingly, to me at least, many seemed to be justified. Importantly I did not try to make excuses for the organisation-I simply used Naked Clue #2  (Ask Questions and Shut up and Listen) and let her have her say. When she had finished I asked her if she would like to help me solve the problems she had raised. Again she was surprised but agreed. Now I must say that the supervisors that worked for me were also surprised as they saw this woman as a thorn in their side and not someone worthy of engaging with and so were somewhat disbelieving of my approach. However the relationship slowly got off the ground and as time passed I had the employee rep involved in all the major changes that affected the employees and things went pretty smoothly. On occasion she was able to sell the changes to the employees on my behalf and it turned out to be much more effective than simply ramming them through. Since then when I meet whingers (or am coaching managers dealing with them) the approach is to given them the time to air their grievances in an non adversarial environment and to thank them for doing so. Whingers are often the tip of the iceberg and perhaps the only ones honest enough to speak out about issues affecting the team. While their approach may be less than ideal it is important to look for the kernel of what they are saying and see if it has any value. Often listening (without offering excuses or justification) is enough and you can always ask them for solutions to the issues which in the end turns them from an annoyance into an asset and isn’t that much better?