5 Tips for Giving and Receiving Feedback Effectively

“If you cannot say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Growing up, we have probably heard that line being repeated over and over again by our parents. In Asia, people tend to avoid giving feedback, fearing that it might hurt the other party’s feelings. Yet effective feedback is a critical part in any organization’s ability to drive and improve performance.

This is why it is important to give feedback effectively. Below are some tips to help you provide feedback at the workplace:

1. Don’t beat around the bush

Confront the colleague associated with the incident once it has been witnessed. Speak in private, but be fact-based and avoid generalities. For example, “Our agreed timeline was 12 noon, but your email was at 130pm,” as opposed to “You are always late!”

2. State how the incident made you feel

Tell the other party how the incident has made you feel as a result of his or her actions. The receiving party is not in a position to deny the fact of how you feel. For example, if your colleague was late for work, inform your colleague that he or she made you feel anxious and concerned about the impact to the company and its client.

3. State future actions

Discuss with the colleague on the things that he or she can do to prevent the incident from happening again. In the example above, you can ask your colleague to give you a call to inform the team that he or she will be in the office a little later that day.

In addition to giving feedback, it is essential to receive feedback to help you see where you stand in terms of work performance. Some of the things that you should do when receiving feedback include:

1. Keep an open mind

Avoid getting defensive and wait until it is time for you speak to explain your situation to ensure that both of you are on the same page.

2. Establish future goals and action plan that can help improve your performance

Discuss with your supervisor to help you identify the things that you need to do to improve work performance and advance your career. These goals can be as simple as clocking in early for work and completing projects on time.

On a lighter note, these tips has also been proven to be effective in communication amongst spouses and significant others. 😉

Why train when people leave?

There is an oft-shared exchange between a CEO and a CFO that goes:

CFO: “Why train when people leave?”

CEO: “What happens if they don’t?”

The key learning from the exchange is that the decision to train should not be affected by potential attrition. In fact studies have shown that people do not leave companies, but they leave poor managers (Buckingham, 1999).

On the flip side, a company’s performance is driven by its managers. Thus if a company is battling an attrition issue, the logical action is first to ‘fix’ its managers.

I was once approached to provide customer service training to a hotel in tourist town, and when I asked the owner-operator if he was considering training his General Manager first, his response indicated that he felt that training his General Manager was not a good use of resources due to his resistance to change. But think about this, what if the hotel had proceeded to train the staff and having completed training goes back to an environment where expectations from the General Manager are different from what was trained? The training would not have stuck, and the training investment would not have been realized.

Here is another typical exchange when owners tell me about how they feel that their people need training.

Owner: “My people need training.”

Me: “What do they need training in?”

Owner: “They need to be better managers.”

So what constitutes being a better manager? My definition of a good manager is quite simple: an effective manager is one who is effective in driving business outcomes and retaining people.

But what are the actions and habits of managers that are effective in driving business outcomes and retaining people? How do you define and measure that?

Research has shown that employees who are in an environment with the following 7 traits belong to business units with good business outcomes and high retention rates (Buckingham, 1999). The 7 traits are as follows:

  1. They know what is expected of them at work
  2. They feel that they have the materials and equipment to perform their job
  3. They are given the opportunity to do what they do best every day
  4. In the last week, they have received recognition or praise for good work
  5. They feel that their supervisor, or someone at work, care about them as a person
  6. There is someone at work who encourages their development
  7. They feel that their opinions count at work

So here lies the necessity for training of the manager:

  • For the manager to deliver items 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 well; they need to possess skills that are commonly known as soft skills – yet soft do not imply easy. These are communication, coaching, problem solving and execution skills that typically require years of on-the-job training. Yet, a good starter leadership development course that is experiential that involves role-playing will be able to cultivate an awareness of the skills a manager is required to perform better.
  • With regards to item 2; these are function/technical-based training as well as tools (e.g., software) required for their jobs. This does not mean a carte blanche for managers to ask for sophisticated customization on their software. When faced with a RM20,000 software customization request once, I asked if the executive could generate an increase in revenue of RM2,000,000 with it. And when he could not make a case for an increase in revenue, the customization request was abandoned.

As for the subordinates, continued evaluation of what it takes for them to perform their current job better as well as what skills they need for a promotion demonstrate continued organizational development. Often times, in emerging markets, employees are promoted mainly because they expect a salary increase, not because they are able to perform in the role that is above them. For example, a high performing writer may not automatically perform well as a managing editor. In an ideal scenario, the Human Resources and Training Development function will be actively monitoring the progress of high-performers and be working hand in hand with business functions to craft career paths for these individuals.

So why not train to improve your business performance?

 

[Metamorphic Training offers 2 signature 5-day General Management Workshops that focuses on (1) Leadership Skills and (2) Functional Skills. Additionally a host of other workshops and ready to go courses are available. We also offer training needs analysis to ensure that any training investment is focused. For more information: www.metatrainings.com]

Works Cited

Buckingham, M. a. (1999). First, Break All the Rules. London: Simon & Schuster.

 

 

To quit or not to quit: The truth about goal-setting

When I first started college, I declared mathematics as my major because I thought that was the right decision at that time – I didn’t know what I wanted to do and math was one of my strongest skills. After pursuing the course for almost four semesters, I soon found out that I did not enjoy math after all, and that was reflected on my grades.

By the time I realized that I was in the wrong major, I had already done two years’ worth of schooling. That was when I thought to myself – should I continue pursuing mathematics since I was already half way through my major? Or should I switch my major and use my time doing something I truly enjoy?

What about those two years, where countless hours were already spent studying and completing math courses? If I change my major, there was a chance that I might graduate later than my peers.

I was torn between the two years that I had spent in school (sunk cost) and the things that I could be doing should I decide to change majors (opportunity costs).

It was a tough decision to make, but I ended up changing majors and graduated within two years.

The main reason that I was able to graduate within two years even after changing my major was because I had set my mind to achieve that goal. Goals are important because they give you a sense of direction in life. Setting a goal is the easy part.

Following up with that goal, however, is another thing altogether.

For example, if you are working on a fitness goal, it is easy to give excuses to skip your workout session. Below is a 3-step routine that I have found helpful in following through goals:

Step 1: Prepare your workout gear the night before. On the day of your workout, break down the steps of your morning routine by getting out of bed, washing your face and putting on your exercise clothes.

Step 2: Monitor your performance. For instance, you can observe your fitness level by looking out for improvements such as running at a longer distance within a short space of time. As you get closer to your goal, employ different tactics to mix up your workout routine so that it does not become mundane.

Step 3: Celebrate your achievement with rewards that are aligned with your goals. For example, instead of cheating on your next meal, you can buy new clothes that you can now fit into as a form of reward.

This principle of goal-setting also applies to business and management. A classic example is providing training in sales to café employees:

  1. Start with smaller and more attainable goals such as teaching employees on the right way to greet customers.
  2. Acknowledge employees’ success and set the next round of goals by introducing new tactics of selling to keep employees interested in the training.
  3. Celebrate employees’ success with congruent rewards such as “free drinks” for employees who perform well.

When you feel like slipping after setting a goal for yourself, remind yourself of why you set the goal in the first place. If you really want to give up, then the goal that you have set for yourself may not be a good fit for you or may not be worthwhile after all. In life, we need to know when it is time to quit. In my case, the emotional cost of pursuing something that I love offsets the sunk cost of spending those two years in the wrong major.

Quitting does not mean failure. It may be a sign for you to revisit your goals so you do not regret your action 10 years later knowing how far you have come.

Motivation

If you love your job, you have every reason to be excited when you wake up everyday. Your passion is what motivates you to move forward in your career. There are, however, times or days when you feel demotivated to go to work, especially when work becomes mundane and you keep on procrastinating on your tasks. So what do you do when you find yourself stuck in this situation?

 This article by Edmond Lau clearly explains that your level of motivation depends on the type of goal (either mastery or performance) that you attach to it.

Building habits

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“Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

Like Rome, habits cannot be cultivated overnight. Likewise, bad habits are just as hard to eliminate. Fortunately, with sheer willpower and consistent practice, it is possible to build new habits and get rid of old ones.

For most of us, we create New Year’s resolutions at the beginning of each year, some of which include going to the gym more often, eat less and so on and so forth. As for me, my goal was to wake up earlier every morning to do yoga. Last year, I gave myself excuses for not waking up earlier than I should and as a result, I can barely touch my toes. This year, however, I started to form a habit of waking up in the wee hours of the morning to do yoga and for the past few weeks, I’ve been able to not only touch my toes, but also do a backbend.

Growing up, I’ve been told that it takes anywhere from 21 days to a month to form a new habit. In my opinion, this idea holds true for people looking to form simple habits such as eating a fruit a day or greeting one person that you meet each day. Other habits, such as sticking to a diet or going to the gym at least three times a week, are more difficult to maintain and take longer time to form because there are many distractions as well as other priorities that can get in the way. More often than not, these habits may require you to make changes to your schedule and lifestyle.

It takes a lot of discipline and patience to build and maintain a habit. Below are some ways that can help you form a new habit, both in your personal and professional lives:

  1. Identify your goal and write it down

It is better to pick a habit that you want to build and work towards it one step at a time so that you will be more focused in achieving what you have set out to do. It can be overwhelming if you want to build too many habits at the same time and you may be discouraged when times are tough. Write down that goal and put it at a place where you can see it everyday to remind you of it.

  1. Start now

Don’t wait until tomorrow, next week or next month to start forming the habit, even if it’s something as small as running for ten minutes today. It will make you feel a whole lot better knowing that you are one step closer to fully developing your new habit.

  1. Break your goal (building a new habit) into smaller goals

When you break down your goal into smaller, achievable goals, it is easier to keep track of your progress. Write down your progress to see how far you’ve come and how much further you need to go to achieve your goal. If you want to wake up an hour earlier in the morning, start with setting your alarm five minutes early. In time, you will be able to train yourself to wake up 10 minutes, 15 minutes earlier and so on. If you are not making progress even with the smaller goals after some time, reevaluate what you are doing and make changes accordingly, even if you have to start over or find another way to form the new habit.

  1. Recognize your challenges and find solutions to each problem

You will definitely encounter some challenges in building new habits such as skipping your workout because you’re too busy or too tired to wake up earlier. You start giving excuses and if prolonged, you will become demotivated to build that habit that you wanted. In this situation, you have to be aware and acknowledge the challenges that you are facing and the reason that you are giving excuses. Once you’ve identified the challenges, try to find solutions to each problem. For example, if you are too tired to wake up early, ask yourself why are you too tired. If it is because you are overworked at the office, consult your supervisor to see whether anything can be done about your workload.

  1. Have someone hold you accountable

A good support system is essential in helping you to form a new habit. For example, if you want to make running around the park as part of your daily routine, it will be much easier for you to execute that plan if you have a partner or a group of friends who are willing to run with you. You will not only start cultivating the habit of running, but you’ll build a great relationship with the people around you.

  1. Reward yourself

Give yourself credit at the end of the day, week or when you have achieved one of your smaller goals by taking yourself out for dinner or buying an item that you really like. If things don’t go the way you expect them to be, cut yourself some slack because you are not doing this for anyone else – you are doing it for yourself. So enjoy the journey and never, ever give up!

Getting awareness to change

I recently watched the movie Freaky Friday, a story about the strained relationship between a mother and her daughter and how they resolved their issues. My favourite part of the show was when the two characters switched souls and woke up in each other’s body. It was not until the switching happened that both realized the other person’s life is not as perfect and easy as they initially thought. Once they were aware and understand the challenges faced by each other, only then their souls were switched back and their issues resolved. After the souls were switched back, their attitude towards each other changed for the better and the mother-daughter relationship was restored.

The story above shows how important it is to have awareness in our daily lives. Awareness is the ability to be conscious of your current situation and realize whether or not change is needed to improve that situation. In the movie, both mother and daughter became aware of the challenges faced by each other only when they start living in each other’s shoes. Believe it or not, people get awareness to change when bad things happen (in the case above, when both protagonists switched bodies and had to live each other’s lives). This is because when the situation is at its worst, people will do almost anything to get out of it, knowing that they have nothing to lose since by that time, they have probably lost everything. A classic example is the predicament faced by major corporations during financial crisis, where some will survive, while others collapse. The companies that last survived because they were aware of their situation and decided to make changes such as developing new procedures and revisiting company values.

Awareness involves changing your current belief of what you think is the right way to do things. In order to develop awareness, you have to get to know yourself and reevaluate your values. You have to be able to view things from a different perspective and most importantly, keep an open mind in this process.

As a result of awareness, you will either decide to make a change, or choose to stay in your current situation. The choice is yours. If you decide to make a change, be prepared to go through ambiguous circumstances, where at times things may be difficult, but you will grow from your experience. You can also choose to stay in your comfort zone, but there is little opportunity for growth. It is when you go through tough times that you will actually make progress.

Here’s a short exercise for you. Ask yourself the following questions to analyze and be aware of your current business situation:

  • In the last year, have your business objectives and targets been met? If yes, congratulations! You are on the right path.
  • If not, have you and/or your team been doing the same activities? I.e.,
    1. Have you and/or your team reviewed your business processes and sought improvement opportunities? Do you have discussions about this and craft plans to be implemented?
    2. Have you performed a market / competitive analysis?
    3. Has anyone attended training or development? And if yes, have they applied the knowledge back in their day-to-day work? How is this tracked?

If you had answered “No” to any of these 3 questions; while you are not meeting your business objectives; you should probably be aware by now that there is a case for trying out new things that may lead to change.