Engaging Employees in Order to Get Feedback

Employees may speak more freely when the Owner isn’t in the room. Or they may play safe and keep silent altogether. Dealing with employees is a never ending struggle for me as a business owner. When things go wrong I’m least likely to get honest feedback – just when I need it the most.

Thoughts of the Day: Communication is a 2 way street. Deal with the frustrating situations, so you can get them out of the way. It takes time and practice to build a culture of open, constructive feedback. Sometimes it’s hard for owners to accept criticism. Sharing information openly with employees is a good start. Find a major payoff through idea sharing, collaboration, and engagement.

Most business owners are as uncomfortable with silence and anyone else. They rush to fill the quiet spots, thinking people are waiting for them to provide information and guidance. Could be that people are only waiting for a pause so they can get a suggestion in edgewise.

Make sure that you allow employees to put in their two cents. Look the person you’re talking to in the eye. Practice patient stillness. You’ll find it only takes a few seconds for someone else to jump into the discussion.

Acknowledge that you heard what someone had to say by playing it back. Try repeating the last word as a question. Or, ask them to keep going, to clarify, to expand on the thought. Do it with a smile and a nod of the head.

Recognize that because you’re the boss, people need to be encouraged to speak up. And they need to know that if they express an opinion, they won’t get in trouble for it. If you don’t like what someone has to say, bite your lip instead of snapping back with a contradiction. Sleep on it before responding.

Ever felt stuck, frustrated, unwilling to get on board with something? Be honest with yourself. It’s a common reaction.

Without an opportunity to have a say, it’s hard to be in a positive frame of mind. It’s normal to want to walk away and not be involved. That happens to employees all the time, as they wish to be heard and get frustrated when they’re not.

Reading about South Africa’s experiment with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, led me to some observations about how to engage people in working through difficult circumstances. Encourage:

  • Accurate and complete sharing of information
  • Impartial conduct of hearings when problems arise
  • Accountability
  • Inclusion of all parties in economic advancement and political power sharing
  • Follow up designed to move people from airing grievances to planning a way forward together.

Share examples of when employees told you not to do something and they were right. Talk about how their taking a risk to stand up to you helped the company to succeed. Show people you can accept being wrong.

Make it safe for people to bring issues forward by allowing them to be heard without rebuttal. Practice saying thank you when the news delivered is critical, even when you don’t think it’s well deserved. If the employee is wrong, take them aside and discuss the issue one-on-one.

Speak to employees as grown ups. Treat each person with respect, honesty and dignity. Give them information they need to do their jobs. Let them sort out the details and learn from their mistakes.

There are significant payoffs to the company for getting employees to provide honest and open feedback. Here are just a few examples: lower turnover, better payoff for training budgets, higher output for similar paychecks.

Employees who are heard are more likely to engage and collaborate. Recognition for speaking up reinforces the behavior, leading to greater degrees of risk-taking contribution. People start looking for the next opportunity to step up, going from avoidance to garnering additional recognition.

Looking for a good book? Try… It’s OK to Be the Boss: The Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming the Manager Your Employees Need, by Bruce Tulgan.

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Not Enough Feedback Going Around?

I’m concerned that employees don’t get enough feedback. And I fear that doing reviews could open an ugly door. Some people might not like what we have to say, others might want a raise – which I’m not willing to give.

Thoughts of the Day: Feedback should be given continuously. Reviews are recaps of feedback, and do not have to be tied to compensation. But compensation should be tied to performance. Use feedback to help employees grow and improve.

Teach managers how to give feedback. Read a book. Discuss feedback at weekly meetings. Ask for examples: who met with whom, what worked, what didn’t, what did / didn’t get said. Be careful not to shoot the messenger if anyone brings up problems they encountered. Identify “success examples” to emulate.

Encourage managers to speak with employees honestly and empathetically. According to BusinessPerform.com, employees need to get from internal communication “a sense of belonging and self-worth – being listened to, respected, trusted, valued “. PattyInglishms.hubpages.com says that Lack of . . . Respect and Lack of Recognition are 2 of the 10 reasons employees quit their jobs.

Review with your managers the concept that success is celebrated in public, while negatives are discussed in private. Make sure managers take time to recognize employees who do well. And when things go wrong verify that managers pull aside the person involved to discuss what happened. Remind everyone that performance can only be sustained and improved if people are given accurate feedback.

Many of us are uncomfortable delivering bad news. We don’t like looking someone in the eye and telling them they just screwed up. Sometimes we get busy or just plain overlook opportunities to recognize good performance, saying things like, “Well, they should know they did a good job.” Unfortunately, lack of feedback only leads to repeat mistakes and lack of respect as employees assume that no one cares. And who needs that.

Talk with managers about the dangers of not giving feedback: decreases in customer satisfaction as problems go uncorrected, declining profits as errors mount up, higher turnover as good employees get frustrated and quit.

Now let’s talk about reviews. They don’t have to be complicated or time consuming. Ask managers to keep a file folder in their desk for each employee. Each month, have managers put performance notes in each file. If you’re concerned that managers won’t take time to complete this assignment, set aside a monthly meeting for managers to get together, bring their files, write up their notes.

At review time, have managers meet with each employee for an hour. Encourage a 2-way discussion: How are things going from the employee’s point of view, from the manager’s? Conclude the discussion with a written list of development activities for the employee to pursue, initialed by both manager and employee. Drop the development list into the employee’s folder. Check on progress regularly.

One final note: reviews should not be a surprise to the employee. If feedback has been honest all along, the review will simply be a restatement of what’s already been discussed.

Tie compensation to performance by linking measurable outcomes to how a person is rewarded. Want to boost output? Pay a bonus if output exceeds a set minimum. This approach doesn’t require a review to measure and reward performance. But it does reinforce the importance of performing to a standard in order to earn a higher level of compensation.

Finally, remind managers that a written record is essential to good management. Our memories can be faulty, and subject to “squeaky wheels” or “recent impacts”. Setting aside to reflect on performance over time, with monthly notes and agreement on where to focus next, is an opportunity for the company, manager and employee to develop skills and build rapport.

Looking for a good book? Where’s the Gift? Using Feedback to Work Smarter, Learn Faster and Avoid Disaster, by Nigel J. A. Bristow and Michael-John Bristow.

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The Fine Art of Delegating

Do you have any information on delegating work? What should or should not be delegated by a manager? I’m a student, and I’d like to know more about the subject of delegating.

Some managers struggle with delegation. They try to hang on to every task. They are unclear about what they want to accomplish. They pick the wrong people to delegate to. Some delegate too much, or too soon. Or they fail to acknowledge the people who are pitching in to make them look great. When it comes time for you to delegate, make sure you don’t get caught in any of those traps.

One person can’t do it all. The load has to get spread out. Delegating is about asking other people to carry part of the load, being responsible for completion, quality and reporting back on results.

A manager can delegate any task. It’s best to consider the skills and attributes required for success. For example, a task that takes an outgoing personality and experience talking to people, can be very different from a task that calls for detail management and working in a quiet, isolated setting. Match task and people attributes to increase the chance of success.

When preparing to delegate, have manager and recipient discuss how to tackle the assignment. Play it out verbally. See what knowledge gaps exist. Discuss where training might come into play.

Reach agreement on timing and what a successful outcome might look like. Vague timeframes can result in a comment later on, along the lines of, “I didn’t know you needed it by then!” Clear objectives can make it much easier for both parties to know how success will be measured.

In the beginning check on progress regularly. Periodically overview the entire process to observe how the task is being handled. Allow for innovation, so long as the outcome is at the desired standard.

If you’re the manager and things are progressing properly, back out of the way. No one wants someone constantly hanging over their shoulder telling them what to do. If you’re the recipient, ask for feedback along the way. Check that you’re on track, and then keep going.

Allow for mistakes and time to make corrections. Double or triple your estimate of the time and resources needed to complete a task. That allows for errors, without putting your schedule and budget out of whack.

Check if the recipient’s plate is overflowing. Delegation might add to a host of problems. Increased error rate, lack of cooperation, missed deadlines, incorrect shortcuts are all symptoms that the recipient isn’t ready to take on additional tasks.

As a recipient, consider how taking on additional tasks can increase your skills and visibility within the organization. Be ready, willing and able to help out. Execute in top notch form so you look like a superstar. Be aware that to continue taking on tasks, you may have to build your own delegation team and skills.

Make a list of all the tasks you do over a week. Highlight those that are repetitive, that could easily be taught to someone else. Look around for someone to train.

Be sure to share recognition with people who are getting things done on your behalf. It’s not fair to ask someone else to do your work and then take all the credit. More importantly, by sharing the cudos, you’ll encourage people to help you again next time.

If you find you work for a manager who doesn’t delegate, you have a couple options. Ask for a meeting to discuss your readiness to take on additional work. Ask for feedback on what might get in the way of receiving new assignments. Ask for assignment to another manager, who might have more experience at delegating and mentoring.

If you feel you’re overloaded with too many tasks, discuss what kind of help you might need, in order to relieve the stress you’re feeling. Look around to see if there’s anyone you can delegate to. Make suggestions on how to get through the workload in a different way.

Looking for a good book? The Busy Manager’s Guide to Delegation, by Richard A. Luecke, Perry McIntosh.

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Andi Gray is president of Strategy Leaders Inc., www.StrategyLeaders.com, a business consulting firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurial firms grow. She can be reached by phone at 877-238-3535. Do you have a question for Andi?  Please send it to her, via e-mail at AskAndi@StrategyLeaders.com  or by mail to Andi Gray, Strategy Leaders Inc., 5 Crossways, Chappaqua, NY 10514. Visit www.AskAndi.com for an entire library of Ask Andi articles.

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The Team Is Not Right

We have problems with our staff. We’ve lowered our standards, accepted mediocrity. If a person doesn’t want to do something, we don’t deal with it. I can’t just throw more people at the problem, or I’ll go broke. How do I fix this?

At least you recognize there’s a problem. Start looking from the top down. Are there performance standards? Do special players get special treatment? Who is responsible for what, and are they doing their jobs?

Most companies have been looking at ways to cut costs, and by now they’ve pulled down all the low hanging fruit. Getting further improvement will come from increasing staff performance by having the right people, properly trained and supervised, doing specific jobs. Overlooking problems has to be a thing of the past.

Make sure managers know that they are responsible for enforcing rules, work ethic and quality. Meet with supervisors regularly to quiz them on what’s happening. Find out specifically what they’re doing to make improvements.

Resist the temptation to step in and take over. If you step in, you get busier and the people you step over learn to let you do their work. If you’re tempted to step in, it’s probably because someone isn’t doing his or her job. Deal with the core problem. Get that person to step up, or move out – and line up someone else to move in.

Set up ways to supervise performance. Spot check work. Work side-by-side with people. Find out who’s trying, and who’s making excuses.

Start with the daily tone. When people clock in for work, expect to have their full attention. Personal calls are limited to breaks. Tell people to arrive on time by being 5 minutes early. Spend time at the end of the day wrapping things up, rather than leaving problems and open issues for the next day.

When you see performance problems, address them immediately, swiftly. Tell the person who’s having the problem what’s expected. If you think they’re capable of learning, get them a teacher. If not, ask them to step down into a less stressful job or show them the door.

Many managers hesitate to ask people to leave the company. They worry about the human side, that people won’t be able to find another job in this economy. The flip side is that if someone isn’t doing their job properly, that could end up jeopardizing the entire company, and then everyone will be out of work.

Employees and supervisors must actively communicate and coordinate. Use technology to report on what’s done, and to assess profitability. Set up a schedule of meetings to insure people take time to get together. Look at systems available in your industry that can help your company share information and report on productivity, cost and quality.

As the owner, you’re a role model for everyone. Show people how to improve. Demand and give respect. Be clear what it is that you want. Be a teacher and a leader.

If you get frustrated, take a break. Step away before you do more harm than good. Avoid bullying people. Ask people to be responsible. Focus attention and rewards on those people who can meet your standards. If no one is meeting your standards, reconsider what you’re asking of everyone.

Managing personnel in a quality driven environment, takes time to build up. It won’t happen overnight. Stay on top of the details, be consistent, put your demands in writing for everyone to see. Make sure you have a no-exceptions environment, where everyone is held to the same standard.

Finally, keep in mind that now is a good time to look for new hires. Something like 85% of employees plan to seek a different job as the economy turns up. Someone’s need for change may turn into your next great employee. Put feelers out, interview constantly, and when you find someone great, consider where they might fit in your organization.

Looking for a good book? Analyzing Performance Problems: Or, You Really Oughta Wanna – How to Figure out Why People Aren’t Doing What They Should be, and What to do About It, by Robert F. Mager.

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Andi Gray is president of Strategy Leaders Inc., www.StrategyLeaders.com, a business consulting firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurial firms grow. She can be reached by phone at 877-238-3535. Do you have a question for Andi?  Please send it to her, via e-mail at AskAndi@StrategyLeaders.com or by mail to Andi Gray, Strategy Leaders Inc., 5 Crossways, Chappaqua, NY 10514. Visit www.AskAndi.com for an entire library of Ask Andi articles.

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I Hate Doing Reviews

We’ve had an employee for 6 months now, and we have some questions about whether she’s going to make it. She’s probably due some feedback, but frankly I’d rather skip the subject. I hate doing reviews. I think I know what you’re going to tell me, but I’d like to hear it anyway.

It can be tough telling someone they’re not cutting it. Some managers avoid discussing concerns for fear an employee will quit. Others are uncomfortable providing negative feedback or seek to avoid confrontation. Whatever the reason that stands in your way of giving fact-based feedback, get over it.

Employment is a 2 way street. Reviews are essential to keep everything above board and on track. It’s important for everyone involved to find out if this is the right job fit.

Both you and the employee have responsibilities. First and foremost is telling an employee where he or she stands. Clearing the air is actually easier than sitting on top of the internal turmoil and poor performance that results from knowingly avoiding giving feedback.

So many times I’ve seen a real mis-match in expectations and understanding. The employee thinks things are going okay, the manager is really unhappy. Or vice versa. The only way to get things straight is to talk about how things are going,  then commit to working out the kinks, or agree to go your separate ways.

Part of the employer’s responsibility is to provide factual, useable feedback at routine intervals. Offer training to improve performance. Make sure managers are trained to provide support to match employee development needs. Listen carefully when an employee has feedback for you.

The employee’s duties start with mastering the job assigned. Employees are expected to engage. They must request help when needed, and make changes in order to achieve higher outcomes. Encourage employees who point out legitimate improvement opportunities.

There are a few common mistakes when it comes to doing reviews. The biggest mistake is not reviewing performance often enough. Another mistake is letting things get personal. A third is not being specific enough.

If possible have the direct supervisor observe and discuss performance throughout the week. Back that up with weekly and monthly recaps of progress. Write up results at least every 6-12 months.

Both employer and employee are expected to maintain an atmosphere of respect at all times. Keep the tone businesslike, avoid personality clashes and personal judgments. Focus on the tasks at hand. Assess performance against a scale that is specific to the job requirements and outcomes.

When informally reviewing performance, be sure to ask employees to stop what they are doing, so they can listen attentively. Ask employees to repeat back what they heard. Be prepared for discussion, which will lead to clarity for both employee and manager.

When it comes time for a formal review, have a place to meet for an uninterrupted discussion of how things are going. Ask employees to bring written notes to share what they’re thinking.  Be prepared to discuss the positives and negatives of what’s going on. As the manager, share your written notes and listen to what the employee has to say. Agree on what happens next, put it in writing.

Sometimes employer, employee, or both, figure out that this isn’t the right job for the person doing the work. Mis-fits can come from lack of skill, lack of desire or lack of ability. As a manager it’s important to point out if you think there’s a mis-fit.

If the employee is committed, allow time to build skill and ability. Demand that attitude be 100% all the time. Do not accept excuses, as they are debilitating to everyone involved. Help employees explore the possibility of whether or not this job is right for them.

By now, I suspect you’re getting the message. Do reviews, day in and day out. Your workforce has great potential. Be willing to lead, challenge, encourage, and provide honest feedback in order to fully tap into that potential.

Looking for a good book? Perfect Phrases for Performance Reviews: Hundreds of Ready-to-Use Phrases That Describe Your Employees’ Performance, by Douglas Max & Robert Bacal.

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Andi Gray is president of Strategy Leaders Inc., www.StrategyLeaders.com, a business consulting firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurial firms grow. She can be reached by phone at 877-238-3535. Do you have a question for Andi?  Please send it to her, via e-mail at AskAndi@StrategyLeaders.com or by mail to Andi Gray, Strategy Leaders Inc., 5 Crossways, Chappaqua, NY 10514. Visit www.AskAndi.com for an entire library of Ask Andi articles.

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