Releasing the Brake

Releasing the Brake

When you’re in a position of leadership, it’s easy to think you know exactly where to take people—they just need to listen to you.

That is a flawed approach.

Our job as leaders—whether in business, in family, or in life—is to take people From Here to There.

Before we can take them There we must first know where they’ve come From. Once we understand that, then we can learn how they got Here. Only then can we help them get to their There. This takes self-reflection and answering questions similar to what I asked Anna. While you may understand what it is holding them back, they need to discover it for themselves.

The Delicate Art of Giving Feedback

by Robert C. Pozen
via Harvard Business Review

To be an effective manager, you need to be skilled at giving out both praise and criticism. While praise is easy to give, it is far more challenging and unpleasant to criticize your employees. Yet the practice of management requires you to occasionally show employees where they need to improve. Thus, it is vital for managers to learn how and when to give negative feedback.

The first thing to realize is that people generally respond more strongly to negative events than positive ones. In other words, we are usually more upset about losing $100 than we are happy about winning $100. In fact, in an influential book, John Gottman (now a Professor Emeritus at the University of Washington) suggested that positive interactions must outnumber negative interactions by at least five to one in order for a marriage to succeed.

This observation is also true in the workplace, as Professor Andrew Miner (then of the University of Minnesota) and colleagues discovered in a study published in 2005. They recorded employees' moods several times each day and, each time, asked them if any events (such as a positive interaction with a co-worker) had occurred within the past few hours.

Their results showed that employees reacted to a negative interaction with their boss six times more strongly than they reacted to a positive interaction with their boss. This suggests that negative feedback can have significant adverse effects on an employee's well-being — and, presumably, their productivity.

What does this observation mean for managers? Put simply, managers need to be cautious before criticizing employees.

To start with, you should avoid inadvertently criticizing any of your employees. For instance, if an employee writes a first draft of a written document, some managers might want to suggest some minor revisions even if the draft was generally good. In these situations, managers should clearly communicate that their revisions are merely suggestions coming from a second pair of eyes — and that they aren't criticizing their employee's performance.

More generally, managers need to weigh the tradeoffs involved in making negative feedback. If you criticize your employees, you will likely provide some corrective information, but you will also put your employee in a bad mood. If an error is so inconsequential that the corrective value of criticism is low, it might make sense for you to keep that feedback to yourself.

Of course, there are situations when a manager must provide negative feedback. On these occasions, don't lose sight of your purpose for offering that feedback: to improve the employee's performance going forward. As much as you might want to excoriate your employee for what you believe is a spectacularly awful performance, your business gains nothing from it.

In fact, shaming your employee is likely to have substantial negative effects on your business. Inresearch reported in HBR, Christine Porath and Christine Pearson found that many employees considered themselves to be on the receiving end of workplace incivility, such as overly harsh criticism from their boss. According to their research, nearly half of these employees decide to intentionally decrease their productivity.

Instead, in order to obtain the desired corrective effects of negative feedback, you should take steps to soften the emotional blow. You want your employees to focus on the message that you're trying to convey, rather than any intense negative emotions.

At a bare minimum, make sure to deliver your criticism in private. There's nothing more humiliating than being criticized in front of your co-workers. And it is critical to keep your tone collaborative. Make clear that your employee still has your support and your respect.

One strategy for providing feedback is to start by literally saying, "Let me provide you with some feedback." That statement lets the employee prepare emotionally for what you're about to say; in my experience, it also seems to activate the calm, rational part of the employee's brain rather than the defensive, emotional part.

Negative feedback is a key tool in the effective manager's kit. But you must use it wisely and carefully, or else they will do more harm than good. Focus on potential future improvements, instead of dwelling on past errors. And think twice whether an error truly requires negative feedback: criticism can have an unexpectedly large impact on an employee's happiness and productivity.

And this approach should be generally reversed when it comes to praise. Unlike criticism,managers should bestow their employees with praise generously, publicly, and at every opportunity — especially at the culmination of projects. While most bosses seem to think that they dole out praise by the dozen, I rarely meet an employee who feels that the boss sufficiently values his or her achievements. So, as often as possible, tell your employees how much you appreciate their commitment and hard work.

How to Have Successful One-to-One Meetings

There is no more important conversation for a leader than a one to one

I am a big believer in the power of one-to-one meetings with those we work with.  In Vistage, my favorite times of the month are the opportunities to sit down with my members, uninterrupted  and process through issues, brainstorm and even allow them to vent!  This article by Clay Parcells is well written and provides a great roadmap to effective one-to-ones in your business life.  I've added some resources, books and articles at the end of the post.

"How to have Successful One-to-Ones"

As a leader, are you having regular one-on-one meetings with your staff and direct reports?  These are regularly scheduled meetings with each and every one of your direct reports where you sit down and talk.  One-on-one meetings are an opportunity for the leader to LEAD.

It is your opportunity to inspire, influence, motivate, coach, listen, solve problems, make decisions, and create an environment where employees feel energized. You can’t do this with email.  If you lead and manage a team remotely, try to have a face-to-face monthly or quarterly as you conduct the majority of your conversations over the phone. As a leader, it is critical for you to be able to have open and honest conversations with your staff about their jobs, their performance, conflicts and development opportunities.

I’m amazed at the number of leaders who don’t schedule these one-on-one meetings as well as those who do and frequently cancel them due to other pressing issues.  As a leader what are you demonstrating to your employees? Frankly, that they are not important.  I understand that one-on-one meetings take time and sometimes, very pressing company or client issues come up that may require you to cancel your meeting.   However, those situations should be few and far between. 

Why do some leaders fail to schedule regular one-on-one meetings or don’t commit to those that are scheduled?  For some, it may be that they don’t know any better.  This is often the case for newly appointed managers or leaders.  Perhaps they had poor role model or no role model at all.  Or they don’t understand the value of them.  I hate to say it but some don’t enjoy talking face to face with their employees.  It is uncomfortable for them to address conflict, performance issues, to listen without judgment, and to discuss developmental opportunities. If that is the case for you, I recommend you go back to being an individual contributor because leadership is about inspiring, influencing and developing your staff.

Here are some practical tips in having effective one-on-one meetings with your team.

1.         Have scheduled one-on-one meetings and never miss them.

Consistently schedule one-on-one meetings for the same time each week. This develops the habit for you and your direct reports.  Set an agenda and be flexible about what each of your direct reports wants and needs from you during this meeting.  Remember this meeting is to help them.  In today’s high-pressure environment the success of your team depends on the individuals in your team being successful. The purpose of a one-on-one meeting is to provide your direct report with the information to do his/her job and about providing you with the information you need to help him/her do his job.

I would argue that one-on-one meetings should be the single most important meeting in your calendar and should never be cancelled.  However, that is not always possible. If you need to cancel a one-on-one meeting, reschedule it as soon as possible after the original booking, or even better, before. This shows your commitment to your staff and demonstrates that they are important.  Habitually cancelling one-on-one meetings undermines their usefulness and can disenfranchise your direct reports.

2.         Create a safe environment.

One-on-one meetings should be primarily about accurate status for the leader/manager, and continuous improvement for the employee. In order to get the maximum benefit from the one-on-one meeting you must create a non-threatening meeting environment.

Provide constructive feedback/coaching on how to prevent issues from recurring as well as what they are doing well. Try not to play the blame game. Accountability and responsibility are key; but if you start with the blame game, your direct reports may close down, and then you won’t get the information you need until it is too late to fix it.

If you need to have a performance discussion or discipline a direct report, set up a time separate from the one-on-one meeting time to discuss disciplinary or performance issues.

3.         Eliminate all interruptions.

This is your time with your direct report. Turn off your Blackberry or put it on vibrate and place it in your pocket and ignore it.  Move the computer screen away and forward your phone if you can.  As the leader you want to get maximum productivity out of your one-on-one meetings, you need to make your direct report feel like for a specified period of time they have your undivided attention. This means absolutely no interruptions. Close your door or find a private conference room if your office is a cubicle.

4.         How to schedule your one-on-one meetings.

When should you schedule your one-on-one meetings?  A good suggestion is that one-on-one meetings should be one half hour, once a week.  The best answer is whenever fits best in your schedule and the schedule of your direct reports. Personally, I have always preferred to have my one-on-one meetings on Monday or early in the week. The reason I liked Monday’s is because it gave me lots of time to work on and resolve any action items they came up that were my responsibility and it’s the start of the week. 

I would schedule these not on Monday morning since everyone just got back from a long and hopefully restful weekend.  Look at your schedule and see when primarily most of your meetings are set up.  Usually most meetings that you attend are between 10 AM and 4:00 PM, leaving the times early in the day free  to use for one-on-one meetings. 

5.         How best to prepare.

Your preparation for a one-on-one meeting should begin the second that the previous meeting for your direct report ends. You may want to keep a computer file or personal folder for each direct report and whenever you think of something you need to talk to them about in the next meeting, make a note in the folder.

Create an agenda for your one-on-one meetings and make sure your directs have some input on the format and items to discuss.  Remember both you and your employees should clearly articulate your expectations for these meetings.

A suggested format may include the following categories:

·      Accomplishments & status – a list of current projects, or sales with one or two sentences describing progress and status on each. Identify what roadblocks are preventing the projects and sales from moving forward.

·      To do – a high-level to-do list of what you would like to accomplish in the next week.

·      Areas to develop – areas of development and what activities you have undertaken to develop in those areas.

·      Quarterly goal tracking – Whether you establish goals monthly, quarterly or yearly, you and your direct reports should be making steady progress toward fulfilling those goals.

6.         What should the format look like?

Time is precious so use it effectively.  All you need is 30 minutes for these update meetings.  Therefore you can divide the meetings into thirds. One-third for your direct report to discuss their stuff on the agenda; one-third for you to pass on information that you think may be of value to your direct report, discuss items of special interest to you and delegate new work; and one-third for assisting the employee with development opportunities.

Remember these are guidelines only. I recall some of my direct report meetings were focused on one or two areas with little spent on the others. The important thing is not to neglect any one of the areas since each are important to the success of your direct report and to the overall success of your one-on-one meetings.

7.         What questions do you have for them and what questions do you want them to ask you?

What questions should you ask?  It depends on the issues you talk about.  But try to use open-ended questions that start with (What, Where, How) and then focus in the areas that are important to you and your direct report. Some additional effective questions include: What obstacles are getting in the way and what can I do as the leader to remove the obstacles; what can you/we do differently next time; what do you need from me; how are you going to approach this; what areas are ahead of schedule; are you on track to meet your deadlines or quota; what will you do differently and what do you think?

Questions you may want your employees to ask you include: What do I need to do to continue to demonstrate my commitment to you as your leader/manager; what should I stop doing that may be getting in the way; what more can I do to support you?

Remember asking questions is extremely important.  So is listening to the answers.  Don’t interrupt and use your active listening skills to really understand where your employees are coming from. 

8.         Your meeting wrap up.

At the end of the meeting be sure that the actions from the meeting are recorded, and review the actions with the direct report so the actions are clearly understood.  Ask the direct report if there is anything else they would like to discuss.

9.         Post-meeting action.

For the one-on-one meetings to be successful what you do after the meeting is at least as important as the meeting itself. Using whatever method you do to track your work; the actions you are responsible for need to be worked on. One of the quickest ways to erode the effectiveness of your one-on-one meetings, and most likely your relationship with your direct reports, is to agree to actions on behalf of your direct reports and not follow up on them.

It is imperative for leaders to have regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings with your direct reports.  It is important for their development, and will help to increase their engagement, and their commitment to your vision, to the company’s strategies and goals.  Higher engagement and commitment will lead to greater retention of staff that you want to keep, greater customer satisfaction that will lead to greater revenue growth and profits for the business.






Fierce Conversations, Scott

Leadership is an Art, DePree

That’s a Great Question, Bustin

Power Questions, Solbel/Panas

Conversational Capacity, Weber