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7 Employee Appreciation Ideas People Love

Content Impact Award - TalentCulture 2022

Employee appreciation is naturally top-of-mind for employers during the holiday season. But employees actually prefer recognition throughout the year. In fact, according to a HubSpot survey, 39% of employees don’t feel appreciated, and nearly 7 in 10 think better recognition would boost their performance.

So, what can you do to help your workforce feel more deeply appreciated?

Some organizations rely on standard, old-school methods like plaques. But a more personalized approach is far more effective. A thoughtful token of appreciation is worth much more than its monetary value, alone. It tells people they matter. And that kind of message lasts long after it is received.

Here are some meaningful ways to show your team members just how grateful you are for their contributions.

7 Ways to Elevate Employee Appreciation

1. Give Hard Workers a Break

When you recognize employees for an extraordinary effort on a project or success in achieving an important business goal, don’t just say thank you. Reward them with some well-deserved time off.

In going above and beyond, employees often put in extra hours working on weekends, at night, or in the wee hours of the morning. Along the way, they’re likely to lose precious sleep or family time. By letting them redeem some of that time you can help them relax and recharge after an intense work effort. Even one day away can make an impact.

Providing time off is easy. And if you toss in a bonus gift card or cash for these employees to spend on activities they enjoy, that break is likely to be especially memorable.

2. Spotlight Your Stars on Social Media

Want people on your team to feel like stars? Showcase top performers on social media for the world to see. Share photos or video clips of them on your organization’s accounts and express your gratitude for their unique contributions in an uplifting caption.

Invite your leaders and others to congratulate featured individuals in the comment section. Your “stars” will love the attention as it spreads across social media for others to see. These interactions also increase visibility for your business in all the right ways.

This kind of public recognition is personalized, community-minded, and compelling. Above all, it can boost an employee’s pride, confidence, and morale in ways that private recognition can’t touch. 

3. Create Customized Rewards

Are you thinking of giving top performers a framed certificate, a trophy, or maybe a cash reward? Instead, why not appeal to their particular interests? How do they spend their free time? What hobbies or passion projects matter most to them?

For example, do you have fitness freaks on your team? Reward them with a gym membership, a network pass, or a subsidy.

Maybe some of your people are into group activities. Why not share experiential rewards with them? For instance, you could arrange an outing at a local bowling, bocce, or Topgolf venue.

Or for those who love outdoor adventures like hiking, fly fishing, or river rafting, you could go all out and book a fun vacation package like this: White Water Rafting Montana.

Imagine how thrilled people will be with rewards that fit their interests. Whatever your budget, this is a highly effective way to keep employees motivated and reinforce your relationship with them.

4. Treat Your Team to a Tasty Meal

Everyone loves to eat. And there are endless ways to show employee appreciation with the gift of free food. You could send each employee a gift card to their favorite restaurant. Or to celebrate as a team, why not organize a surprise lunch out?

If your people work remotely, you can arrange to have a meal delivered to everyone’s door at the same time on the same day. Contact a restaurant each employee loves and order their favorite menu item. Or send a gift card to everyone in advance. This is an easy, cost-effective way to bring people together for a casual meetup. And don’t forget to send a heartfelt thank you note to each recipient, as icing on the cake.

5. Celebrate Everyday Efforts

To build and sustain a thriving workforce, look for ways to celebrate individuals and teams on a frequent basis. Ask for your workforce to be your eyes and ears to nominate people who deserve recognition for everyday accomplishments, little wins, and hard work, as well as big achievements. And encourage everyone in your organization to celebrate others, as well.

Genuine, ongoing praise is a powerful employee feedback tactic that drives engagement and job satisfaction. It also models the kind of spirit you want to see at the core of your culture.

Also, don’t forget opportunities to celebrate birthdays and other personal milestones. Let your employees know these aren’t just “checklist” items, but heartfelt gestures. You’ll see them smiling more often and sharing appreciation with peers.

6. Highlight Employee Excellence in Internal Newsletters

Internal newsletters and intranets are great for informational updates, but they’re just as powerful for employee appreciation. It pays to think creatively about how you can acknowledge your best performers through these channels.

You could dedicate a regular column in one of these vehicles to highlight stories about the hard work and accomplishments of top performers. These stories are an excellent way to boost morale and inspire top talent to remain engaged and keep aiming high.

7. Make The Most of Anniversaries

Some organizations treat anniversaries as just another day. But wouldn’t it be great to work for a company that celebrates every year of your employment as an important milestone?

The average employee turnover rate remains 20% higher than pre-pandemic levels. In this tough talent market, why would any employer let an anniversary go to waste?

Each year matters in the life of an employee. Whether they’re new to your organization or they’ve been on board for a long time, every member of your team deserves a celebration dedicated to their service. This kind of recognition can take many forms. But whatever you do, be sure to sincerely acknowledge people for their loyalty and their role in helping your organization advance its mission.

Final Thoughts

Great companies embrace employee appreciation as a crucial way to boost motivation, minimize turnover, and set their organization apart from competitors. Appreciating employees doesn’t need to be difficult, but it should be timely, sincere, and relevant.

Even if your budget is limited, there are endless ways to acknowledge people while reinforcing your organization’s goals, values, and culture. Why not think outside the box and show your appreciation in a truly unique way? All it takes is your commitment, consistency, and some thoughtful planning.

Key Design Decisions for 360 Feedback Success

Many managers and HR practitioners are familiar with 360 feedback as a leadership development practice. However, no two 360 feedback experiences look alike.

That is actually a good thing. Most successful 360 feedback drives behavior change both for individual leaders and their employers because the process is tailored to the organization’s unique culture as well as the intended purpose of the exercise.

On the other hand, this need for customization means practitioners face an overwhelming number of decisions when designing a new 360 feedback assessment. For example:

  • Who should participate?
  • How many survey questions should we include?
  • Who should receive the report?
  • What kind of follow-up support should we offer?
  • Who should choose the raters?
  • What role should HR play in the process?

Fortunately, some 360 feedback implementation practices have become ubiquitous. That means some guesswork, research and debate aren’t necessary. For example, below are five must-haves for strong engagement and outcomes.

Five Design Factors for 360 Feedback:

1) Which groups should participate in ratings?

Anyone who has observed a leader’s on-the-job behavior can provide useful rating input. This could include the leader who is being assessed, as well as a combination of direct supervisors, secondary managers, peers, direct reports, customers, board of directors representatives, donors and even skip reports.

In some situations, it is helpful to include other groups to meet specific requirements. For example, if a leader is actively involved with strategic partners or other third-party groups, their voices could add useful context. 

While there is flexibility to customize the participant mix, 360 feedback assessments typically include these four core rater groups as a baseline:  self, peers, direct reports, and direct managers. In fact, according to soon-to-be-released research from our firm, 88% of organizations include these four core groups.

2) Who will select and approve raters?

Among 360 feedback experts, there is some debate about the best way to choose raters. Should assessment recipients choose their participants? Those who favor this approach say it ensures a sense of ownership and buy-in. Others say a third party (a manager or HR representative) should choose raters. This ensures that feedback is well-balanced and avoids a “friends and family” bias.

Most 360 feedback process owners agree leaders should choose their own raters to build trust and establish assessment process buy-in. On the other hand, 70% of organizations tell us they review and approve final rater lists.

We agree that manager involvement is a wise practice, and a leader’s direct manager should approve the final list. Over the last 20 years, we’ve found that this is the most common approach. And according to our new benchmarking analysis, 48% of companies continue to use this method.

3) How will we score surveys and generate reports?

As with many HR processes, technology has also transformed 360 feedback implementation practices. Now, most HR practitioners rely heavily on online tools so they can collect, organize, analyze and share useful feedback faster and easier.

In 2009, spreadsheets and even paper surveys were still popular ways to collect and report 360 feedback data. Today, those methods are all but obsolete. In fact, 91% of organizations now use a web-based reporting tool to manage surveys and generate reports.

Many practitioners are also choosing to outsource this task to specialized service providers. In fact, our recent research shows that 80% of employers rely on an external vendor or consultant to handle this aspect of the process. 

4) How can we assure rater anonymity? 

To encourage honest responses, employers must ensure that feedback sources remain anonymous. Therefore, it’s not surprising that 81% of employers tell us rater anonymity is essential to the success of their 360 feedback endeavors.

A common way to ensure anonymity is by requiring a minimum number of survey responses for any group specified in the report. For example, peer scores are displayed separately only if at least 3 peers respond. If fewer peers respond, then that data is included only in overall average ratings.

Most often, organizations require a minimum of three raters in a category. In fact, 83% of companies use this three-rater threshold rule. Very few skip this requirement altogether (3% require no minimum responses). And on the other end of the spectrum, very few require more than three responses.

5) How will we help leaders translate the report into action?

For best results, talent management experts agree that personal follow-up is essential. To optimize ROI, employers should avoid the “desk drop” follow-up, where leaders receive a 360 feedback report, but no direct support to discuss results, implications, or next steps.

Follow-up can include any number of supportive actions, such as:  Adding development suggestions to the report, offering action planning guidance, providing individualized 1-on-1 coaching, assigning in-person or online workshops, referring leaders to specialized resource libraries, and more.

The most common step is also what talent management professionals feel is most critical for 360 assessment success:  Provide a one-on-one meeting with a trained 360 feedback coach who can facilitate action planning based on the results.

Historically, these sessions were conducted in person. However, in recent years, video meetings have become the dominant format. Also, reliance upon external coaches (rather than in-house staff) has become more popular.

Fortunately, 88% of organizations say they provide debrief sessions and one-on-one coaching, so feedback recipients can interpret insights and chart a relevant path forward.

Final Thoughts

Good leaders thrive on feedback. But for 360 feedback assessments to be effective, it’s important for leaders to understand the results and commit to improvement.

This means employers must take care to design and implement a valid, well-informed process from end to end. By addressing key design elements at the outset and by investing in ongoing leadership guidance, organizations can dramatically increase the likelihood of success.

 


EDITOR’S NOTE:
Want to learn more about the decisions talent managers make when designing and implementing 360 feedback assessments? Replay this recorded webinar, where the 3D Group unveils findings from its latest benchmarking study,
Current Practices in 360 Feedback, 7th Edition. This analysis includes 20 years of data from more than 600 companies.

6 Ways to Help Employees Feel Valued

Nurturing employees’ sense of value is important for running a successful business, especially in 2021. With the ongoing shift to remote work, professional responsibilities are just a click away. The proliferation of job networking platforms is introducing professionals to dozens of new opportunities on a daily basis. Because of this, your employees are likely assessing how they feel about their current roles and keeping an eye open for greener pastures.

As a result, it is critical to ensure that employees feel valued in order to guarantee their commitment to your company. An American Psychological Association study found that 93 percent of professionals were more likely to perform their very best if they felt valued by their employer, versus a mere 33 percent who were motivated to do their best for their own intrinsic reasons. The same study also found that employees who felt valued were also much more likely to recommend their company to a friend and were far less likely to seek new employment opportunities.

Clearly, nurturing your employees’ sense of value should be a top priority for your company. If you are looking for ways to set this initiative in motion within your organization, consider the following six ideas for how to make employees feel valued.

Create Innovative Compensation Packages

There is no denying that salary and wages are correlated to employee value. Simply put, if you pay an employee more, he or she will feel better about their job. This explains why, after a challenging year in 2020 due to the pandemic, most U.S. companies are doing everything in their power to reinstate bonuses and implement raises. Studies show the average salary likely will increase by 2.8 percent in 2021.

However, the modern professional is motivated by far more than money. The traditional nine-to-five office environment is quickly fading, and so are the traditional ways in which professionals live, love, relax, and consume. This creates the opportunity for companies to create unique benefits packages that will appeal to a contemporary workforce. While staples such as health insurance and retirement contributions are still important, Perkbox found that 66 percent of modern employees view customized benefits as a personal investment that would increase their loyalty to the company. Some innovative benefits ideas that are sure to help employees feel recognized and valued include:

  • Flexible schedules and leave policies
  • Paid childcare
  • Gym memberships, counseling sessions, and other perks to help improve employee well-being
  • Subscriptions to popular online services and entertainment platforms

Modernize the Workspace

By investing in top-notch facilities, you are telling employees that they are worthy of working in the best environment possible. Forbes magazine reports that 87 percent of professionals would like their employers to offer healthier workplace benefits. Some effective ways to do this include offering on-site workout and meditation spaces. You can also provide open and inviting work areas that optimize the benefits of natural sunlight. Living walls that incorporate elements of nature and sustainability into the work environment are good as well.

Keep Remote Workers Engaged

While there are many benefits to remote work, there’s one drawback. Remote workers have a tendency to feel isolated from their peers. Studies show that some 20 percent of employees feel isolated when working from home, which can cause them to experience marginal feelings of value about their role within the company.

Therefore, it is critical to find ways to keep your remote workers engaged. Frequently build company- or department-wide video calls into the work schedule. This reminds remote professionals that they are an important part of the team. Make use of the power of social media, as millennials are increasingly motivated by social media recognition. Studies reveal that 82 percent of modern professionals feel that social media has the ability to improve their work relationships, making it simple to strengthen commitment to the company through a quick post, like, or comment.

Provide a Foundation for Growth

Professionals will question their value to the company if they feel trapped in a dead-end job. Yet, 68 percent of employees feel like their company doesn’t care about their career advancement. Therefore, provide the framework for employees to learn new skills and communicate how these skills are valuable to the industry. Discuss roles within the organization that you could see them attaining in the future. Encourage them to attend networking events where they can establish meaningful connections to advance their careers.

Challenge Employees

It may seem like people shy away from work that is too hard, but employees are actually happier in roles that they perceive as challenging. Some creative ways to challenge employees include:

  • Implement job rotations, where employees are working on new projects with regularity.
  • Include employees when creating job descriptions, and make them feel like a part of the hiring process for similar or subordinate jobs.
  • Offer incentives for professionals who are able to attain specific goals.

Don’t Shy Away From Critical Feedback

Although it is intuitive to think that critical feedback may be perceived negatively by employees, Harvard Business Review actually found that 57 percent of professionals preferred corrective feedback over praise. Employees want to see that you care about their improvement and advancement within a role. Taking the time to offer constructive feedback on their performance demonstrates that you view them as valuable assets.

The Best Ways to Help Employees Feel Valued

Employees are more likely to give their best efforts and less likely to defect when they feel valued by their employer. Both are relevant factors to a company’s bottom line. By intentionally implementing the six aforementioned ideas, you can take significant steps toward helping your employees feel valued.

Andrew Neel

Employee Burnout: How Leaders Can Help Right Now

I want you to look around at your employees — in person where possible, and on that Zoom call. Then, I want you to think about how they’re doing. 9 times out of 10, they’re at least a little burned out. One of the areas we’ve been focusing on a lot here at TalentCulture is employee wellness. What that means right now is we’re looking at an entire workforce that seems, well, exhausted. Employee burnout is on the rise. And chances are, dear reader, that may not be a surprise to you at all.

There are certainly many external factors playing a role in the growing wave of burned out employees. Those range from a scary economy to social turmoil. And from political upheavals to a terrifying health crisis. There are domestic factors: The disruptions and worries of parenting and caregiving through the pandemic. In addition, there are more pressures facing business and the workplace now than we’ve never seen before. Recently, Eagle Hill Consulting ran a survey of U.S employees. They discovered 45 percent reported suffering from burnout, whether they are essential workers or remote. 25 percent linked their stress to COVID-19 — and that was in April, when we were just weeks in.

By July, a study by FlexJobs and Mental Health America reported that 75% of employees were dealing with burnout at work.

For employees, it’s VUCA time. So what should leaders do?

It’s time to roll up our sleeves and take care of our people. And that doesn’t take grand gestures. We don’t need to invest in new software or major changes. There are simple strategies you can execute right now. Simple. But they may mean a lot:

Commit to Mental Health

The Eagle Hill study shows employees could use more help:

  • 36 percent feel their company is not taking action to combat employee burnout
  • A mere 20 percent feel they’re getting the mental and physical wellness resources they need

And in a July 2020 poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 53 percent of the adults surveyed reported that coronavirus-related stress and worries were eroding their mental health — up from 32 percent in March. 

A few months ago, I had a great conversation with a start up about how they’re supporting employees through COVID-19. Being young and lean, they had to optimize their offerings without rebuilding their entire benefits program. So they looked at their mental health benefits and made a tweak or two. It’s no secret that stress, anxiety and depression can wreak havoc on an employee’s ability to focus and work. So they provided remote employees access to professional counseling through tele-therapy. In short order, among all the benefits available to employees, tele-therapy became one the most utilized and popular programs.

Bringing the need for therapy out into the open took the taboo and the stigma away — at a time when many people need mental health support the most.

Improve What Already Exists

There’s an interesting pushback going on regarding flexibility and remote working. Some employers are still singing the “when we reopen” song. They are using it as a rationale for just letting their workforce get by. Again, I know a lot of companies are feeling the pandemic pinch. They may not have the spend for their wishlist of new HR technology right now. But the reality is we may ever get everyone back to the office — at least not in the same pre-pandemic way. After all, remote working and flexible schedules are enabling people to handle one of the hardest periods of time (barring wars, of course) this country has ever faced.

Given the importance of employee engagement, staving off burnout, and increasing performance and productivity why wouldn’t you maximize the best aspects of working remotely?

Perhaps you can’t invest in a new platform right now because the business environment has thrown off your plans. That’s a reality for many. People are already functioning and working remotely and have been for months. S0 chances are you don’t need more technology to get your people to work together better.

Focus on Weak Spots

So focus on those pesky weak spots. What’s causing friction? Where is trust the weakest? Around deliverables? Around hierarchies? Maybe around teams?

Have you crafted and shared a set of policies and expectations around how your people are supposed to work remotely? If not, do it now. Do some in-house remote training on best practices and etiquette. Be proactive about the problem of sexual harassment or bias showing up in virtual interactions. Write a set of simple policies around parenting and caregiving emergencies. 

Just as important, engineer some lightness into the workdays — because, in general, those days have gotten very long. Allot time for informal get-togethers and casual conversations. Find ways for employees to have a little fun. A giving challenge or a gratitude drive, for example. Or a meet-the-kids (or the pets) event.

Working remotely can’t all be about work all the time. Now that work has come home, let some of home come to work.

Ask People What They Need

Pandemic aside, employee burnout was alive and well in countless work cultures already — and the pandemic just compounded the problem. Blame hyper-tight production cycles, toxic levels of competition among coworkers and teams, and managers too spread thin to spend any time helping teams. The fact is a whole host of other subpar conditions existed before the pandemic hit. What I mean is this: Fundamentally, most organizations want to be great places to work. But things happen. Then came COVID-19, and that’s been a whole new level of “happen.”

The silver lining here is that now there’s no excuse for reaching out to employees to make sure they’re all right. Whether that’s a pulse survey, an informal check-in via text, or even a phone call — reach out. Burnout is often triggered when employees are completely tapped out — mentally, physically, emotionally — and feel like they’re not getting any acknowledgement or support. Extended periods of high stress, overly tight deadlines, disruptive shifts in the workflow — all can lead to the mounting frustration that can result in burnout.

The Best Way to Avoid Employee Burnout

The most important thing you can do to help your workforce avoid burnout? Find out how they are and where they are really struggling. It may be hard to do this individually and in confidence. So instead, solicit anonymous feedback and share the results in a way that doesn’t expose anyone, or anything. Further, share it with a transparent commitment to make things better. Then actually do it.  

None of these three strategies need fancy bells and whistles to get off the ground. All they really require is a heartfelt reality check. One that helps deals with the here and now. One that acknowledges that work during a pandemic — remote or not — is exposing our vulnerabilities as well as our strengths. 

A video conference hosted by the Wharton School of Business and U Penn focused on the prospect of getting back to “normal” whether for corporate and knowledge workers or for frontline and essential workers. Given everything, they determined that we’re not going to get there until November 2021. That’s more than a year away. So don’t be the employer remembered for overloading your people when life was already hard enough.

Don’t shelve employee wellness until all this is over. Work to improve your conditions for the present. Prevent the employee burnout happening now.

Alphacolor

The Power of a Purposeful Hashtag: #WorkTrends

If we’ve learned anything over the past decade, it is the power of a hashtag…

#WorkTrends has been on quite an adventure. Over the past 10 years, TalentCulture’s signature podcast has introduced us to great minds in the HR space. We’ve produced over 700 episodes — packed with insights, future-casting and anticipated trends.

We’ve had an incredible range of guests on #WorkTrends, from CEOs to technologists to practitioners, psychologists, data mavens and more. They’ve given us unparalleled perspectives and wisdom on so many subjects — leadership, recruiting, management, recognition, strategizing, coping, thriving. How, where, when, and even why we work is ever-expanding — and we’re proud to say our savvy guests predicted every pivot, and every moment. 

In our episodes and in our Twitter chats, we’ve heard some groundbreakers I’ll never forget. Listing the many names would take pages and pages, so to all our guests so far I’ll just say this: Thank you for gracing the #WorkTrends stage with your presence and your brilliance. 

And now it’s time to expand these amazing discussions… it is time to release them into the world.

The Power of Change

Even before the massive changes of 2020, TalentCulture was planning our own set of changes: a new website, an expanded community, and a new way to bring #WorkTrends to our growing audience. We recognized that in today’s business world, we’re connecting across digital space more than ever before. And we realized there isn’t a better time than now to broaden our discussions. 

So we’re inviting everyone to join the #WorkTrends conversation beyond Twitter — and across more social media channels. We’re taking #WorkTrends to LinkedIn, Facebook, Google and beyond. Of course, you’ll find the same dynamic conversations about key work topics and all the issues that matter. Instead of exclusively through a weekly Twitter chat, though, #WorkTrends will be an ongoing discussion.

We believe the world of work is limitless: it’s a wellspring of energy and engagement. And to honor that, we’re opening the gates. 

The Power of a Purposeful Hashtag

#WorkTrends is now a legacy hashtag. It’s become a classic that represents all the best minds and conversations. We’re excited to watch it grow wings — and move across time zones, borders, and barriers. So please join us. It’s going to be another wonderful adventure!

Be sure to tune into our weekly #WorkTrends podcasts and recaps. And to learn even more about how we’re growing the podcast, check out our WorkTrends FAQ page.

As always, thanks so much for tuning in and being a member of this amazing community. You #inspire me — every day!  

Photo: Danielle MacInnes

10 Tips to Stabilize Employee Experience During the Pandemic

In an outlook where the future looks bleak, only true leaders guide their team through the storm and come out stronger on the other side. And only the best leaders will focus on employee experience during that storm.

That leader needs to be you.

During an unprecedented crisis such as COVID-19, your leadership becomes even more valuable. With so much uncertainty, your employees will look to you now more than ever for stability.

How Can You Maintain a Positive Employee Experience?

Here’s how you can provide stability for employees while keeping your business operating at maximum efficiency…

1. Foster Transparent Communications

During times of crisis, transparency becomes essential. If your employees think your business is in trouble, they’ll feel anxious.

As the person in charge, you need to keep everyone in the loop. That means sending regular updates about how the business is doing, what problems you’re running into, what you’re doing to deal with them, and more.

2. Keep Communications Positive and Hopeful

Since employees will be expecting to hear from you often, make sure any communications you send out don’t make your employees feel anxious any further.

For example, if you have daily or weekly meetings, start them off by talking about successes within the company. After all, recognizing your employees’ efforts becomes even more important during times of turbulence. And those people and teams recognized will certainly appreciate being recognized, a key aspect in improving overall employee experience.

3. Offer Ways for Your Employees to Relieve Stress

Since the lines between the office and home have become blurred, it can be a smart move to provide your team with ways to relieve stress such as:

  • Providing your employees with additional time off and breaks if needed.
  • Setting up team virtual game nights or remote “after-office” clubs. (That said, make sure to be considerate of parents and others who may not have the same flexibility with evening get-togethers.)
  • Encouraging your team to talk to each other about how they’re handling all the changes. Make it easier to share how colleagues in similar positions are managing — what’s working, what’s not.

Happy employees tend to be better at their jobs. Helping your team relieve stress shows them you care, and it can foster in-office ties.

4. Adjust Your Internal Processes to the “New Normal”

Nothing is the same as it was months ago, so the internal processes that help you deliver products/services and accomplish tasks also need to adapt to the new normal.

For example, now might not be the best time for performance reviews as few people may be thriving during the pandemic.

5. Be Empathetic and Patient with Your Team

The pandemic and near-global quarantines have had a massive impact on most people’s mental health. One of the key reasons is that a lot of employees don’t know if they’ll have a job in a month or two.

On top of being transparent about how things are going within the business, you also need to be patient with your team. Few people are performing at 100% now, so empathy is key.

Don’t simply assume you have empathy. Chat with three to five trusted people for their honest feedback and ask if they perceive a sincere effort to accommodate the team.

6. Ramp Up Employee Feedback

Although you may know your industry inside and out, your team probably has insights that you might not have considered.

If you want to stay ahead of the curve, encourage everyone who works for you to come forward with any feedback they might have. The best way to do that is to provide multiple channels for inbound feedback.

7. Set Up New Channels for Inbound Feedback

Some examples of the types of channels you can set up to encourage employee feedback include:

By providing multiple channels, you increase the chance employees will share concerns and also information about protocol violations.

8. Promote New Safety Protocols

If part of your team isn’t working remotely, then it’s your job to enforce security protocols.

That means giving your team all the information they need to perform their job safely without adding to their stress levels.

So don’t make it sterile and forgettable. Promote your safety protocols in a fun way that’s “on-brand” and will click with your employees.

9. Help Your Team Recalibrate Expectations

Although it’s your job to ensure that employees don’t feel anxious, you also need to be forthcoming about what the pandemic might mean for the employee experience now and in the future.

Some companies are putting off raises others are cutting hours, and more. Being transparent about what the business is going through will help your team keep their expectations in line.

Your team will have the confidence to adjust if they see a transparent management that is doing everything to keep the ship afloat. And that confidence will become a huge element in their employee experience.

10. Recognize the Small Things

Now more than ever, your employees need to know that you recognize the work and effort they’re putting in.

Without people showing up to work every day (even if it’s from their living room) your company wouldn’t survive. By fostering an environment where hard work is recognized and praised, you can help your team weather the storm.

Your Leadership Can Make the Biggest Difference

No industry is coming out of the pandemic unscathed. So how good your footing is after everything is said and done will depend on the level of stability instilled into your employee experience during these times.

By fostering transparency, encouraging employee engagement, and by being more empathetic, you can ensure that your team knows you’re on their side.

Photo: Drew Beamer

New Research Indicates Desire for Recognition, Feedback

In the past several months, many companies have modified their performance programs. From streamlining their review processes to running more frequent pulse surveys, organizations around the world are seeking to make changes that will ultimately boost employee performance and productivity.

Our company, Reflektive, sought to measure these changes with a performance management survey. In June we reached out to 445 HR professionals and business leaders, and 622 employees, to understand the current state of their performance programs. We compared these results to a similar survey we ran in 2018. Our 2020 Performance Management Benchmark Report uncovered meaningful performance management trends over the past two years, as well as insights into the current state of work.

Formal Processes of Performance Management Consistent Since 2018

A surprising observation was that the formal processes of performance management have not changed significantly over the last two years. Nearly half of reviews are run annually or less frequently. Forty-six percent of respondents use descriptive performance ratings, such as “meets expectations.” 

People Analytics Present Big Opportunity

The survey also found that only 50% of HR and business leaders are using people analytics to predict performance and turnover. What’s interesting is that most leaders believe that people analytics has become more important, however they’re still not utilizing this technology to inform strategic people decisions. This gap can really impact workforce planning, as organizations struggle to fill needs when employees depart.

Employees Desire More Communication and Transparency from Companies

The employee survey results revealed that workers seek more communication to stay informed and engaged at work. Nearly half of respondents desire more consistent communication from leadership, and 37% said more consistent communication was needed from colleagues. 

In a similar vein, we found that employees sought more transparency from their employers. Only 19% of employees believed that their organization was transparent about upward mobility. Twenty-one percent said their company was communicative about salary freezes, and the same percentage said that their org was transparent about potential pay cuts. Employees are cognizant of the pandemic’s economic toll, and would like their companies to be honest with them about the business impact.

Employees Seek More Feedback and Coaching for their Growth

Another interesting insight we uncovered was that employees want more from their performance programs. Specifically, they’re looking for increased coaching, dialogue and recognition from their managers. Since 2018, there’s been a 3.2X increase in the percentage of employees that desire recognition. We also observed a nearly 90% increase in the percentage of employees that desire formal feedback conversations monthly or more frequently.

A performance bright spot was the manager-employee relationship. Over 80% of employees surveyed said that they are having 1:1s with their managers. Additionally, 80% said that these meetings were productive. This data was really uplifting to me, since driving alignment and communication can be tricky when everyone is working remotely.

However, we did identify a major communication gap: only 20% of employees reported that they receive weekly feedback. So it appears that managers and employees are talking regularly about ongoing work and projects, but employees still aren’t receiving the coaching that they desire. This represents a huge opportunity for managers — they can benefit from training on how to ask important questions, and how to provide valuable feedback on a more regular basis. Performance management technology — including feedback prompts and 1:1 tools — can help drive productive coaching conversations too.

Getting Feedback Remains Challenging for Employees

One interesting discrepancy between leaders and employees was sentiment around initiating feedback conversations. Only 14% of HR professionals and business leaders felt that employees weren’t empowered to initiate feedback conversations. However, 30% of employees — or over 2X the percentage of leaders — felt that they weren’t empowered to request feedback. This discrepancy indicates that HR teams and leaders are overestimating employee comfort with feedback processes. Employee training on giving and receiving feedback, and an easy-to-use feedback tool, can help fill this gap.

Executives and Employees Remain Optimistic for the Future

While sentiment and outlooks are continuously evolving in 2020, both executives and employees remain optimistic about the future. Specifically, executives anticipate more investment in technology (35% of respondents) and more efforts to boost engagement and retain employees (29% of respondents). 

Employees anticipate that six months from now, it will be business as usual (34% of respondents). Additionally, 26% expect to have learned new skills, and 25% believe they’ll feel proud of their accomplishments. Despite the many headwinds that they’re facing, employees feel that they will come out of 2020 stronger and more prepared for the future.

As employees, HR teams, and executives navigate the ever-changing environment, agility and resilience will be crucial. The ability to work productively in different environments, and collaborate cross-functionally, will be highly valued. Companies that maintain engaged and productive workforces will be the success stories of 2020.

This post is sponsored by Reflektive.

Photo: Christina @ wocintechchat.com

The Power of Check-Ins: 7 Proven Strategies

A large component of any work culture is how managers assess and review employee performance and chart progress. Given the remote and hybrid nature of so many workplaces today, the approach is evolving — from top-down, unilateral, formal reviews to more dynamic and continual conversations. We’re seeing an increasing need for transparency and authenticity, and for recognizing how important it is for managers to reach out to employees — not just around a series of tasks accomplished, but around overall contributions to the organization and their own sense of goals and performance. Check-ins enable managers and employees to do just that. They create a framework of interaction and communication through a continuous cycle, and are proving far more effective than traditional reviews. They’re becoming a hallmark of modern talent management, and for good reason. 

Done well, check-ins build a dynamic relationship between manager and employee that increases engagement, enhances employee experience, and organically aligns employee and employer goals. But they need to be conducted not as check-ups, but as two-way interactions focused on trust as well as growth. 

The Value of Trust

For those already doing them right, check-ins with employees are focused on growth, albeit in small doses. It’s not hard to connect a cadence of conversations that include feedback, advice and dialogue to the development of our employees after all. But trust is just as key: all successful relationships are built on trust, especially in today’s workplace. It’s human nature to reject feedback and advice from someone we don’t trust, and that extends readily into the workplace. Without trust, the check-in process would fail before it started.

As with any other HR strategy there are best practices for conducting check-ins, whether from home or the office. Recently I sat down with TalentCulture’s Meghan M. Biro to level-set on seven critical factors that can standardize your check-in strategy — without diminishing either responsiveness or flexibility:   

Approach: Check-ins are not about a top-down, unilateral approach. While the role of managers has always entailed authority and supervision, when it comes to check-ins, managers need to scale back that dynamic. 

Replace the reflex to be assertive with a focus on the employee. Truly understand what makes them tick; this means listening to their thoughts, opinions and concerns and acting on them. Research by the Harvard Business Review shows that the more you listen to employees, the better they think you are at giving feedback, and so the more likely they are to trust what you say. 

Purpose: Check-ins embody a shift in purpose. They depart from the static occasion of traditional reviews to setting up a highly effective and ongoing dynamic geared to building trust and fostering growth. 

Dave Ulrich articulated the shift in his book, Victory Through Organization: “The foundational assumption is that feedback is not a leader’s side-responsibility; it is the leader’s primary work.” Instead of thinking of a check-in as an isolated moment or a mini-performance review, consider it a touchpoint on the employee lifecycle; an interaction that’s part of an ongoing conversation. 

Frequency: Establish a cadence of check-ins that adapts to the circumstance, the context, and the nature of your work culture. Pre-COVID, our advice was to conduct check-ins around every 4 to 6 weeks. But these are uncertain times — and they call for increased communication that’s aligned and consistent with the organizational message, culture and values. The bottom line is that you can’t overcommunicate. 

Your check-ins can take various forms, from a regular update focused on clarification and feedback; to a more comprehensive appraisal of performance (emphasizing personal development and employee contribution); to a marker of key events, such as onboarding, a promotion, a secondment, or even the shift to remote. But don’t do away with ad-hoc check-ins either. Employees and managers should be able to simply initiate a check-in regardless of whether it’s on the calendar. 

Approachability: Both parties should remain open and responsive within the context of a check-in. But that hinges on successfully building that foundation of trust: trust must be in place first in order for both parties to commit effectively. For managers, that means creating a sense of trust in the first place. Two simple ways to build trust: first, make it clear that either the manager or the employee is free to request a check-in at any time, for any reason — whether a formal discussion or a quick catch up. Second, whatever is covered, make it a conversation, in which you combine a review of tasks with questions about overall state of mind, and give the employee plenty of room to answer. Listening to your team members reinforces the fact that check-ins are not an exercise in powerplay, but on the contrary, a forum for two adults to meet on equal terms. 

In my discussion with Meghan, she pointed out the value of flattening the expected hierarchy: “For employees who may be used to taking a passive role in their own professional development, check-ins change the game. Instead of receiving advice and feedback, they get to play a lead role in assessing and guiding their own development.” This means it’s incumbent upon employees to not just discuss how the work is going, but also focus on the direction they want to be heading in, and the skills they need to get there.This dynamic empowers employees, strengthening their performance and loyalty. 

Addressing the whole person: The manager needs to continually remind themselves that the check-in is not just about the job at hand. It’s not about a singular project. It needs to happen with an eye on the bigger picture, and the employee as a whole person, particularly right now. As well as addressing an employee’s performance and contributions, use the check-in time to reinforce a sense of social connection and foster the essential relationships we all need and depend on to work. 

Go beyond this, addressing any safety concerns the employee may have, which are so common as we navigate the minefield of COVID-19. Discuss the future in terms of a trajectory, not a fixed point, including what kinds of skills and behaviors need to be developed and supported. And use deeper questions to address aspects of wellness and health. Employers have a duty of care, and the more we all experience the integration of work and life, the more check-ins can play a helpful role.

Language: This is not just a matter of tone; it’s also a matter of clarity. Managers in particular need to focus on how to clarify and improve their language during check-ins, and be accountable for what you say as well as how to say it. What’s come to the fore during the shift to remote as well as the increased pressure on essential workers is that we need interactions that convey a clear perception of what is expected and how we are performing. 

That should seem a simple matter, but the nature of remote and hybrid working is that we’re communicating across multiple channels that may not deliver the same way as face to face. As Meghan pointed out, “Tone and language are more important than ever, and they’re harder to get right when we’re working virtually.” Managers should purposefully practice conducting check-ins until they’re comfortable enough that the action becomes a habit. 

Measuring the change: Effective check-ins offer two dimensions of measurable  impact over time. There’s the personal impact, or developmental path, and a business impact, or performance/contribution. Managers and leaders have a duty to effectively enable the workforce to achieve a high-high combination, in which both aspects see growth:

We’re been witnessing a sea change in how we work for a while. We’ve seen a shift to teams as the essential unit of operations, as opposed to individuals collected under a supervisor. We’ve seen a new emphasis on democratizing data. Further, there’s been a marked increase in the ability to work remotely. All have raised the bar on what constitutes a great work culture. The situation we find ourselves in now has put the onus on better communication overall, including how we provide feedback to employees, and even whether or not “providing” is the right term. We’re seeing the fruits of allowing both parties to be actively involved in feedback and reviews, and we’re seeing the benefits of grounding these conversations in trust and framing them as a continuing cycle rather than a rare event. 

Check-ins are a powerfully effective tool for inviting employees to own their own growth and contribution in your organization. They provide a means to build and maintain better manager-employee relationships, align around shared goals, and turn the workplace into a high-performing, engaged community.

This post is sponsored by MHR International.

Photo: Aleks Marinkovic

#WorkTrends: Aligning Around Performance Management: New Findings

Listen to the full conversation and see our questions for the upcoming #WorkTrends Twitter Chat. And don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast, so you don’t miss an episode.

How, where, and when we work may have changed, but there still needs to be a way to manage performance. But do employees want that right now? Amid the uncertainty, the answer is yes. Employees are yearning for continuous feedback, according to a 2020 performance management benchmark report by Reflektive, which surveyed over 1,000 HR practitioners, business leaders, and employees. And the feedback process is bolstering the relationship between managers and employers. 

I invited Jennifer Toton, Chief Marketing Officer at Reflektive to #WorkTrends to shed light on this benchmark study and dig into some of the trends it reveals. But as Jennifer pointed out, what was surprising was what didn’t change. The formal process of performance management and the number of reviews are still intact, but the way we give and receive feedback has really evolved. “We saw a 90% increase in employees who want more formal feedback conversations on a monthly or more frequent basis.”  

Also compelling, to me, is that even in these times, employees have retained a sense of optimism. Many believe that six months from the time of the survey, business will remain as usual. A quarter believed they would learn more skills. Another quarter said they would feel proud of the work they accomplished, and about a fifth said that they will feel more productive. “Our employees are resilient and they’re adapting to the change,” added Jennifer. 

Much is up to the managers, though. They must be transparent in their communication, said Jennifer, particularly around salary freezes and pay cuts, as honesty feeds trust. In addition, 80% of employees said they were having regular meetings with their managers, and that they found the format was not only positive, but productive. 

We covered a lot of ground in this discussion, so I encourage you to have a listen for yourself. Got feedback? Feel free to weigh in on Twitter or on LinkedIn. (And make sure to add the #WorkTrends hashtag so others in the TalentCulture community can follow along.)

 Twitter Chat Questions
Q1: Why do organizations struggle with performance management? #WorkTrends
Q2: What strategies can help improve performance management? #WorkTrends
Q3: How can leaders refocus performance management for better results?  #WorkTrends

Find Jennifer Toton on Linkedin and Twitter

This podcast is sponsored by Reflektive.

(Editor’s note: This month, we’re announcing upcoming changes to #WorkTrends podcasts and Twitter chats. To learn about these changes as they unfold, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.)

Photo: Nick Fewings

How to Perfect the Skill of Listening

Coronavirus has changed the way American businesses operate, to say the least. And from work-from-home mandates to reopening strategies to locking down again in the face of virus spikes, it’s taken a toll on effective communication in the workplace. 

Communication is a two-way street. But it’s not just about what we say. As the old saying goes, we have two ears and one mouth — so we ought to be able to listen twice as much as we speak. Or consider the inverse, as Ken Blanchard says: “I often like to joke that if God had wanted us to talk more than listen, he would have given us two mouths.” 

But in reality we aren’t listening very well, and it’s not new news. The Harvard Business Review published a famous article way, way back in 1957 about a study of manufacturing executives in Chicago: it found that listening is a much neglected skill. Benchmark research found that the average listener remembers only about 25% of what they heard, and that number has been repeated in many posts on why we can’t listen, time and time again. Flash forward more than half a century and for all the work on refining and clarifying our message, the weakest point of how we communicate is what we actually hear. Compound that by the fact that so much of our work is happening online and remotely, and it makes the listening part of communication even harder.

But we need to be better listeners, especially now. To be able to actually listen, take in someone else’s points and retain the information is not only better for whatever work process is going on at the moment. It also builds far more trust, promotes empathy, and forges a work culture of engagement and exchange. You can’t tout transparency if there’s no emphasis on listening, either. So here’s a refresher with eight ways to improve your skill at listening now, including some tips that will greatly boost the quality of remote communication:

1. Allow for Silence

Give the person speaking time to pause and collect their own thoughts as they’re talking. Everyone talks with a different style and pace. Some get nervous when they’re talking and tend to need to slow down and clarify for themselves before saying an idea out loud. Some may be broaching a difficult topic and try to circle around it. Listening requires patience and slowing down our own rapid-fire internal thought process: we think faster than we speak. Don’t try to fill in the silences with your own interjections. Let the speaker have the room and the time to say what they need to say.

2. Repeat Back in Your Own Words

Don’t respond to the speaker with your thoughts right away. That’s the default setting for listening, but it’s far more effective to restate their thoughts in your own words. It cements the fact that you understood it — and if you didn’t, they can clarify. For example, start with “I hear you saying that …” and reiterate carefully. Not only do you demonstrate that you are actually listening, but the speaker will, in turn, be more receptive to your point of view knowing you understand theirs.

3. Ask Useful (and Relevant) Questions

Asking useful questions can help you better understand what the other person is saying. To encourage further discussion, make them open-ended prompts that give them the opportunity to further elaborate. Try asking, “What do you think we should do about this?” Asking questions is not about controlling the conversation or pushing back on someone’s perspective. It’s about understanding.

4. Work toward Empathy

We all fear being judged as we talk. Make a concerted effort to truly understand and acknowledge how the other person feels; to put yourself in their shoes. By carefully reiterating their feelings as you understand them, you build empathy and set them at ease.

5. Do a Recap 

We may listen, we may hear, but do we remember? One highly effective way to recall a conversation is to recap what was said. Restate the point of the discussion, and list the action steps each party is going to do in response. This doesn’t need to be word for word, just an overview. And let the person who spoke weigh in, so they’re comfortable with your summary. 

Remote communication has its own set of issues and conditions, including how people behave, multitask, and receive information; and how technology can suddenly go haywire at the worst possible time. These three final tips will help: 

6. Have a Backup Plan for the Tech

Always have a Plan B when it comes to remote meetings and discussions. If the tech you’re depending on happens to fail for whatever reason, you can pick up the thread without a mad scramble. Many of us know the frustration of a 15 minute video call that turns into an ordeal of pixelated video or frozen presentations. Having a backup plan prevents the goal — communication — from being hijacked by tech problems. 

7. Use Names in Remote Meetings

During an in-person meeting, there’s no doubt as to who is speaking or whom they’re speaking to. Online meetings aren’t as clear. Use names when addressing people, and encourage everyone to refer to themselves by name as well. And when you are discussing the points someone made, reiterate who said them to keep everyone on track. 

8. Take Your Time  

Video meetings allow us to see each other but not always discern the nonverbal subtleties that are part of communication. Tiny delays are nevertheless long enough to prevent how we perceive each other’s expressions. Eye contact is altogether different: if we really want to look at someone’s face, we need to stare at the camera, not their face. But people don’t just speak with words. Take the time to consider what’s being said rather than jump in with a response. If you’re not sure of the intent, ask. Virtual is not the same as in the same room. 

Communication is a fundamental part of who we are. At the workplace, it’s critical to be able to listen well, whatever context we’re in. Blanchard encourages all professionals to master the art of listening, but I’d take it one step further: it should be considered a skill, like any other, and we should all endeavor to practice it, especially in these times. A little understanding can go a long way in terms of collaboration, trust, and productivity.

Photo: Petri R

Continuous Listening: Moving Beyond Standard Practices

The second in a two-piece series on Continuous Listening. 

In Part One of my series on Continuous Listening, I looked at the flaws of taking a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to an employee’s development. Continuous Listening and asking the right questions can play a key role in recognizing milestones along each employee’s individual journey, and evaluating their engagement. 

The second part of this series looks at how to move beyond standard practices in order to craft engaging, long-term, and productive employee journeys and ultimately business success for all — and use the Continuous Listening strategy to tackle the challenges now facing our industry. And it’s important to note the value of feedback, as it contributes to the roadmap aimed at improving the organization.  

Applying Continuous Listening strategies before exploring suggestions for decision-makers can greatly improve outcome, and help explore various ways to address a number of HR challenges:

  • HR’s employee insight is segmented. Information is siloed based on the different HR tools used in various milestones, each tool having its own task and interface. Sharing between existing application tools is usually complex and information tends to stay within the boundaries of departments. 
  • Insight is collected from a limited number of sources. This limits HR’s ability to see the big picture and creates a disjointed employee experience. For example, some collection tools are only focused on one feedback channel instead of a combination of direct, indirect and inferred channels. As a result, HR can miss the broader view. 
  • Not enough data types are gathered. HR teams can gather transactional data on existing processes thanks to tools such as applicant tracking systems, HRIS tools, and learning management systems. Who was hired? Into what department? When was the start date? With some advanced analytics, this information can be transformed into predictive models indicating who should be hired in the future. Though sophisticated, these systems miss the heart of the employee experience as they fail to tap into the thoughts and feelings that bind employees to their jobs. Transactional data will never provide insight about personal views and cannot answer questions like: “How engaged is the employee?” or “How loyal do they feel to the brand?” “Are they committed to the mission or just the paycheck?” “What are their long-term aspirations?” Thus, it makes sense to use tools that also focus on evaluative HR processes such as 360 feedback, performance reviews, training evaluations, and engagement surveys. 
  • Most data analyses do not address an employee’s evolution. Data is collected at specific intervals and analyzed with particular timestamps, but understanding how an employee’s data has evolved over time may offer a clearer perspective of the processes that this employee has gone through with the organization. This highlights effective HR interventions to reach higher employee engagement, retention, and success. 

Moving Forward 

Continuous Listening encourages multi-directional communication among employees, managers, administrators and executives. It is designed to work in conjunction with other listening tools deployed at milestones such as performance reviews, annual engagement surveys, training programs, and mentoring programs. With it, HR can compile a more comprehensive picture of the attitudes, feelings, and intentions of the workforce. 

Organizations that are serious about optimizing the engagement of their workforce should look beyond a one-size-fits-all approach, and instead pursue a measurement strategy that incorporates:

  • Gathering evaluative feedback during milestones.
  • Collecting data between events aligned on topics relevant to employees and business goals.
  • Integrating the milestones and Continuous Listening data with fluid, real-time feedback processes to gain a comprehensive and evolving picture of workforce issues. 

Solving a Turnover Problem

Continuous Listening can help solve problems feedback can’t handle alone. Take the example of a large software engineering firm in Silicon Valley: it was experiencing a 50% higher turnover rate among employees who had been there for three or four years. The traditional milestone approach using HRIS data flagged the increase in turnover, but failed to provide any meaningful insight as to its occurrence. An evaluative feedback survey, delivered annually, showed that no one in the cohort had been promoted to a managerial position in the past 18 months. The business unit had adjusted the promotion criteria, delaying qualification by another one or two years to ensure stronger competencies among those being promoted. 

A combination of HRIS data, annual survey results, and Continuous Listening surveys revealed that employees were outraged at the policy changes, and had started looking for jobs elsewhere. Additional results from Continuous Listening surveys illustrated the fact that the 50% who remained were given development experiences and discretionary time to work on special projects — i.e., meaningful incentives to stay despite the prospects of delayed promotion.

These approaches provided substantially different data that, when viewed independently, provided weak explanations for the turnover. But through a holistic strategy, the bigger picture became clear. Using Continuous Listening provided insights earlier, giving leaders the opportunity to intervene sooner.

Feedback Approach Information Uncovered Available Leadership Actions 
Transactional 

Annual Turnover Report from HRIS turnover data 

Turnover is 50% higher. Investigate by launching a survey or conducting interviews.Backfill positions with experienced hires.
Transactional & Evaluative 

Annual Turnover Report

Annual Turnover Survey

Turnover is 50% higher.No one in the 3 – 4 year cohort has been promoted due to a policy change. Create an internal marketing campaign to encourage employees to stay.Change the policy.

Provide incentives to stay.

Continuous Listening 

(Transactional & Evaluative)

Annual Turnover Report

Annual Turnover Survey

Continuous Listening Surveys

Turnover is 50% higher.No one in the 3 – 4 year cohort has been promoted due to a policy change.

After learning of the policy change, outraged employees started looking for other opportunities.

Explain why changes are necessary.Let employees know leaders hear their frustration.

Fund new development events. 

Provide discretionary time to those who stay to work on special projects.

Feedback Matters

Without Continuous Listening efforts and the adoption of innovative technologies, information gaps can grow, increasing risk and uncertainty for decision-makers and the company. Further, effective listening allows leaders to stay informed about workforce perspectives, and it encourages employees to communicate their needs, satisfaction, frustrations, and other points of view in a healthy way. 

The journey begins when HR professionals develop and implement a comprehensive listening strategy across the employee lifecycle. By listening to employees, HR will develop a continuously evolving stream of data to support critical business management decisions. Through understanding which questions to ask and which tools to employ, HR professionals may properly listen and respond to needs. Moving beyond the one-size-fits-all approach enables organizations to craft engaging, long-term, and productive employee journeys — ultimately predicting positive or negative changes before they are likely to occur, thus driving their business toward success.

 

Photo: PCM

Continuous Listening: How to Strengthen Employee Communication

This is the first in a two-piece guest series on Continuous Listening. 

Human Resources departments own many responsibilities that directly contribute to the overall success of a company. According to Sari Levine Wilde, managing vice president of Gartner, “The businesses that are successful today and in the future, will be those that win when it comes to talent…This means helping employees build critical skills and developing employees into leaders.”  One of the burning questions today is how we can achieve that mission. 

Howard Moskowitz, a psychologist in the field of psycho-physics and a renowned market researcher, was hired by PepsiCo to determine the optimal quantity of artificial sweetener for a Diet Pepsi product. He faced a similar challenge, as mentioned by author Malcolm Gladwell in his TED Talk. With the aim of maximizing sales, Moskowitz conducted empirical tests, which provided unexpected results. He examined the data and concluded that there was no such thing as a perfect Diet Pepsi! Due to the multitude of variations between human tastes, Moskowitz found that the best option to maximize the number of sales was by offering a collection of lower calorie flavors along the scale of taste. 

Returning to the HR dilemma, a one-size-fits-all approach to HR is guaranteed to overlook the needs of many employees. More specifically, each employee journey is unique and thus HR must find ways to observe, tune in, and adapt to address individual employees in a more personalized manner.

Disjointed Employee View and Continuous Listening

In order to understand employees and their level of engagement when it comes to business goals, HR must continually gather information by asking questions and listening to employee responses. These standard HR processes currently serve as milestone events for gathering data, but with so many aspects of the employee lifecycle to monitor, it can be difficult to build a comprehensive view of the culture, engagement, retention, and success of employees. The process of data collection is usually transactional, though sometimes there are opportunities to gather evaluative information as well. In this respect, many challenges that HR professionals are faced with when attempting to gather this comprehensive data can be addressed by a strategy known as Continuous Listening. 

Continuous Listening is a methodology grounded in the philosophy that feedback matters all the time — not just once a year during a performance review, or once a year during an engagement survey. Feedback matters even after employees leave an organization and unofficially serve as alumni ambassadors for your brand. It matters because every employee has a unique journey that begins with a handshake and a contract that says, “We will do this for each other.” 

HR organizations that begin gathering evaluative feedback from employees during such milestones will gain valuable insights that leaders can use to better manage the workforce. An added benefit is that once in place, this feedback process can gain further traction as employees witness leaders responding to their feedback. This reinforces more open lines of communication, which is a recipe for future success. For every milestone along the  employee journey milestones, here are some sample evaluative questions that HR should be asking in order to enrich the information that is later provided to company leaders: 

Employee Journey Milestones Sample Evaluative Question 
Recruiting Would your employees recommend your organization to their professional network? 
Onboarding Do your onboarding processes achieve the cultural immersion and integration you need? 
Development Is your development process providing the right knowledge and skills to drive successful employee outcomes in meeting the needs of tomorrow?
Performance Management Is the performance management process identifying, recognizing, and rewarding talent? 
Engagement How much do you really know about your employees’ experiences? Are your efforts encouraging or destroying employee goodwill, motivation, and engagement? How often do you measure employee engagement? Once every two years? Annually? Bi-annually?
Promotion & Career Growth Are you identifying employees with strong potential and directing them toward leadership positions? Is your leadership pipeline full enough to meet resource planning goals?
Compensation & Benefits Is your compensation and benefits plan competitive? Is the plan sufficient to keep high-value employees engaged?
Retention Do you know what motivates your employees’ decisions to stay and grow with your organization, and what motivates them to seek opportunities elsewhere? Are you systematically collecting the data needed to analyze and improve the employee experience from hire to retire? 

Feedback matters because whatever the expression, it contributes to the roadmap aimed at improving the overall organization. By implementing a Continuous Listening strategy, we can begin to explore how to best address specific HR challenges. For that, stay tuned for the second piece in this series. 

 

Creativity Managed: 3 Strategies for Leading Creative Teams

Creativity is only as good as the vision it’s funneled through, and a strong leader is the key to that vision’s viability. That’s what Ed Catmull, president of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, suggested in his 2014 book, “Creativity, Inc.” — an insightful and inspirational work.

Founders and executives innately know that they must lead with confidence and acumen. Still, many of them stumble on the path to nirvana. From bad hires to wishy-washy decision-making, leaders who don’t overcome their challenges doom their people to a lengthy stint in team purgatory.

When our company set out to dismantle creative barriers and strive for team excellence over ease, we used Catmull’s strategies as foundational tenets and helped our people capitalize on their diverse personalities and skill sets. Our journey boiled down to building a team dynamic around two core principles: hiring great people and practicing candid leadership.

Who You Are

Unearthing employees who are true gems takes time and effort, but it pays off in the end. We take extreme care in hiring only the best fits for our company culture. If an otherwise qualified candidate won’t mesh with our team dynamic, we would rather say “no” than risk bad results. As bosses, we’ve all ignored red flags about drama queens or kings, only to kick ourselves later.

By focusing on how new hires will integrate seamlessly into the office climate, you can avoid costly employment errors that only harm the team’s efficiency. Every team has its own rhythm, and putting the wrong instrument into the mix — even for a short amount of time — can be very disruptive.

What You Say

After putting the right people in the right positions, a leader must guide them with candor and respect. In fact, Catmull calls candor a “secret weapon,” meaning that frankness doesn’t equate to flying in hot to every meeting with an agenda or a directive. Instead, use it to set the tone so that when something is important or time-sensitive, your team understands it’s a priority.

Our company quickly learned that authentic conversations promote high-level engagement among our employees and foster more productive meetings. Moreover, transparency puts everyone at ease, allowing ideas to bloom and issues to be resolved quickly and concisely. By taking the time to get to know your team members and allowing them to get to know you, you ensure that everyone’s perceptions will be realistic and that no one will feel patronized by an uncommunicative boss.

 

Lead With Passion and Purpose

You can empower your creative team using these three strategies:

1. Make it personal.

When directing your vision, find a way to truly speak to your teams so they know how they impact the overall success of the company and its projects.

As Catmull notes in one of his chapters, Pixar has taken the concept of communication to an exciting level. Its film studio’s “Notes Day” allows everyone in the organization to spend an entire day evaluating how the company can operate more effectively. This process builds a personal connection between Pixar employees and everything Pixar puts its name on. 

Although most businesses can’t take a full day to work on process improvement like Pixar, they can modify and implement this concept on a smaller scale. Our company hosts biweekly show-and-tell meetings so that we can display our work to others. These meetings instill pride in individual contributors and reveal opportunities for dynamic growth.

2. Be decisive.

Resilient leaders help employees own the choices they make, which encourages them to take bold, smart, and effective steps.

Our system is simple: We start every day with a quick meeting — called a “daily” — overviewing mission-critical items. These dailies make everyone aware of what’s happening in the organization and hold teams accountable for the changes they want to see in their respective departments. They also ensure that there’s not a lot of time for an important decision to sit on the shelf. Even if we make a wrong decision, our resiliency gives our company greater flexibility. We can quickly pivot and move in the right direction, opening the door to time, budget, and opportunity.

3. Show that you listen.

Employees who feel heard have higher levels of job satisfaction and can uncover ways for your organization to evolve. Listening isn’t always easy, especially for leaders who feel stretched. But just as soliciting feedback can show customers that you care, so can devoting some time to your team members.

When we have feedback meetings and postmortems, the collaboration doesn’t stop there. We take a deeper dive into each department’s needs and functions and lean on our teams when overcoming challenges and solving problems. Moreover, we don’t rely solely on annual performance reviews to measure our employees’ happiness. In addition to these reviews, we conduct regular check-ins, sitting down with each individual at least twice per year.

“Creativity, Inc.” helped us evaluate our own teamwork gaps and catalyze the drive of our passionate and talented employees. By taking the time to not only read some of Catmull’s advice but to also investigate your own creativity processes, you may quickly find that building bridges over those chasms is simpler than you thought.

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Top Five Leadership Challenges: How to Overcome Them

There are many challenges that all managers face. Whilst these challenges can arise at any point in a manager’s career, they can be particularly prevalent for newer or first-time managers. We’ve compiled a handy list of these challenges with tips on how to combat them, become the best manager possible, and support your team on their way to success.

Adjusting to the role

First time managers often find it difficult to adapt to taking ownership of their role. It can be particularly difficult managing those who you’re used to working closely with and perhaps have personal relationships with. It’s important to keep these personal relationships separate from workplace practices. You can do this by positioning yourself as an approachable and supportive manager and ensuring that the tough conversations still take place. Remember that giving constructive feedback shouldn’t be seen negatively, but  instead be seen as a way that you can help your team perform at their full potential.

Over managing

Whilst it’s undeniably important to be there for your team, and coach them to make sure you’re getting the best out of them: there’s a fine line between managing a team well and not letting people take on their own work. Your role is to support, so make sure your team has the space to complete their assignments and have some autonomy, whilst helping them make progress as individuals and take ownership of their development. Whether the people you’re mentoring are older, younger, or no matter how long they’ve been in the field, if you are able to guide them through hardships, lead them in the right direction and help them progress in their role or career, then you are succeeding as a mentor and as a manager.

Not giving enough guidance

Whilst over managing people and not providing the space to work can be an issue, the other end of the spectrum is not giving people enough input or guidance. Much as your team likely know what they are working on, as manager it’s up to you to ensure everyone is fully aware of what’s expected of them and how their work aligns and contributes to the wider company goals. If managers are unable to communicate clear guidelines and expectations for their team members, they will of course be unable to take ownership of their work and ultimately less productive. They will also have less motivation and drive to work towards their goals if they are unaware of the impact their work has on the company.

Keep the conversation open

No matter how things are going, it’s key to keep communication frequent and open. Providing constructive feedback is not always the easiest task, but it’s an essential way to ensure your team can develop and really progress within their role. It’s equally important, however, that you also celebrate people’s successes, however big or small. Giving positive feedback to your team when things have gone well or particular team members have shined is key to letting people know they’re valued. It will increase engagement; people will know that their work is recognized and that they’re appreciated. Introducing or optimizing the use of 360-feedback is also a great practice to really keep communication open and useful for everyone.

Embrace upward feedback

Giving feedback aside, it can be difficult, particularly as a newer manager, to receive constructive feedback: it’s not always the easiest to handle, particularly when still adjusting to managerial responsibilities. But it’s important to see such feedback as positive; something which will help you develop in your career and become the best, most supportive and  efficient manager possible. It’s not only key to receive this upward feedback with an open mind, but also to ensure you act upon it appropriately. Following up feedback either by discussing with your team what the next steps are and how they feel things could improve, or by taking the next steps based on people’s feedback really shows your team that you value their input. This will build trust and respect for you and ensure that everyone is on the same page moving forward.

What to share?

Transparency is something greatly appreciated by modern workforces. An employee engagement survey from Harvard Business Review actually found that 70% of those asked said they were most engaged when managers shared continuous updates and insights into company strategy. With many organizations adopting a flatter, less hierarchical approach, and employees taking more ownership of their roles, it’s not so much a case of management being the only ones in the know. Many employees now value transparency and candidness over more traditional practices. And, with an increasing amount of companies taking transparency even further, with salaries made public knowledge, and other less traditional information being disclosed to employees, it’s clear people like to be aware of what’s happening in the company. To be a manager that people trust and feel comfortable with, don’t close yourself off- keep your employees in the loop.

A version of this post was first published on the Impraise blog

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Improve Leadership Training Programs with Manager Feedback

360-degree feedback can bring up a whole host of areas for improvement and goals to be worked towards. Developing based on feedback is important for anyone, regardless of position, experience level or objectives: managers are no exception.

Today major companies don’t simply want people who will listen and carry out: they want creative thinkers who will come up with innovative ideas and solutions. As a result, rather than giving orders, managers must find ways to foster this creativity. This means companies want:

  • Less micromanaging and more autonomy
  • Faster development of new skills
  • Higher employee retention

We explain how the feedback managers receive can establish specific leadership training plans to help improve skills, performance and daily practices to make sure this can all be achieved, and both teams and managers can function in the best way possible, helping both inexperienced or first-time managers and those just looking to take their leadership skills to the next level to improve how they lead their team in this ever-changing modern work environment.

Upward Feedback & where to go with it

Gaining feedback on daily practices, performance and skill sets can be an incredibly useful process. 360-feedback encompasses upward feedback from your team members, helping you to gain perspective from those who work closely with you. Hearing the views of those who work with you every day and have an acute awareness of your leadership style is a great chance to take a step back and re-evaluate. But, of course, once the feedback has been given, the process doesn’t end there. Using feedback for leadership training means that managers are able to work on the specific things that would improve both their leadership qualities and general interactions with their team on both a daily and a long-term basis.

Keep your team!

It’s often said that people don’t quit their jobs, they quit their bosses. If there are multiple issues within a work environment but people generally like their manager, and are satisfied with how they’re being led, they’re less likely to leave their position. Ensuring that managers are not only listening to but acting on the feedback which they receive from their team makes it clear that the team’s views are valued, and means that managers will be able to use the feedback given to communicate with and work more effectively with their team. Managers will be on the road to improvement, and team members will feel both valued and more satisfied, be less likely to leave their position and begin to work more effectively with their managers.

Engagement & Team spirit

After the leadership training has taken place, it’s likely that team morale will increase, communication will improve and employee engagement will be on the rise. It’s not just managers that will improve from leadership training either. Research from the Journal of Business Strategies found that leaders who were able to impact the long-term cohesion of their teams could account for more than 25% of the team’s overall performance. Effective leaders will keep their team communicating well and keep engagement levels up by giving them useful and motivating feedback, and making the organization a positive and impactful place to work.

Using a performance management tool such as a feedback app  has never made it easier for managers to develop. Feedback comes in the form of both real-time updates and reviews where questions can be tailored to find out exactly what skills or traits can be improved. Once feedback is received, it’s collated into an automatic report identifying exactly which skills and practices require focus.

Now it’s time for improvement: continuous feedback that carries on long after the review process gives team members the opportunity to continue the conversation and provide real-time feedback on their manager’s ongoing development. Based on feedback, the best training programs can be devised to develop managers’ skills. Just like your employees, offering regular trainings on key skills will keep managers engaged, motivated to improve their strategies and at the top of their management game!

Summary:

  • Using upward feedback for manager training means team members know their input is valued
  • Successful leaders interact with employees in a way that significantly increases employee engagement and performance
  • Employees communicate better as a team as a result of more effective management
  • Good leadership training based on team feedback will lowers turnover rates

A version of this post was first published on Impraise. 

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The A to Z of Feedback

It’s no secret that feedback is a hugely important in the workplace. Giving and receiving useful feedback is a key part of both personal and organizational development. It impacts individual growth and allows people to work on self-improvement, whilst also pushing people towards organizational goals.

We’ve put together a handy overview: all you need to know about feedback from A-Z.

Anonymous vs non anonymous feedback

It’s important to decide whether feedback conducted with a tool should be anonymous or have names attached. There are perks to both: with anonymous, particularly upward feedback sometimes people feel they can be more honest with their responses, whereas non-anonymous keeps the conversation open, allowing for easier follow-ups. It’s important for you to decide which option your organization feels will benefit your feedback process the most and help your team work most effectively.

Biases & Performance Reviews

Conducting performance reviews is a helpful process when it’s as objective as possible. Unfortunately there are some biases, which can affect the credibility of reviews when not handled well. Biases such as the halo/horn effects, primacy & recency effects and stereotyping can impact on how people conduct reviews and can have a huge difference on the feedback people give out, and make reviews less valid.

Carol Dweck & The “Growth Mindset”

Psychologist Carol Dweck talks about mindset, specifically a ‘growth’ mindset compared to a fixed one. In terms of receiving feedback, mindset can make a huge difference. People with a fixed mindset see their intelligence and personality as unchangeable, so are more likely to respond emotionally to constructive feedback as it’s like a personal insult. Those with growth mindsets will instead see feedback as an opportunity to develop and improve their skill sets. However, it’s important to keep in mind that people can change their mindset through practice.

Deloitte

This year, professional services network Deloitte joined the ever-growing list of companies ditching the annual performance review in favor of more effective practices. The company places emphasis on really ensuring that more regular feedback is of use and helps employees to develop.

Engagement & Feedback Culture

How engaged people are at work can make a huge difference to their productivity, motivation and happiness levels at work. Creating a workplace culture that embraces the importance of honest, real-time feedback can make a huge difference in the way people perceive their life and role within the organization. Open, honest communication amongst all employees not only means people have useful feedback to help them improve, but also that there is a feeling of trust and respect in the workplace. Implementing a great feedback culture will improve engagement in the sense it makes people feel they can offer input without judgement or backlash, and really help the company on its path to success.

Follow ups

No feedback process is complete without a follow-up conversation. Making use of people’s input means the whole process has a useful outcome. It can be effective to schedule follow-up meetings or simply make time to discuss feedback over coffee once people have had time to digest what’s been said. This means not only will wires not be crossed but that discussions as to how to best use the feedback given can take place, allowing for people to develop and work more effectively.

Goals

It’s important for a number of reasons to have goals to reach towards. Using feedback to help create goals can be a really useful process which means you take away key points and use them to establish your focuses for the next month, quarter or year, making the feedback process even more useful.

Honesty

An open feedback culture creates a working environment where people feel they can have an honest conversation with their co-workers without fear of backlash. It’s a key part of maintaining a work culture which makes people feel comfortable and actively helps everyone improve and develop at the same time. If people are used to being honest with one another, giving open praise when applicable and constructive feedback when it’s needed, it makes for a productive, comfortable and constantly improving work environment.

Improves skill sets

After 360-reviews, there can be patterns in people’s feedback. For example if all of someone’s co-workers mention that they lack a certain skill or could improve in one specific area, it’s time to start working on those skill sets! Having specific skills to work on makes post-feedback development way easier and provides a good focus.

Juniper: No more performance ratings & reviews

Juniper completely revamped their performance review process.  And they did something right: the changes they made resulted in 82 percent of employees feeling that their reviews were now valuable. The company eliminated ranking and instead just aims for employees to meet expectations of four performance elements, really put focus on people’s purpose and individual achievements and how feedback can impact future performance.

KPIs

A key part of performance management is setting useful goals for team members. Using company KPIs to create goals can be a great practice, as it ensures people are on track not only to individual achievements, but that those accomplishments align with organizational goals.

Leadership development

Having upward feedback in place is a great place to start in terms of leadership development. Managers receiving feedback means they are given an opportunity for development that they otherwise may not have had. Gaining feedback from team-members is a valuable opportunity to improve as a leader and ensure they way you interact with your team is as beneficial as possible for everyone.

Millennials

With modern workforces being made up of a large amount of millennials, real-time feedback is more needed than ever. Millennials generally value more frequent feedback than previous generations and prefer to be updated on things in real-time, rather than having to wait for scheduled times to discuss their progress or achievements.

Not personal

It’s important to separate feedback from your personal relationships with co-workers, particularly constructive feedback. Whether giving or receiving it, it’s key to approach feedback as something which aids performance and development, not as a personal attack.

Ongoing process

Feedback should be a process, not an event. Approaching it as something which happens yearly only as a performance review, or stops outside of scheduled meetings means it becomes a task, not an ingrained part of company culture and can mean people become less willing to engage with it. Ensuring that feedback is a regular part of people’s working day is the key to making it useful, whether through use of a real-time feedback tool, regular 1-on-1’s with managers, or simply encouraging a culture where employees give open praise and are receptive to constructive comments.

Professional development

Using feedback to create goals keeps a clear focus and keeps feedback useful. Setting professional development goals is a great way to ensure continued development and growth and an ongoing sense of direction outside of just day-to-day accomplishments.

Questions

Asking your team members for their feedback is one great step towards having a feedback culture which works. But it’s also important to ask them questions to follow up or add to the feedback you’ve already received from them. Ask people for their opinions on changing practices within the company, follow up the feedback they’ve given you by asking how they think you can use it to further improve, and generally let your team know that you value their input.

Real time

Feedback is most useful when it’s conducted within a useful time scale. It’s not so beneficial hearing that something could have been improved 6 months after it took place: discussing things in real-time means that actionable solutions can be found and feedback can actually be useful in establishing what can be improved.

SMART goals

Using feedback to establish goals for the upcoming period is an especially useful practice when you create SMART goals (ones that are specific, measurable, assignable, realistic and timely.) SMART goals mean that you have a great focus going forward and have something to strive towards that is useful and within reach, without being overwhelming or unobtainable.

Three-sixty

360-degree feedback is on the rise in the modern workplace. And for good reason. Simply receiving input from managers is no longer enough. Getting an all-round perspective by gaining input from those you work closely with makes so much more sense in terms of being able to actively use feedback to improve.

Upward feedback

An important part of 360-feedback is that it includes upward feedback: people are able to provide feedback to their managers and supervisors. This is a great opportunity as a manager to gain insight that otherwise wouldn’t be available with a conventional top-down only feedback process. Giving team members the opportunity to express their views and suggestions to managers means not only do people feel more involved and valued, but also that everyone, managers included, gets the chance to receive and respond to both positive and constructive feedback which helps them improve in their role.

Value your team

It’s so important for people to know their work is valued and appreciated. Having a real-time feedback culture in place that means people get regular, timely updates on their work and achievements not only means room for improvement when constructive feedback is given, but also that people get to hear regular praise and appreciation when things go well.

Weekly meetings

While it’s a great practice to schedule meetings after performance reviews or when periodic feedback has been given, it’s also great to engage in weekly meetings with your team, either as a group or on a 1-on-1 basis to discuss any issues that have arisen, publicly praise what’s gone well and keep up to date with people’s progress and development.

toXic feedback

Whilst giving constructive feedback is useful for development, when toxic feedback finds its way into the mix that’s where things can go wrong. It’s important to acknowledge the difference between and separate constructive feedback from toxic feedback which will not benefit you and your development.

Yearly performance reviews: a thing of the past

Annual performance reviews are now widely accepted as a fairly useless practice. A conversation which only involves one manager and takes place once a year doesn’t make too much sense when it comes to being able to use feedback to improve daily practices and performance. Viewing feedback instead as an ongoing process which helps evaluate things shortly after they happen is way more useful and effective.

Zenger Folkman research

Research from Zenger Folkman found that 74 percent of people who received constructive or negative feedback were already aware of the problem raised and were not surprised it had been brought up. Keeping the conversation open with employees can make the difference between a team of people who are aware of their issues in the workplace but are unaware how to tackle them, and one which is on track to improving and overcoming issues and difficulties.

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7 Ways Managers Can Build Trust in the Workplace

How many people trust their managers? A recent study by Edelman found that one in three employees don’t trust their employer. Another study by EY found that number to be even lower, with only 46% having trust in their organization, and 49% in their boss/team. Trust is one of the most important things you need in the workplace. Without it you won’t have the environment you need for an effective feedback culture to grow. So how can you help close the trust gap between employees and managers?

  1. Honesty is the best policy

It may be hard to share difficult news sometimes. We naturally have a tendency to believe that delivering bad news will impact other people’s opinion of ourselves. In fact, a recent article by Forbes addressed a reader’s question about how to deal with a boss who lies to avoid answering difficult questions from employees.

Being honest, even during tough times, is something the most trustworthy leaders learn how to do. Whether your company hasn’t met its goals and is unable to award bonuses this year, or you’ve decided to let go of a member of your team. Rather than putting off the difficult talk, employees will respect a manager who is able to openly explain the situation, take questions and give them the facts.

  1. Admit mistakes

While being transparent about bad news is difficult, admitting when it’s you who’s made a mistake can be even more difficult. You may be surprised to find that employees will like you more for it. Admitting mistakes actually makes you more human and thereby more likeable to others. Psychologists call this the Pratfall effect. Being able to admit to and take responsibility for your mistakes is a major part of being a great leader.

  1. Treat employees like people, not numbers

It’s easy to get lost in the numbers. If your job is based on meeting certain performance metrics, managers can often get in the habit of seeing their employees in terms of output achieved.

Managers don’t have to be their employee’s best friend, but they should be conscious of maintaining a healthy work environment. Managers who encourage extreme competition between peers and late hours are going to end up creating a toxic work culture in which employees don’t trust their manager or each other.

You don’t have to know all the details of your employees’ personal lives, but managers should have a good understanding of what their employees enjoy about their job most. If you’re able to pick up on what your employee’s need to do their best, they’ll go the extra mile for you.

  1. Give credit to your employees

As the team leader, you will often receive recognition from your peers and upper management for your team’s efforts. Make sure you share appreciation and acknowledge your team members for their hard work. A recent study by Globoforce showed that employees who received recognition from their leaders recently were significantly more likely to trust them (82% vs 48%).

  1. Put yourself on the line for your team

To gain trust, managers must be their team’s best advocate. While inwardly you may have constructive feedback for your team about the way they approached an assignment, outwardly you must be willing to praise, advocate and take responsibility for your team’s actions. When team members make a mistake it may seem common sense to distance one’s self. This may maintain your reputation, but it won’t win you your team’s trust. This is a difficult balance that each manager will have to maintain on their own, but having a team that is highly committed to you will help you achieve the results you want in the long run.

  1. Teach your managers how to overcome bias

It’s not that managers are inherently biased, as people we have a natural tendency to make assumptions about others. This can result in managers unintentionally favoring some employees over others, known by psychologists as the ‘rater bias’. Unconscious bias contributes to a major loss in trust between managers and employees, especially when it affects performance reviews. Help managers learn how to identify and avoid bias in the workplace.

  1. Make yourself vulnerable. Ask for feedback.

Trust isn’t the magic key to workplace bliss. Issues will always arise at work, but closing the trust gap means employees will be more likely to really take on and reflect on feedback from their managers and be more honest when they give upward feedback. As more and more employees are publicizing their complaints about their employer on Glassdoor, you want a workforce that feels free and comfortable to express concerns before they boil over onto the internet.

But to gain this type of trust, managers must first demonstrate they’re willing to open themselves up to criticism. If they truly start to put themselves out there and ask for employee feedback, their reports will recognize this and start to follow their example.

A version of this post was first published on impraise.com.

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When is Consensus a Bad Thing? The Three Stooges on Dissension

In a society where people have the right to voice their opinions, a leader’s role is often to find consensus. On the occasion when everyone agrees, it’s tempting to sigh in relief and start happy hour a little early. If this is the case, fight the temptation; your lack of conflict is a drawback.

Successful organizations need dissent. That’s why I want a little Three Stooges on my team. Who better demonstrates the bickering, questioning, and debating that a healthy team requires? If you look beyond the physical attacks, Larry, Moe, and Curly/Shemp hold each other accountable. They avoid groupthink, the faulty decision making created by group pressures, and analyze all sides of a problem before settling on a solution. Their plans don’t typically work out, but imagine how prosperous they’d be with 20 more IQ points.

To encourage the dissension necessary for a high performing team, a new paper to be published in The Proceedings of The Royal Society A investigated the idea of paradox of unanimity. When groups of people unanimously agree, it’s assumed they cannot all be wrong; after all, what are the odds that the masses will find total accord? The paradox of unanimity states that this confidence in unity is ill-founded.

Overwhelming agreement without a dissenting opinion actually weakens credibility and points to a systemic error in the system. The researchers demonstrated this paradox in a police line-up where witnesses were tasked with identifying a suspect. The study found that as the number of unanimously agreeing witnesses increased, the chance of them being correct decreased until it was no better than a random guess.

“As with most ‘paradoxes,’ it is not that our intuition is necessarily bad, but that our intuition has been badly informed. In these cases, we are surprised because we simply aren’t generally aware that identification rates by witnesses are in fact so poor.” — Derek Abbott, probability expert from the University of Adelaide

In some cases, large, unanimous agreement is expected, but only when there is little room for bias. For instance, when witnesses must identify an apple in a line-up of bananas, it is nearly impossible to be incorrect. However, a criminal line-up is more complicated than identifying pieces of fruit. Misidentification rates are as high as 48% especially when witnesses only briefly view the perpetrator.

The paradox of unanimity is common in the workplace, as well, and we may be unintentionally propagating it. In today’s work environment, there’s a popular notion that decisions should be unanimous. I’ve sat through many meetings where a bold idea is whittled away to gain consensus. Since the company message states that dissenting voices are welcome, the meeting tackles each aspect of the plan point by point. When someone disagrees, the team has to convince the dissenters otherwise or scrap that section of the plan. The end product is often inferior to what you started with and lacks the intended impact, BUT everyone is in agreement.

If you find yourself on the endless search for agreement, stop. The leadership role involves making tough decisions. Survey those on your team and then create an educated resolution. Not everyone will agree, and nor should they—if everyone agrees with every decision you make, your decisions are too broad, are inconsequential, or you’re pandering.

A culture of consent is a culture of either complacency, fear of change, or a lack of engagement, so instill some Stooge into your team. Swing your proverbial frying pan to encourage discourse. Poke others in their metaphoric eyes to extract feedback from the meek. Throw your oratorical cream pies to find areas of debate. And allegorically slap the team into expressing their sincere opinions without fear of retribution or judgment.

photo credit: The Three Stooges via photopin (license)

Overcoming the Fear of Feedback

Mary considers herself to be a good manager. Whenever one of her employee’s is struggling with an assignment she swoops in to help them put things into order and give pointers. Her company is now introducing a new 360-degree performance management system based on continuous feedback and, as a manager, she’s been encouraged to lead the transition by asking for feedback from her team first. She’s excited about this new change because she thinks it’ll help a few of her team members to open up more and resolve conflicts amongst each other.

However, when she receives her feedback, she’s surprised to find that several people said she needed to let go more and allow people to work out assignments in their own way. One person even used the term ‘micromanaging’. Even though she’s supposed to be setting an example, her first reaction is to get angry. She sets aside a lot of time to help her employees solve problems and only gets criticism in return. She’s now supposed to act on the feedback she receives in order to encourage employees to do the same, but she’s still feeling betrayed.

Most people have difficulties receiving feedback well. For others, the only thing worse than receiving constructive feedback is giving it. When given correctly, feedback is not meant to harm or criticize people, but meant as a way to improve. Even if we know feedback is good for us, what’s holding you back from accepting and sharing it with others? The answers might all be in your head.

What are the psychological factors that make us afraid of feedback?

The most common answer is our body’s natural negativity bias. Prominent psychologists and neurobiologists have found that our brains are hardwired to react to negative stimuli faster. This was originally necessary for our survival. Sensing an attack would trigger our body’s natural fight or flight mode, increasing the amount of hormones released to the bloodstream, elevating reaction time and heightening our emotions. The experiences that trigger these reactions become etched into our brain so that we can react to dangerous situations faster. This is why we tend to remember negative experiences more than positive ones.

However, in an office setting our negativity bias and flight or flight reaction can actually work against us. Even when receiving mostly positive feedback, it tends to be the constructive feedback that we recall most acutely. Though feedback doesn’t constitute a physical attack, in their separate research Psychologist Peter Gray and Management Professor Neal Ashkanasy both explain that criticism can signal a sense of exclusion. In hunter-gatherer societies people were dependent on the group for survival. For this reason, constructive feedback can sometimes trigger our fear of exclusion from the group.

Is fear of giving feedback more about yourself than others?

In fact, this is also relevant to giving feedback. A study by Dr. Carla Jefferies of the University of Southern Queensland discovered that a failure to give constructive feedback may actually be more about protecting ourselves than others. In her experiment, participants were told to give feedback on an essay either face to face, anonymously or to give feedback that would not be shared with the author.

She found that participants with lower self-esteem gave more positive feedback face to face and more critical feedback in the other two situations. People with high self-esteem gave the same feedback in all situations. According to a researcher on her team, “If one accepts that people with relatively low self-esteem are expected to place greater emphasis on wanting to be perceived as likeable or attractive to others, then this lends support for the self-protection motive.”

Supporting this research, a study conducted by leadership development consultancy Zenger/Folkman found that 74% of employees who received constructive feedback already knew there was a problem. This shows that employees aren’t necessarily blind to the things they need to improve, they just either aren’t sure how to improve or aren’t fully aware of the impact on the rest of the team. In fact, in their previous research, they found that a majority of employees actually want constructive feedback.

However, the caveat is that people don’t want to receive top down instructions on what to do. In their study, they also found that the more managers carefully listened to their employee’s point of view before giving feedback, the more honest and trustworthy their feedback was perceived. Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman suggest that the best way to give constructive feedback is to first give the other person the chance to explain the situation and what they think went wrong. Before immediately going into feedback, first allow them to formulate their own plan of action. If you listen carefully up to this point, when you give your own feedback it is much more likely to be well received. Finally, offer to check in the following week so that you can lend further advice if needed, without seeming overbearing. For more information on how to give constructive feedback see here. So what are we still so afraid of?

Changing your mindset

Stanford Professor Carol Dweck’s studies into what she terms ‘fixed and growth mindsets’ also provide valuable insights into this fear. According to her research, people with fixed mindsets view their skills as constant personal traits, while people with growth mindsets view their skills as malleable abilities which can be improved. For example, children who have been praised for being smart throughout their lives may face difficulties improving after receiving a bad grade on an exam. However, children who have been praised for getting good grades based on their hard work and dedication are more likely to see a bad grade as an opportunity to learn more.

When we associate abilities with a part of our identity, receiving constructive criticism can feel more like a personal attack. People with growth mindsets, on the other hand, are more likely to take risks and overcome obstacles by seeing failure as a signal to try harder, rather than time to give up.

The good news is that we are not naturally divided into fixed and growth mindsets. Developing a growth mindset towards feedback is possible. According to Dweck, the first step is recognizing your fixed mindset “voice”. When you start placing blame on others for the feedback you receive, this is your fixed mindset speaking. Once you recognize this voice you can begin counteracting it and responding with a growth mindset. See Dweck’s TEDTalk, ‘The power of believing that you can improve’, for more inspiration.

Overcoming fear of feedback through habit

An important part of overcoming your fear is creating a feedback habit. In Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, he describes how neuroscientists and psychologists discovered the impact of habits on rewiring the brain towards certain behaviors. Marketers and CEOs have used the key elements of creating a habit – cue, routine and reward – to induce certain behaviors in consumers and employees. Duhigg contends that by creating a routine and reward system triggered by certain cues, we can rewire our brain to create new habits and behaviors.

If you want to start exercising more, leaving your running clothes next to your bed will trigger a cue to go for a run in the morning. If you get into the routine of going for a run every morning your body gets used to the routine. The incentive can be a reward, such as having a big breakfast when you get home. Eventually, the habit kicks in and your body will become accustomed to going for a run when you wake up, even if you forget to leave your running clothes out or don’t have time for an elaborate breakfast.

One example he gives is Starbuck’s success in teaching employees how to navigate difficult situations with customers. In Duhigg’s book he introduces Travis, a manager of two successful Starbucks locations, who attributes his professional success to Starbuck’s lifeskills training program. In his previous jobs, Travis had difficulties dealing with angry customers. Rather than dealing with the situation calmly, he would be overcome with emotion and argue back, making it difficult to hold down a steady job. When he began working as a barista at Starbucks he entered into its education training program.

The company’s main focus is providing great customer service, and it found that the best way to do this was to ensure its workers received training on life skills such as managing emotions, how to stay organized and focused and, most importantly for Travis, willpower. Through these trainings Travis was able to master his emotions by creating go to habits for different situations that could arise at work. For example, the LATTE method is used to deal with difficult customers:

Listen to the customer

Acknowledge the problem

Take problem-solving action

Thank them

Explain why the problem occurred

The program encourages employees to imagine difficult situations with customers, decide how they would react in advance and practice through role play. By having a set routine in place, Travis was able to overcome his emotional response to angry customers. As soon as he receives the cue, a complaining customer, he dives into his routine allowing him to stay level headed. Since instituting this program, Starbuck’s revenue increased by $1 billion. See Duhigg’s thought-provoking TEDTalk detailing more insights from his book.

Creating a feedback habit

You can also use this method to create a feedback habit in your company. Amongst our clients we’ve observed that as employees share more and more feedback through Impraise, they begin to develop feedback behaviors. As the habit forms, people become more comfortable expressing feedback face-to-face. In our biggest client company, a major hotel booking platform, we’ve seen this lead to an increase in the exchange of unsolicited feedback and better professional development conversations.

Utilizing their employees’ affinity for games, a gaming company we work with has created a reward system in which people vote for the best feedback they were given, resulting in a bonus for the top contributor.

When creating your own feedback habit keep in mind these three elements to habit forming. For example, your steps could be:

Cue – Receiving a feedback notification from a colleague

Routine

  1. Analyze the feedback,
  2. Ask questions to better understand
  3. Thank them
  4. Strategize ways to improve based on your feedback
  5. Set goals for yourself based on these strategies

Reward – Using the feedback to reach the professional goals you’ve set for yourself

To put this into context we’ll go back to Mary, the manager who just received surprising constructive feedback from her employees. When her thoughts of betrayal and exclusion start to set in, she should recognize her fixed mindset voice and respond: “It’s not that my employees are ungrateful for my help, they just want more opportunities to grow professionally.”

Following these steps, after receiving her cue, feedback notifications on her real-time feedback platform, Mary should automatically read through them and write down keywords and patterns she sees. She should then respond to her feedback in order to fill in the gaps: “What can I do to better support you when you reach an obstacle?” Finish by thanking them for their feedback.

Based on their answers, it’s time to come up with strategies for improvement. Maybe her employees would like her to first ask if they need her help. When they do ask for help, she can make sure to adjust her language and tone, so that she’s sure to provide suggestions rather than instructions. She should also consider offering individuals opportunities to take on more responsibilities. For example, suggesting that an employee take the lead on a new project. Another option is committing to having more regular one-on-ones with her employees, so she can check in and offer her assistance when needed.

Finally, Mary can set her professional goals around this feedback: “Becoming a better leader by providing more autonomy to my employees”. Mary should then check in from time to time and ask her employees for feedback on her management style and what she could do to more effectively reach her goals.

A version of this post was first published on the Impraise blog.

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Four Tips for Measuring Employee Engagement

Employee engagement is all the buzz, and rightfully so. When employees are engaged, they adopt the vision, values, and purpose of the organization they work for. They become passionate contributors, innovating problem solvers, and stunning colleagues. High-performing employees want to work in places like that. Smart employers want to cultivate that kind of environment.

So What is Employee Engagement, Exactly?

When employees are engaged, they’re satisfied and look forward to going to work. Engaged employees have a sense of meaning and purpose, and they’re proud of the organization, recommending products – and even employment – to their friends and family. They enjoy an environment where they can do their best work, so it’s not surprising that they plan to stay for at least two more years and they give extra effort to help their employer succeed.

While employee engagement is a relatively new concept, making its debut in the 1990s, the idea that employees can make more of an impact at work when they are engaged seems simple. All the same, various studies project that only 30 – 40 percent of U.S. employees are engaged. That means that the majority of employees in the U.S. are showing up to work disengaged. They’re not poised to put in extra effort for success. They don’t like going to work most days. They’re unlikely to recommend the products of, or employment with, their employer. The question every employer must ask itself is, “should employee engagement be central to our strategy for success?” If the answer is yes, then the first step you must take is to measure employee engagement at your organization.

Four Tips for Measuring Employee Engagement

Follow these four steps to generate reliable employee feedback data, the kind you can do action planning around.

  1. Use a Research Firm

The measurement of employee attitudes should always be conducted by a reputable third-party research firm, preferably one that specializes in employee engagement research. While there are many reasons for this, perhaps the most important is the protection of respondent confidentiality. Ultimately a subjective experience, the feeling of anonymity is what makes respondents uninhibited in their survey responses. Even if you know which questions to ask and how to generate actionable reporting, your ability to trust your reports hinges entirely on the validity of response data. If you hope to take action as a result of your reports, hire an outside firm.

  1. Don’t Just Measure Engagement. Measure Satisfaction, Too.

Second, measuring engagement is not enough on its own. Without the measurement of employee satisfaction, it’s impossible to determine why employees may or may not be engaged. For this reason, a well-rounded survey with core focus areas of both satisfaction and engagement is critical to your success.

  1. Have a Plan for Communication Before You Begin

No matter what kind of feedback you collect, outline a communication plan before you begin. Consider the following questions, as you map out your strategy. Will your top executive send out an email/video/note-with-pay-checks to emphasize the importance of employee attitudes? Will you be sharing findings at the upcoming annual meeting? How will the feedback affect employees? Will they be called upon to take further action?

  1. Enjoy the Ride

This process isn’t about being perfect; and it’s definitely not about being perfect before you survey. Over the years, we’ve talked with countless employers who wanted badly to get their hands on employee feedback, but were afraid to ask. Both Aristotle and Mary Poppins said, “well begun is half done.” Follow their advice. Congratulate yourselves on your boldness, as you take this important step of measuring employee engagement and satisfaction.

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3 Performance Indicators That Will Make Or Break Your Company

Want to find out how your business is performing? Setting and analyzing performance indicators for your company is the best way to forecast and get on track with your business goals. Creating KPIs or Key Performance Indicators will help you measure your company’s success. The question is what to focus on? How you measure performance says a lot about your company’s objectives.

Common Types of Indicators

There are two common types of performance indicators: financial and customer focused.

Financial indicators are the most commonly used metrics for performance including: revenue growth rate, net profit, return on investment, among others. In terms of employee performance these are often quantified using output related measurements. These can be useful for growing your company’s finances but companies that focus solely on profit related indicators often face an innovation problem.

A focus on financial goals can put pressure on managers to focus on short term profitability over creativity. Financial indicators also don’t provide a full picture of a company’s performance. Rather than taking risks on new ideas, these companies can become known for creating ‘one hit wonders’ that sell and repackaging past successes. Eventually, quality and customer satisfaction can become compromised and employee motivation drops.

Microsoft learned this lesson at the expense of its top spot in the tech world. Originally a leader in cutting edge technology, after 2000 it began slipping in the rankings against companies like Google and Apple with its inability to keep up with new trends. As these companies began producing paradigm shifting products like the iPhone and Google Maps, Microsoft continued to survive off of its updated versions of Windows Office. Financial indicators demonstrated the company’s shift in popularity but not the contributing factors.

Internally, Microsoft had taken a cut throat approach to performance management called stack ranking. In this system employees were ranked according to their performance, with the top being put in line for promotions and the bottom 5-10% being shown the door. Rather than boosting productivity, this system merely increased competition and discouraged teamwork. Ultimately, instead of being encouraged to collaborate on new ideas, employees had to focus on gaining favor to survive.

Customer success indicators are increasingly seen as the most important performance metric. Some of the main customer centered KPIs include: conversion rate, customer retention, Net Promoter Score (NPS), etc. Due to differing objectives, companies that focus on customer centered indicators focus more on gaining a loyal customer base by producing great quality products, utilizing different marketing techniques and emphasizing a strong customer support service.

An example of this is Riot Games’ ‘Free To Play’ games which helped them to gain a loyal customer base by allowing gamers to play some of their best games for free online. Zappos’ customer service is famous for providing unsatisfied customers with gifts and free shoes to improve their customer experience. Creating a customer service culture is an essential part of their business strategy and the focus of CEO Tony Hsieh’s book Delivering Happiness.

However, for companies that don’t take off straight away, the money and time put into each product can lead to slower profit generation and financial instability. Furthermore, while customer satisfaction is an extremely important key to success, what customers ultimately want are state-of-the-art products. Though customer focused indicators can help you build a loyal client base, they do not necessarily solve a company’s innovation problems.

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 8.44.55 PMCompanies should use a combination of both financial and customer focused indicators but there is a third key measurement which is essential to meeting your company’s goals.

Why employee centered indicators are so important

More and more companies are beginning to realize the importance of employee centered metrics. These types of indicators include: employee engagement, satisfaction and turnover.

Studies show that higher employee engagement is linked to higher customer satisfaction. When employees are happy at work and believe in their product/company this comes across to customers. Gallup revealed that companies with high employee engagement levels outperformed companies with lower levels of engagement in customer ratings by 10%.

Engaged employees take less sick days. A study by Workplace Research Foundation found that engaged employees take an average of 2.69 sick days annually compared to disengaged employees who take an average of 6.19 days. Most important, they’re motivated to achieve more. Gallup’s study also showed that engaged companies outperform others in productivity by 21% and profitability by 22%.

In fact, the treatment of employees is also an important factor for consumers. Deloittes 2015 study on millennials revealed that this generation considers the treatment of employees as the top characteristic of industry leaders, even over profit generation and impact on overall society. Furthermore, “While they believe the pursuit of profit is important, that pursuit needs to be accompanied by a sense of purpose, by efforts to create innovative products or services and, above all, by consideration of individuals as employees and members of society.”

Companies that have employee centered strategies are also more likely to foster innovative environments that promote autonomy and employee ownership. Atlassian became famous for its ‘Shipit days during which it actually encourages employees to drop their work and spend twenty-four hours on a creative project of their choice. Allowing employees the freedom to try out new ideas sounds like a great financial risk but it turned out to have great returns. The projects developed during these sessions have resulted in some of the company’s most profit generating products. Atlassian not only dominates Australia’s tech industry, it has also been named the best company to work for the past two years in a row.

More and more companies have started focusing on an employee first strategy:

In an interview with Inc. Virgin Atlantic CEO Richard Branson disclosed that the company puts staff first, customers second and stakeholders third. He explains, “If the person who works at your company is not appreciated, they are not going to do things with a smile.” Southwest Airlines, the company consistently reaching the top 10 in employee and customer satisfaction surveys, follows the same ideology. The company does this by motivating employees through its company values and creating an environment that regularly recognizes employees for going above and beyond.

Southwest Airlines follows the same strategy. Founder Herb Kelleher posited, “A motivated employee treats the customer well. A customer is happy so they’ll keep coming back, which pleases the shareholder. It’s just the way it works… They can buy all the physical things. The things you can’t buy are dedication, devotion, loyalty—the feeling that you are participating in a crusade.”

A version of this post was first published on the impraise.com blog.

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Photo: Celpax

Increase Employee Engagement by Making Them Feel Valued

Smart leadership realizes that to increase employee engagement and productivity across their workforce you must look beyond salary, benefits, and an occasional free pizza. Today’s employees want to feel valued.

A savvy manager knows that today’s employees (not just Millennials) place a high emphasis on being:

  • Important to the team.
  • Entrusted with information.
  • Empowered to make a difference.
  • Provided cooperative feedback and mentorship.
  • Given appropriate recognition and reward.

A 2012 study by the American Psychological Association (APA) reported the following comparisons of those who feel valued against those who don’t:

  • Those who report feeling valued by their employer are significantly more likely to be motivated to do their very best (93 percent vs. 33 percent).
  • They are also more likely to recommend their workplace to others (85 percent vs. 19 percent).
  • Those who do not feel valued are significantly more likely to seek new employment within 12 months (50 percent vs. 21 percent).

Statistically, more than nine out of 10 of employees who feel valued will channel those emotions into an enthusiasm and drive for maximum productivity and quality. So everyone wins.

The following suggestions will help you and your managers express your appreciation for your employees’ value to the organization:

Discover Their Motivations

Don’t assume you know what makes someone tick and don’t make yourself the reference point for others. People like different things:

  • Some like public recognition, while others prefer a personal thank-you.
  • Some want more responsibility for a job well done, while others simply want more of what they have received in the past.
  • Some want a day off to spend time with family, while others prefer a $100 gift card for the local electronics store.

When you connect with someone on a personal level the trust and respect factors increase exponentially—as does the desire to perform at an even higher level.

Participate in Proactive and Frequent ‘Two-Way’ Feedback

Without regular feedback and direction, employees will form assumptions of how they are performing to meet business needs. These may be inaccurate assumptions. Encourage your managers and employees to meet at least every two weeks to discuss the ideas, successes, challenges, and any other concerns they may have.

When you’re giving feedback, try to avoid phrases like “You should” or “Why don’t you?” since you may sound like you are laying blame. Instead, invite feedback from the other party (see what we are doing here) by asking something like “What needs to happen so we can …?”

Remember, clumsy wording can ruin well-intentioned feedback whereas thoughtful communication can advance even a sticky situation. In the end, feedback is not just about being honest … it’s about being honest skillfully.

Additionally, if you are the person receiving feedback, it is important to remember that your manager or colleague has come to you because of their perception of how something has transpired. Even if you don’t agree with what that person is saying, try not to get defensive. Instead, engage in dialogue by saying something like “I appreciate you bringing this to me so let’s try and walk through this in more detail.”

Inform and Empower

Almost everyone wants to hear and to be heard. One only has to skim through any social media platform, listen to talk radio, or participate in fantasy sports leagues to witness this.

At all times (without breaking any corporate confidentiality rules), inform and empower your employees. Quell the rumors and keep your team abreast of organizational and departmental happenings. The water cooler and rumor mill are two places that breed mistrust and kill productivity.

If you don’t already have a formal mechanism to solicit concerns from your team (and I am NOT talking about an annual engagement survey), change that. Find out what the concerns are–at least on a quarterly basis. Then, collate the information quickly, identify key areas for improvement, and empower your employees to make those improvements. When you make people feel important, show that their input is vital, and emphasize that they are part of a team that strives for continuous development … you will find success.

When employees feel valued, their sense of self-worth and self-esteem increases. This increased sense of self-worth and self-esteem are key drivers in building loyalty, morale, and greater efforts. The teams will work more collaboratively, harness their differences, develop great working relationships, and ultimately raise the culture and productivity at the local and enterprise levels.

How To Give Constructive Feedback Your People Want To Hear

What is the most constructive way to give feedback? You praise, you criticise or you do both? Some say that the Americans prefer the feedback ‘sandwich’. It means 3-step feedback. You start with positive comments, then add one or two things that can be done better, and finish with more positive points. However, some leadership training experts advise that one should step away from this model. Their argument: couching criticism with positive comments can dilute the message and sound insincere.

So, how do you know that your feedback is constructive and has an impact? In an increasingly culturally diverse workplace, there is no simple formula for all feedback. Nevertheless, you can learn to give feedback constructively by starting with the right question. First ask yourself WHY instead of how.

Why do you want to give feedback? You want to help your colleague to work better, right? Keep a positive attitude and start any performance review conversation with it.

“Let’s look into how we can improve our performance in the next quarter.”

When you talk to people about WHY, your message goes to the part of the brain which controls feelings and drives behaviors. When people empathise with your motivation, they are more likely to accept your feedback and work on it.

Now, let’s move on to HOW

You have set up a positive mindset about giving meaningful feedback. Now you should know about the right time and space, and adopt the right behaviors to give feedback constructively.

The Right Time

It is better to give feedback sooner than later. How soon depends on the specific situation. When a teammate does a good job, you should pay her or him a compliment as soon as possible. Whenever other people are affected by a certain behavior, try to address the issues in time so further damage can be avoided. If strong emotion is involved, it is wise to wait till the heat has gone before giving any comments. Choose the right time for your feedback. Impraise’s mobile app can help you share feedback right when it matters the most.

The Right Space

Most people like to receive compliments in public. An Oscar is not really as good if you receive it in your front room instead of before an audience including your respectable peers, your family and friends. A public recognition of one’s achievement feeds their needs for respect and boosts their self-esteem, the second highest level in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. When a colleague achieves exceptional sales record, give your compliment in front of the whole sales team. It not only shows your appreciation of his or her contributions but also encourages others to perform better.

Regarding more critical feedback, the golden rule is to do it in private. No one wants to receive negative feedback in front of others. Find an empty conference room or go to the lunch room if it is vacant. Make sure that you choose a place where your colleague and you can relax and feel comfortable. If you want to give your feedback in a meeting room, make sure it is well lit and the temperature is not too hot or cold. Sit close to your colleague so you can have eye contact and do not have to shout. You want to make it like a casual conversation rather than a formal meeting. Alternatively you can take your teammate out for a walk, talk over a coffee and make it a natural and relaxing chat. You want to avoid extra pressure that might block your colleague from receiving the feedback well and ultimately accepting it. Allow enough time and space to discuss unclear points until you reach a common ground of understanding.

The Right Behaviors

Be Specific

Think about the specific behaviors that are important for your team to do an amazing job. For example, having integrity and paying attention to details are essential for a good auditor. An excellent communication skill and the ability to work under pressure are otherwise necessary for those who work in a PR agency. Considering your team, you need to define the ideal behaviors and communicate them up front to your people. Everyone should be aware of those and continuously receive personal feedback on them. Impraise makes this a simple and natural process.

If you notice room for improvement, share it with your colleague in break-down points. Say you receive a complaint from a client. Your colleague failed to help the client to fix a technical problem within the time requested by the client. Besides, he didn’t get back to the client afterwards with an explanation. You don’t just tell your colleague that the client is not happy with his service. Instead, break it down into behaviors that would create a good customer service experience: 1. Sticking to a client’s requirements. 2. Keeping good communication with a client: during and after providing a service. 3. Having a strong drive to exceed a client’s expectations. 4. Reaching out for help if appropriate and if necessary. Your feedback will help guide him away from inappropriate behaviors so that he can deliver a better experience to a client the next time.

Offer Suggestions For Improvement

Give some practical examples about how to do things better. Practical examples are easy to remember so your colleague is more likely to take up your suggestions. Provide a sense of direction. For example, a colleague achieved a higher sales record in the last quarter. You are giving feedback to him or her. Besides a compliment on a good job, you can offer him or her a direction to move forward, like to get involved in training new sales staff.

Listen Actively

Always listen to what others have to say. Why do they choose design A instead of design B? Is it because of their personal preference? Do they know certain scientific research backing up option A? or Do more tested users give positive feedback on A than B? Ask clarifying questions and encourage them to give suggestions. When you listen actively, you know more about their field of interests and discover development solutions. The knowledge will help your feedback be more constructive.

Follow Up

Do not just throw an icy bucket of your opinions at someone and leave them with it. You need to follow up. Come back to the person after a week or a month, depending on the nature of the matter. After you suggest your accounting team to use a new tool to keep track of small expenses, check back with them after a month. Ask if they are comfortable with changing their way. You can sit down with them to see if the new tool saves them more time and helps them keep a more accurate report. Ask for their feedback.

The Final Word: Practice

It takes practice to give constructive feedback. People hold various perspectives, and respond to feedback in different ways. Giving feedback to a dominant character and to a timid person on a similar matter can be two different experiences. Practice gives you the flexibility and confidence in delivering feedback in the most constructive way. Practice giving feedback to your colleague today with

  • A mindset starting with WHY
  • Appropriate choice of TIME & SPACE
  • The right BEHAVIORS

Do you find these tips helpful? Are you struggling with a dilemma and you are not sure if your feedback would help? We would love to hear your stories.

Photo credit: Bigstock

Managers Are Not Interested In Interpersonal Skills

According to a research run by Impraise, managers are more focused on getting feedback on productivity skills rather than interpersonal skills such as listening.

The ability to ask for feedback in real-time revealed some interesting facts about the skills that managers care most about. Managers that work with this new type of performance management, real-time 360 degree feedback, show little interest in improving their listening skills although employees see it as most relevant topic.

The research “Global analysis: how real-time feedback affects work performance and employee engagement run by Impraise, a web based and mobile solution for timely, actionable feedback at work was based on 106 managers and 201 employees that asked for feedback 2639 times in the last 8 months. With 32,978 feedback interactions analyzed, results turned out to be more surprising than expected.

Managers seem to be more focused on their productivity skills, having asked for feedback about it 42% more than employees. They also ask for feedback about their presentation skills 85% more than employees. But when it comes to listening skills managers don’t seem to be that concerned, asking 55% less than employees about this skill although it’s frequently seen as one of the most important management behaviors. See detailed results here.

“Since we launched Impraise we’ve seen hundreds of managers changing their way of communicating according to the real-time feedback they sought from their team. In the case of Booking.com, managers developed a strong sense of listening to their people during 1-on-1s resulting in a significant increase of employee engagement.” Steffen Maier, Co-founder of Impraise.

Employees on the other hand, are more likely to ask for feedback on interpersonal skills such as meetings, leadership or communication, but less probably to ask for feedback on their productivity. However, in general managers ask 2.2 times more feedback than employees.  

Photo credit: Bigstock

Use OKRs To Achieve Bold Goals

Objectives and Key Results or OKRs have helped hyper-growth Internet companies like Google achieve phenomenal success. They combine ambitious, qualitative goals and quantitative success measures with weekly execution and accountability cadence. When teams institutionalize OKRs, they enjoy clarity of purpose, fast-paced progress, and can achieve game-changing results. Use OKRs to embolden your goals, define how success is measured and achieve execution excellence:

1.  Define Ambitious and Inspiring Objectives
Create qualitative objectives.  The objective is your team’s mission – it becomes personal, inspires people and provides shared purpose.  Objectives should be for a set period of time and achievable by your team (not dependent on others).  To increase engagement, use words the team itself would use rather than corporate speak.  “Launch 2.0 product customers LOVE” is more inspiring than “release v2.0” and puts the emphasis on the impact of the product; the former invites the team on a mission to greatness, while the latter tells them the mechanical process is all you’re after.  Re-think how your goals are expressed: can you frame them to inspire the people on your team?

2.  Quantify Key Results
Key results are the target metrics that prove you’ve achieved the objective and how the team will know IT has succeeded.  What’s unique about the OKR approach is that it focuses on achieving great rather than predictable results.   KRs should be a reach, not a slam dunk.  KRs are quantitative results from your efforts, and there are typically several such as revenue, performance, engagement, quality or growth.  How will “customer love” be measured?  When 25% of customers refer their friends, 40% use the product more than 6x a day, and 30% expand use to adjacent products within 30 days are results that might signal customers love the new product.  How would you define key results for ambitious objectives that feel just out of reach but with real effort, the team just might make it happen?

3.  Execute Like Crazy
Make OKRs part of a weekly execution cadence and give everyone transparency to OKR achievement.  Each week, identify the priority deliverables and who is responsible for them; don’t get lost (or procrastinate) in the minutiae!  Focus on the major outcomes, and constrain the week’s plan to the real priorities.  Use weekly status reports to track and communicate status of these deliverables and confidence ratings on hitting the KRs.  In status reports include the prior week’s outcomes, the priority deliverables for the current week, blocker items, and the priorities you need to address the following week.  If you’re managing the team, use reports to ensure the team is executing high priorities rather than the infinite distractions that tempt us all.

Finally, don’t lower or abandon the metrics when it looks like you may fail; get as close as you can and learn from the stretch.  You’ll find out what the team is capable of when it goes for gold…  And you may even get the gold!

4.  Inspired Culture
Going for gold takes tremendous passion and tenacity.  But it also takes a lot of experience notwinning the gold, missing the podium or just getting the bronze.  Create an environment that inspires people to pursue the gold medal but celebrates the bronze and silver.  Foster and reward champion effort, continuous learning, and the drive to miss the medal but continue to compete.   Setting bold, ambitious goals with stretch metrics means you’ll surprise yourself with greatness but you’ll also miss the mark – so celebrate striving.

Inspired teams with ambitious goals who feel accountable to each other can achieve tremendous results.  Getting the objectives and key results right takes iteration and self awareness from the team, but the effort pays off when the team is full engaged in the mission and striving for greatness.  Try OKRs with your team for Q1 and Q2 and see what you can do!