7 Tactics to Giving Effective Feedback

My years of being a Human Resource professional have taught me one thing, if you don’t give feedback, performance will not change. A manager cannot gossip, shun or pray a poor performer into an outstanding performer. There have been hundreds of managers who sulk into my office wanting to terminate a poor performing employee and when I ask, “Do they know they aren’t performing?” The answer is usually, “Well, they should know they aren’t”. Me, “So you haven’t told them?” Reply was typically, “No”. Hmmm. Wonder why the employee has not done a dramatic turn around?7 Tactics to Giving Effective Feedback

Most people avoid feedback because they are afraid of conflict. Most of us are afraid of conflict. It’s uncomfortable. It’s much easier to stand by the water cooler and complain to my co-worker about my slacker assistant than to actually tell my assistant that he’s been late every day this week and what solutions can happen for his tardiness. We often hope and pray that the slacker assistant will wake up and realize that the cold shoulder they’ve been given will prompt him or her to realize that we’re angry that they don’t show up on time. These tactics will not work.

So here are my tactics on how to give effective feedback:

1. Objective. The feedback needs to be unbiased and equitable. This can be difficult if you have many direct reports. We naturally have affinity for folks “just like me”. Bias is difficult to acknowledge so try to use information that is easily quantified and can be compared to others. This might mean number of customers served, average daily sales, or customer survey scores. Make sure the feedback comes from objective sources.

2. Measurable. What gets measured gets done. I can remember having sales contests in the restaurant I owned. When we started measuring how many desserts were sold on each shift, suddenly our dessert sales went through the roof. We didn’t even have an incentive associated with selling the most desserts. Everyone wants to know the score. A score lets you know if you are ahead or behind. Make sure everyone knows the score.

3. Rationale. Make sure you link the feedback to the rationale of how it fits into the big picture. If we can reduce input errors by 5%, we will reduce our turnaround time by 12 hours. If you serve 3 more customers a day, we will increase net profit. Employees need to know how they affect the big picture and they need to know that they have a line of sight to the end goal.

4. Timely. Many managers wait and hesitate to give feedback. They hope that the employee will turn around all on their own. By the time they give the feedback, the shelf life has expired. You can’t talk about the customer complaint from three months ago and expect there to be a performance improvement. Studies have shown that immediate feedback produces the best results (Codding, Feinberg, Dunn, & Pace, 2005). Employees need relevant information as soon as possible. Treat performance feedback like a carton of milk that will expire in 5 days.

5. Repeat. Good or bad, keep giving feedback. I wrote a post about Gen Y in the workplace. Twenty-somethings right out of college or high school, have been receiving daily and hourly feedback for twelve plus years. They get grades on the quiz, they get called on in class, and there is constant interaction with classmates. Then they get hired, come to a cube farm, get trained for a few weeks and are left on their own. Feedback produces the best results when it is delivered frequently (Hattie, 2009). From a management standpoint, it’s easier to give the feedback if you are doing it on a daily basis. Make it your habit.

6. Not personal. Keep the information to specific facts. So the report was two days late, the spreadsheet had six errors, or you had three dropped calls yesterday. These are facts. They are not value judgments. You might think your assistant is a slacker or lazy or sloppy, just don’t say that out loud. Facts are facts. Personal judgments are damaging to performance. Feedback produces the better results when it is directed at the performance and actually produces negative effects when it is personal (Kluger & DeNisi, 1996). Don’t make it personal and deliver it without judgement

7. Collaboration. Try and take a coaching approach to issues. My 22 year old daughter said “we must always be willing to learn from one another no matter where one lies in the hierarchy. That’s something I take very seriously, but I don’t think those higher up are sometimes willing to accept that all of this is much more free flowing and improvisational than it seems.” I know when I coach folks, it’s important for me to not be attached to an outcome. I think employees are much more empowered when they can improvise and have say in the solution. So ask them for help in solving the problem and take their suggestion if at all possible.

Accept that you won’t be perfect at first. Get out there and try. Frequency is the key. Learn from your mistakes and keep honing it in.

6 Steps to Slaying the Clutter Monster

One of the biggest attention suckers is clutter – Physical clutter.  I’m sorry, all you pack rats out there; it’s time to purge.  A post in the unclutterer states that “scientists find physical clutter negatively affects your ability to focus & process information.Basically, visual clutter grabs your attention so that you can’t focus on the process, decision or project at hand.  Might be time to clean up all those nick-knacks or piles of newspapers, huh?

I’m a chronic pillow straightener.  I can’t leave the house unless the pillows are in their place.  In fact, this causes both my dog and husband to deliberately knock pillows off the couch.  Because they know it will get under my skin.  I can hear my husband chuckling in the other room as I walk in and sigh from exasperation when I see the chaos.  Now I know why – they are messing with my visual cortex!  Lay off my visual cortex, will ya?  I want to get something done today.

Not my actual living room.
Not my actual living room.

I bet you know someone in your office that is a clutter monster.   You know, someone whose desk looks similar to Andy Rooney when he was on 60 minutes.  No wonder his pieces were only 5 minutes each week, his visual cortex was holding him hostage.  I’ve walked into a colleague’s office and, often wondered, “How do they get anything done in here?”  They don’t.  They are being held hostage by their clutter monster.

So how do you slay the clutter monster? Here are a few suggestions:

1.  Commit.  I know we’ve all watched at least one episode of “Hoarders”.  These poor people basically bury themselves in objects.  Even with therapy, most of them can’t commit to keeping clutter at bay.  You’re going to need to commit or there is no point in entering the ring to fight the monster.  Your best work, project or masterpiece is under that load of visual clutter and you are going to need to make up your mind that it needs to surface and the clutter has got to go.

2. Plan.  It can be overwhelming to decide to declutter your entire office or home in one day.  Make a plan and break it up into parts that can be accomplished in 15 or 30 minute chunks.  Such as: top two book shelves, bottom two book shelves, right bathroom cabinet, left bathroom cabinet, etc.  Then schedule it on your calendar.  Maybe every Saturday morning you work for 30 minutes or Mondays and Wednesdays at 5 PM for 15 minutes.  Plan it out.  It will help eliminate the overwhelming need to run out of the house screaming as well as procrastination.

3. Prepare.  You might want to agree to some rules  such as, if I haven’t worn it in the last year, two years, decade (scratch that…if you haven’t worn it in a decade, it’s out of style) then out it goes.  If your last paramour gave it to you, probably bad mojo;  let it go.  That’s a whole other kind of mind clutter.  Is it worth donating?  Is it trash? Is it worth saving?  I went through cookbooks not that long ago and those that were of sentimental value are in a box in the attic, otherwise, I’m either using them or they were donated.

4. Dig in.  Grab two garbage bags and get started.  How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.  It’s either a donation or trash.  If that blouse has a stain on it that you couldn’t get out – neither can Goodwill.  It’s trash.  If you wore those pants thirty pounds ago – someone at Goodwill can wear it now.  It’s a donation.  If you aren’t sure if you want to keep it, put it somewhere that would take some effort to get to.  A box under the bed, the basement, the attic, or your Mom’s house and give it three months.  If you haven’t thought about it, time to purge.

5. Containers.  You’re going to feel tempted to run out and go crazy at the Container Store before Step #1.  Don’t.  You’ve got to start untangling first before you can start organizing.  You won’t know what you need until you’ve started digging in.  Purchasing 50 – 20 gallon fluorescent pink tubs might seem like the right fix but once you’ve unpacked all your kitchenware, you figure out that the cupboard will work just fine.  Do you really need a coffee mug from your old bank in California?  Sometimes an old basket will find a new purpose.  And sometimes, one 20 gallon fluorescent pink tub will work just fine.

6. Rinse and Repeat.  Clutter monsters seem to grow back like kudzu along southern freeways.  Set up a reminder to go back through your office in six months.  On the second pass, you might finally get rid of that conference binder from 6 years ago on employment law. Might be time to refresh the pictures on the credenza (your son gave up soccer 5 years ago).  You still haven’t found a pair of shoes to wear with that dress – time for it to go.  As Christine Kane says “If it’s not an Absolute Yes, it’s a No.  You’ll need to say No as you move forward to continue to keep the monster under control.

If you buy a new dress, pair of shoes, coffee mug or stapler, swap it in kind with an old dress, pair of shoes, coffee mug or stapler.  Starve your monster, your visual cortex will appreciate it.

What would you do?

S.P.E.L.L. it Out. 6 Ways to Set Expectations.

Spelling out expectations is so critical in all aspects of life; like when you have a new employee, when your child cleans their room and, even when we start on a new project.  If you don’t spell out the expectations, it will, at the very least be frustrating and at its worst, an epic fail.  I see this step being skipped constantly.  Why bother?  Shouldn’t your child know what the expectations for a clean room are?  Didn’t we hire that employee because they were the most qualified for the job?  Haven’t you accomplished other projects?  You will be doomed for disappointment without clarifying expectations.

I can imagine that if we did a poll of one hundred parents about their expectations for room cleanliness that we would find at least 80 different sets of expectations (this assumes that some of those poled are married and have already had a few grumbles about room cleanliness and, therefore, have the same expectations).  The point is, you cannot assume that we would all agree about what a clean bedroom is.  And we certainly cannot assume that your child has the same standards.

Your child gets grounded because they didn’t realize that stuffing all the toys under the bed does not mean “clean”.  You’re disappointed in the home improvement project because you didn’t realize that fixtures you really wanted were five times more expensive.

So how do you avoid the tendency to think that everyone knows your expectations through osmosis and get down to the nitty gritty before you send that new employee off into battlefield of ambiguous work standards?  Here are a few steps.

1. Reflect. What do you want?  What does the perfect outcome look like?  You need to be clear with yourself and/or the team before you set your new employee a drift.  Why did we have to hire someone new?  Did the last customer service rep go down in flames because he didn’t know that the schedule was completely inflexible?    As they say, history tends to repeat, so reflect on what went wrong (or right) the last time.

2. Anticipate. When I send my husband to the grocery store for milk, you might think that is a very basic, simple item for him to purchase.  Well, it isn’t.  I need to anticipate who will be opening that refrigerator door for the next seven days.  If it’s my daughter, it better be soy milk.  If it’s my son, it better be organic skim milk.  If my husband is the intended user, it better be 2% lactose free milk.  Simple item.  Complex expectations.

3. List. It’s a good idea to have a list; whether it be a written checklist, employee manual or just a short mental checklist. “Benson”, that’s my son, “a clean room means clean clothes hung up or folded and put away, the bed being made and no items on the floor”.  In my days as a Sizzler restaurant owner, we had a pre-meal checklist for each meal period.  It was important that even the temperature ranges for the food was spelled out.  Soup < 145 degrees.

4. Engage.  Have a conversation.  It might even be a lecture.  But explain your list.  As in, the soup needs to be over 145 degrees because we don’t want anyone getting sick.  The bed needs to be made because we are having visitors this weekend.  We need personal phone calls kept to a minimum because we have a limited amount of incoming phone lines.  Explain the rationale.  It makes for more buy in.

5. Clarify.  There may be a deadline.  There might be a budget.  There may be other resources.  If the grandparents are arriving at 6 PM, this might be important information when my husband heads out for milk at 5 PM.  The new employee might want to know who else on the team has done this job so they have them as a crutch.  S.P.E.L.L. it all out.

6. Rinse and Repeat. Unfortunately, this is not a one shot deal.  It can be time consuming and tedious.  It was obvious which Sizzler restaurant was not using its pre-meal checklist.  And it usually translated into lower sales.  The customers had expectations.

Take the time and energy to S.P.E.L.L. out your expectations.  It will save you frustration, time and energy.  It will also keep your relationships on a higher plane.  Those around you will appreciate knowing what to expect.

What would you do?

Slay the Clutter Monster

One of the biggest attention suckers is clutter – Physical clutter.  I’m sorry, all you pack rats out there; it’s time to purge.  A post in the unclutterer states that “scientists find physical clutter negatively affects your ability to focus & process information.Basically, visual clutter grabs your attention so that you can’t focus on the process, decision or project at hand.  Might be time to clean up all those nick-knacks or piles of newspapers, huh?

I’m a chronic pillow straightener.  I can’t leave the house unless the pillows are in their place.  In fact, this causes both my dog and husband to deliberately knock pillows off the couch.  Because they know it will get under my skin.  I can hear my husband chuckling in the other room as I walk in and sigh from exasperation when I see the chaos.  Now I know why – they are messing with my visual cortex!  Lay off my visual cortex, will ya?  I want to get something done today.

I bet you know someone in your office that is a clutter monster.   You know, someone whose desk looks similar to Andy Rooney when he was on 60 minutes.  No wonder his pieces were only 5 minutes each week, his visual cortex was holding him hostage.  I’ve walked into a colleague’s office and, often wondered, “How do they get anything done in here?”  They don’t.  They are being held hostage by their clutter monster.

So how do you slay the clutter monster? Here are a few suggestions:

1.  Commit.  I know we’ve all watched at least one episode of “Hoarders”.  These poor people basically bury themselves in objects.  Even with therapy, most of them can’t commit to keeping clutter at bay.  You’re going to need to commit or there is no point in entering the ring to fight the monster.  Your best work, project or masterpiece is under that load of visual clutter and you are going to need to make up your mind that it needs to surface and the clutter has got to go.

2. Plan.  It can be overwhelming to decide to declutter your entire office or home in one day.  Make a plan and break it up into parts that can be accomplished in 15 or 30 minute chunks.  Such as: top two book shelves, bottom two book shelves, right bathroom cabinet, left bathroom cabinet, etc.  Then schedule it on your calendar.  Maybe every Saturday morning you work for 30 minutes or Mondays and Wednesdays at 5 PM for 15 minutes.  Plan it out.  It will help eliminate the overwhelming need to run out of the house screaming as well as procrastination.

3. Prepare.  You might want to agree to some rules  such as, if I haven’t worn it in the last year, two years, decade (scratch that…if you haven’t worn it in a decade, it’s out of style) then out it goes.  If your last paramour gave it to you, probably bad mojo;  let it go.  That’s a whole other kind of mind clutter.  Is it worth donating?  Is it trash? Is it worth saving?  I went through cookbooks not that long ago and those that were of sentimental value are in a box in the attic, otherwise, I’m either using them or they were donated.

4. Dig in.  Grab two garbage bags and get started.  How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.  It’s either a donation or trash.  If that blouse has a stain on it that you couldn’t get out – neither can Goodwill.  It’s trash.  If you wore those pants thirty pounds ago – someone at Goodwill can wear it now.  It’s a donation.  If you aren’t sure if you want to keep it, put it somewhere that would take some effort to get to.  A box under the bed, the basement, the attic, or your Mom’s house and give it three months.  If you haven’t thought about it, time to purge.

5. Containers.  You’re going to feel tempted to run out and go crazy at the Container Store before Step #1.  Don’t.  You’ve got to start untangling first before you can start organizing.  You won’t know what you need until you’ve started digging in.  Purchasing 50 – 20 gallon fluorescent pink tubs might seem like the right fix but once you’ve unpacked all your kitchenware, you figure out that the cupboard will work just fine.  Do you really need a coffee mug from your old bank in California?  Sometimes an old basket will find a new purpose.  And sometimes, one 20 gallon fluorescent pink tub will work just fine.

6. Rinse and Repeat.  Clutter monsters seem to grow back like kudzu along southern freeways.  Set up a reminder to go back through your office in six months.  On the second pass, you might finally get rid of that conference binder from 6 years ago on employment law. Might be time to refresh the pictures on the credenza (your son gave up soccer 5 years ago).  You still haven’t found a pair of shoes to wear with that dress – time for it to go.  As Christine Kane says “If it’s not an Absolute Yes, it’s a No.  You’ll need to say No as you move forward to continue to keep the monster under control.

If you buy a new dress, pair of shoes, coffee mug or stapler, swap it in kind with an old dress, pair of shoes, coffee mug or stapler.  Starve your monster, your visual cortex will appreciate it.

What would you do?