To Get Honest Feedback, Leaders Need to Ask

When did you last ask for and receive genuine feedback from those around you? And did you actually listen to the bits that seemed unpalatable?

I was surprised and, to be honest, a little upset by a couple of bits of feedback I received from my last 360 degree survey but they gave me valuable information to act upon and I did so to the best of my ability.

The point is, the effect you have on others isn’t necessarily the effect you intend. The effect you *actually* have is the effect that is perceived by the recipient. You may intend to help, they may perceive criticism.  You may intend to be upbeat – what your listeners hear may be perceived as sarcasm.  I’ve  blogged about this before under the topic power, presence and perceptions.

This research (link below) by Harvard Business Review was based on over a million responses to their Leadership Practices Inventory. It’s not new (dates from 2014) but the results are just as relevant today.

To Get Honest Feedback, Leaders Need to Ask –

Evaluate Your Emotional Agility

Now here’s an intriguing little activity from the good old Harvard Business Review in an article by by Susan David and Christina Congleton. Probably not very scientific, but a good rough indicator you might find useful to get you thinking about how emotionally agile you are.

The more we know about ourselves and the way we function, especially under stress or duress, the better we can actively manage our behaviour. We all have some negative thoughts and reactions – the important thing is how we react when we feel them and what steps we take to challenge them.

A couple of quotations

I have never failed to be astonished at the ability of colleagues to take the most innocent of remarks to mean something completely different from what was intended and email is a major culprit here, in that you read the words but don’t hear the tone of voice. This isn’t a new phenomenon however. I’ve been clearing out some old papers and came across a quotation I’ve used in the past in communications training sessions:

“I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realise that what you heard is not what I meant”

which is widely attributed to Robert McCloskey, a U.S. State Department spokesman at one of his regular noon briefings during the worst days of the Vietnam War.

On the next page was a quotation from E.M. Forster:

“How do I know what I think until I see what I say”

which certainly chimes with me (although in my case it’s more often a case of “see what I write in this blog”) and set me off wondering whether that’s common, and a short web serach turned up this delightful page (Warning – displacement activity alert!!):

which shows I’m in good company!

Unsticking people

Six Sources of influence: Source: David Maxfield, Crucial Skills blog, August 21st 2012

People seeming to under-achieve or be ‘stuck in a rut’ is a fairly common issue that often comes to light as managers undertake staff performance reviews.

This well considered post by David Maxwell may be of help when you are trying to ‘unstick’ someone whom you feel is not achieving their true potential. On the other hand, don’t lose sight of the fact there are many people for whom work is only a part of an already satisfying and fulfilling life, and they may not be stuck at all, but just content to do their job and go home without aiming for progression!

Six Sources of Influence:

Personal ability
Social Motivation
Social Ability
Structural Motivation
Structural Ability.

Diagnose all six sources. When people are stuck, it’s usually because all Six Sources of Influence are working in combination to hold them fast. Their world is perfectly organized to create the behavior (or lack of behavior) you are currently seeing. Here are the questions we use to diagnose obstacles in all six sources:

Personal Motivation

Left in a room by themselves, would they want to take on greater responsibilities? Would they enjoy it, find it meaningful, and aspire to it as an important part of their identity? Would they take pride in it, or see it as a moral imperative? Ideas for action:

• Invite choice. As part of the performance-management process, ask each employee to prepare a two- to three-year plan. Ask them to identify the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) your organization and your department face. Then have them anticipate how they see your department and their jobs changing in order to take advantage of these SWOTs. Finally, have them describe what they would like to be doing in two or three years and what they need to do now in order to prepare themselves.

• Try small steps. Identify the crucial moments when it would be most helpful for your employees to step up to greater responsibilities. Think of times, places, and circumstances when you could really use their help in a particular way for a short period of time. It will be most effective if you can include them in finding these crucial moments. People are more trusting when they discover crucial moments for themselves. Then ask for their help during these brief and occasional crucial moments.

Personal Ability

Left in a room by themselves would they have all the skills they need to feel confident taking on greater responsibilities? Do they already have the right knowledge, skill sets, experiences, training, and strength? Ideas for action:

• Training that focuses on critical dependencies. Ask your reluctant employees to identify skill sets that are new, are becoming more important, or are in short supply. These skills would make a person indispensable. If they aren’t quick to identify these skills, work with them to identify the people in your organization who could help and ask your employees to interview them.

• Training that fills in missing skills. Suppose your reluctant employees did accept a greater role, what parts of an expanded job would they find most difficult, tedious, or noxious? How could you skill them up so they’d be confident, efficient, and effective in these areas? We often say, “If it’s taking too much will, add some more skill!” Maybe an ounce of skill will yield another pound of motivation.

Social Motivation

Are the right people encouraging them to take on greater responsibilities? Do the peers they respect, the managers they look up to, and their family members encourage or discourage them from stepping up? Ideas for action:

• Get them some feedback. Do they know how others see them? Most of us want to believe we are doing our fair share. Motivate change by using a 360-degree feedback tool to get feedback from their peers and customers. Make it clear that the feedback is for development—not evaluation—purposes and make sure you have solutions for whatever negative feedback they receive. Otherwise, this kind of feedback can be more demoralizing than motivating.

• Connect them with a greater purpose. Get them involved in field trips where they meet with their internal or external customers. Make the connection as personal as possible. Have them report to your team on what they learned and on how your team can improve.

Social Ability

If your employees take on greater responsibilities, are the people around them ready to lend a hand? Do they have mentors, trainers, and peers who can give advice and step in to help? Ideas for action:

• Make them coaches. Sometimes people step up when they become responsible for someone else’s success. Consider assigning them to work with another person in your group.

Structural Motivation

Does your organization provide incentives such as performance reviews, pay, promotions, and perks that could motivate these employees to take on greater responsibilities? Your employees’ job descriptions don’t include management activities so it’s hard to use the formal reward system, but there may be other routes to explore. Ideas for action:

• Recognize incremental improvements. Try small assignments, projects that can be completed within a week, and then give your honest, heartfelt appreciation when they complete them. Then gradually increase the number, size, duration, and importance of these projects. Continue to show your appreciation as you deem appropriate.

Structural Ability

Is there a way to use the environment, data, tools, cues, or systems to make it easier and more convenient for these people to take on greater responsibilities? Ideas for action:

• Discover and remove obstacles. Ask yourself (or your reluctant employees), “If you wanted to take on a few additional responsibilities, what are the biggest obstacles you would face?” One good guess would be time. If nothing else about their jobs changed, they would have to work longer, harder days. How could you change that? What could you take off their plates so they would have more time for higher-value work? Showing your flexibility may encourage them to become more flexible as well.