Today’s show is Scheduled Feedback Conversations. Listen to the show on iTunes and Stitcher.

Don [00:00:00] Feedback needs to be seen as this less formal top-down approach, often punitive—do this or that—and it needs to be more of a conversation about a range of things that the employee brings to the workplace.

Don [00:00:17] My name is Don Rheem CEO of E3 Solutions and author of the book, “Thrive By Design: The Neuroscience That Drives High-Performance Cultures.”.

Don [00:00:26] I speak across North America on the neuroscience of engagement and I’m passionate about helping leaders at every level create engaging workplace environments where employees feel safe, recognized and valued. Employees who feel safe are happier, healthier and more productive.

Don [00:00:44] Each week, my team and I take on topics impacting managers and we offer solutions to your biggest workplace challenges. And, you’re listening to Thrive By Design, a podcast created by E3 Solutions to give managers CEOs and leaders the tips, strategies and tools needed to create an engaged culture at work.

Kelly [00:01:08] Welcome. I’m your host Kelly Burns, vice president of client experiences at E3 Solutions.

Kelly [00:01:14] As always we tackle critical workplace themes each week with our resident expert and CEO Don Rheem.

Kelly: [00:01:21] Welcome, Don. And, thank you for taking the time to be here with us

Don [00:01:24] It’s my pleasure, Kelly.

Kelly [00:01:26] As we heard at the top of today’s episode this week’s focus is on schedule feedback conversations.

Kelly [00:01:32] As a leader effective regular feedback is essential to each employee’s productivity and morale. Feedback isn’t a one-time event. It’s a component of consistent and predictable processes of letting employees know that they matter. Managers who give regular feedback to their direct reports have more highly engaged teams but only if that feedback is authentic, constructively focused and supportive.

Kelly [00:01:56] We estimate that 80 percent of feedback employees typically receive from their immediate manager is overtly negative or punitive. This kind of feedback offers little if any benefit to the individual or the organization. Feedback has such a negative connotation in its terminology, it typically references a top-down mentality of, here’s what I think about your performance and here’s where you need to improve it.

Kelly [00:02:19] Why do we need to reframe this and how can we do so?

Don [00:02:22] We need to reframe it in large part because what the data says. There’s research on how effective are these, typically annual feedback conversations, and the research is clear.

Don [00:02:32] One out of three feedback interactions has overtly negative outcomes and you just ask any leader in an organization. If you had anything you did where one out of three instances it delivered a negative impact you would stop doing it. But that’s not what’s happening with these annual feedback reviews.

Don [00:02:49] A significant number of the Fortune 100 are moving away from the annual performance review where we give feedback. And it’s not that we don’t want to have an annual meeting but if we don’t have more frequent conversations about this it’s not as effective.

Don [00:03:02] Feedback needs to be seen as less, as you said, formal top-down approach, often punitive, do this or that, and it needs to be more of a conversation about a range of things that the employee brings to the workplace.

Don [00:03:16] It’s not just about their job performance although that certainly is traditional and number one, managers should also be talking to employees about their behavior within the organization and their attitude within the organization. Both of those things are typically off the radar in these conversations but every manager acknowledges that they have a material impact on what goes on within the team.

Kelly [00:03:40] So what does good feedback actually look like and how often should it happen?

Don [00:03:44] We recommend a monthly conversation with an employee that is labeled as a feedback opportunity.

Don [00:03:50] It doesn’t have to be long. It doesn’t have to be formal but it should have certain components without question and I should just lay them out.

Don [00:03:57] A feedback conversation should be on four things. Number one, the job performance. Number two, the individual’s behavior. Number three, their attitude that they bring to work. The fourth component of a feedback conversation that’s typically not there today, is the manager asking for feedback from the employee about the manager’s performance as their leader. And that might be in the form of, how am I doing or is there anything else I could do as your leader? But true feedback is two-way and it’s a conversation, it’s not one way, top-down.

Kelly [00:04:29] Having these monthly conversations means that when you eliminate the concept that feedback only happens on an annual basis, when you’re getting essentially rated for performance, you are having more natural conversations, less anxiety-inducing conversations, you’re able to nip issues in the bud as quickly as possible.

Kelly [00:04:48] So essentially leaders while they may be spending more time having these individual conversations are spending less time putting out fires that are caused by not holding these conversations on a regular basis.

Don [00:05:01] Well absolutely. Ultimately, the goal of feedback in today’s workplace is to help steer behaviors and performance so that the individual is able to better meet the needs of the team in the organization.

Don [00:05:12] You can’t do that once a year. When it’s done once a year it’s a bit of a gotcha and then the employee just comes out of that resentful, about well, why didn’t you tell me then that this was going to have a big impact? It’s a blindside and no one likes to be blindsided.

Don [00:05:28] Kelly, there’s one other thing about the typical feedback approach that is really just blown it up. And that is what’s done at the same time and that annual performance review is the employee is told what kind of raise they’re getting.

Don [00:05:41] And most employees know what the pool is, whether it’s 2 percent, 3 percent, 4 percent and then they’re gauging whether they’re getting above or below that.

Don [00:05:48] And the challenge with that is, you could give me a feedback conversation about my performance if it’s followed by me getting the percentage or above that I think I deserve, I view your feedback is brilliant, spot on, you got me, Kelly, yeah absolutely right, I’m so glad you saw me that way.

Don [00:06:05] Different situation. You give me that identical feedback, verbatim, but I get below the percentage I think I deserve.

Don [00:06:12] Now that identical content is viewed as inadequate, unfair, incomplete. It’s the identical content. What has happened is the frame around what percentage did I get, has had a huge impact on how it’s perceived and used.

Don [00:06:26] So, one of the worst things that happened to the annual performance review, was that’s the meeting where you’re told how much money you’re going to get more this year than last.

Don [00:06:33] Those two things should be separated.

Don [00:06:35] Secondly, if though we have monthly conversations, which is the cadence that we believe is the most appropriate, you can still have a meeting once a year where you talk about compensation and what kind of raise they’re going to get. And then there’s no blindside.

Don [00:06:48] There will need to be some congruence. The employees can expect some congruence between how they responded to feedback and what they get.

Don [00:06:56] The most responsive and the top performers should get more. One more minute on this compensation issue. We were working a very large organization and all the managers were told we have a 3 percent wage pool. Now if there’s a 3 percent wage pool the top performers should get more than 3 percent. And the lower performer should get less. That’s how you run and maintain a meritocracy.

Don [00:07:19] But in this large organization what felt fair to the managers, being conflict avoiders, what did most of the managers do in that organization? What did they give to their team?

Kelly [00:07:28] An across the board 3 percent.

Don [00:07:30] Exactly. And that felt fair to the manager. Again because they’re a conflict avoider didn’t want to have the tough conversations.

Kelly [00:07:36] But wildly unfair to the people who contribute every day.

Don [00:07:40] Without question. It was viewed as an insult and we actually saw those answers in our open-ended answers in our question. It was just insulting that an A player is getting the same raise as one of the lowest performers. This is another way where feedback has just been so confused around money.

Don [00:07:58] The more we can divorce it from the money on a regular and have this be this conversation about performance behavior and attitude the better.

Kelly [00:08:06] I like that you’re opening the aperture well beyond how somebody is doing in terms of performance.

Kelly [00:08:11] We work in such complex organizations in today’s society. We’re working across channels, we’re working across departments, we have a lot of ways that our day-to-day work does not go directly just from a manager to an employee. Because an employee might be working on projects and have dotted lines to lots of different departments in the organization.

Kelly [00:08:34] And having these regular feedback conversations creates opportunities for the leaders to, not only understand how things are going in the employee’s day-to-day life that doesn’t impact the manager directly, but also how they can support them through those efforts. And that’s an opportunity for a conversation that doesn’t come up naturally on a day-to-day basis.

Don [00:08:54] And this is another reason why we believe feedback should be two ways. What a fantastic opportunity for a manager who on the org chart is the person responsible for the employee but that employee is working on four different projects with four different project leaders.

Don [00:09:11] So the employees working most directly with the leads. Now they come and meet with his manager who on paper they have to report to and have this conversation with and the manager can say hey, Kelly how’s the work going on your projects?

Don [00:09:23] And just have a conversation with how those projects are going. Listen for opportunities how can they make that employee’s performance enabled to do more. That managers should be listening for problems or challenging on those teams or with those project leads. Because often these project leads are technical experts they’re not great leaders of other adults.

Kelly [00:09:44] So how does the leader prepare for a scheduled feedback conversation? They have him on the calendar once a month. They’re sitting down with each of their employees what are they doing to prep for that?

Don [00:09:53] One of the nice things about having a cadence of once a month is you have the previous months conversation, things that were raised.

Don [00:09:59] Ideally, what I would like in the subsequent month, the manager comes in says look, I heard what you were saying about this project and the challenges. I did talk to that project lead and made some suggestions so I hope you’re seeing some differences there.

Don [00:10:11] It’s following on things that the manager said they would do.

Don [00:10:15] No there’s wonderful deep literature in the management field around what’s called, servant leadership. I really like it.

Don [00:10:21] The manager is here to serve the employee. And so the manager wants to do anything they can to get impediments out of the way of the employee performing at their highest capacity. So a feedback conversation is an opportunity to find out what those impediments are. At the same time, they’re introducing more frequent accountability and that’s really important.

Don [00:10:41] These feedback conversations are to let the employee know you are accountable to what you said you would do and attempt. So if they’ve done it they’re going gonna get recognition and validation for having done it.

Don [00:10:52] This is how behavior changes the most readily. This is just a much more powerful way to influence behavior when no one’s looking.

Kelly [00:11:01] There’s also a great opportunity inside of these conversations not just to talk about past performance but also to talk about future hopes and goals for that employee. How did they want to be challenged? How did they want to grow? What do they see coming down the pike this quarter, this year and for their own careers in the next 1, 3, 5 years and how can a leader help them achieve those goals?

Don [00:11:24] Yeah, oh absolute goal identification.

Don [00:11:26] And not just work related but professionally related as well. What are some of the aspirations of this employee?

Don [00:11:32] I’d love in these feedback conversations for managers to say, hey, Kelly we are so grateful you’re in this organization. You could have a really deep and wonderful career here. Let’s map out your career path. Let’s create your flight plan for where you can go with this organization. And I want to work with you to make sure that you can get to each of these next steps. Identifying the competencies to get there.

Don [00:11:54] Now the employee, their manager, is not just a top-down overseer but is actually an advocate for them. And by the way, it may be the first time the employee had a manager say, here’s what your future looks like.

Don [00:12:08] We’ve talked about the importance of knowing what’s next. We talked about it mostly in terms of that day, that week, that month. How about in your career? What’s next? Let’s map it out.

Kelly [00:12:16] Which is just another great way of saying, I care about you and I want to see you succeed.

Don [00:12:21] It’s a manager that truly cares in an authentic way beyond getting the next week’s numbers delivered on. But the employee is seen and valued as more than a production tool, but as-as a person, as an asset for the company.

Kelly [00:12:35] What are some key questions a leader should always ask in scheduled feedback conversations?

Don [00:12:40] They should ask how things are going. How’s it going? Anything in your way of being just awesome? What are the biggest impediments to getting your work done? What’s going well? Let’s not forget about that. What’s working for you?

Don [00:12:53] The manager can also say what are the working conditions where you feel you thrive? It’s getting to know more about that individual’s strengths and aspirations and then it also helps to have one or two things very specific that they’re working on in the way of a competency, something the manager says I’d really love for you to learn how to do X. And then work with them, give them the tools and the materials and then work with them to do that.

Don [00:13:18] In effect act in a mentoring role. But it’s also an opportunity to be curious about their behavior and their actions.

Don [00:13:28] These are two things that we put on this agenda for feedback conversations that aren’t typically there. I did have one manager that said, well Don, I did raise this question about her behavior and here’s what she said: There’s nothing in my job description that says I have to show up all cheery and supportive of others. Period close quote. And it wasn’t in her job description.

Kelly [00:13:50] Your favorite kind of employee.

Don [00:13:53] So, he was wondering how do I have the right to ask those questions and to be curious and talk about the impacts of her behavior and actions when it’s not in her job description? And this is where we have a very specific answer.

Don [00:14:06] And, the answer is, actually, it is a part of your job.

Don [00:14:09] One of our core values is, fill in the blank, and our core values cut across every job description in the company. And maybe that core value is mutual respect, maybe it’s excellence, maybe it’s customer service. But whatever that appropriate core value is, managers get to use those core values to talk about behaviors and actions of individual employees because those behaviors and actions are very material to the performance of the team and to specific work getting done.

Kelly [00:14:38] We talk about core values a lot and we talk about tying communication, especially validation, recognition and feedback to core values.

Kelly [00:14:45] We haven’t talked about this before so I’m curious what you think about it, but some organizations don’t have core values. Maybe they’re new or just haven’t really gone down that path or maybe they don’t have, to your point in this instance, behavioral core values traits related to how people show up every day.

Kelly [00:15:03] What can a leader do to help instill team-based core values that maybe don’t transcend to the entire organization but are a core part of how they expected their specific team to show up and operate?

Don [00:15:15] So, it may be that they don’t have core values, it may be that they have core values but senior leaders aren’t living them so they don’t mean much.

Don [00:15:22] But here’s the specific recommendation I would do for a manager who’s trying to create some value-based markers, if you will, or standards for their team.

Don [00:15:32] And, this is a process called, creating a shared sense of social identity.

Don [00:15:36] And what a manager could do is, front of the room on a whiteboard on a flip chart, is say, I want to talk about teamwork and how we work together as a team.

Don [00:15:45] So you write teamwork up on the whiteboard. And, then you say, I know we all know the value of a team and working together as a team but I just want to find out how do we each view teamwork?

Don [00:15:55] So the manager asks the team sitting in a room if you saw someone who said, hey now there’s a good team player. What would you be saying? What are they doing? And, so then you wait for those responses and the response might be they help other team members. You write that down. A response might be they look ahead. The response might be, they show up on time for meetings. Another might be they own they’re accountable for their work.

Don [00:16:19] And, so the manager is writing all of these things down on the whiteboard periodically turning back to the employees and saying does this fit for everybody?  Does this feel like what teamwork is and could and should be?

Don [00:16:29] And, people typically should be nodding yes.

Don [00:16:33] And what they’ve done is she’s created a shared sense of social identity around what teamwork looks like. The manager should by writing all those things down she’s created a list of behavioral norms that the team has identified that they will use as best practices.

Don [00:16:50] And she gets to say that are these should these be best practices for us and hopefully everyone should say yes. This is the team creating their own standards of behavior. And that’s a way to do it when core values may not be widely known or a big topic of conversation.

Kelly [00:17:07] An added bonus to that is, when you’re doing it in that community with your entire team it’s not just the manager who’s then parroting that core value or calling people to higher standards with that value. The entire team has agreed to that and thus in a healthy work environment, each team member would hold one another accountable to that level of core value.

Don [00:17:29] Absolutely and so now in the monthly feedback conversation, the manager tells her direct report, look we all agreed, teamwork.

Don [00:17:36] A key part of that was looking out for the people around you, and I just I need to talk to you about what happened last week because it felt like you left Mark hanging and the whole team reacted to that and it just felt so uncharacteristic. Help me understand what you saw happening there around teamwork and how maybe we could have done that better?

Kelly [00:17:59] So in a situation like that you are helping call somebody to a higher standard or helping correct a particular behavior or attitude.

Don [00:18:07] A higher standard that they participated in and created.

Kelly [00:18:10] Absolutely. And that and that’s a key marker. A lot of people might call that and we hear this phrase all the time. They call it constructive criticism but we don’t talk about constructive criticism.

Kelly [00:18:20] What’s the difference in that concept and constructive feedback?

Don [00:18:23] There is no receptor in the brain for constructive criticism. Those two words are oxymorons.

Don [00:18:30] Anything critical, negative is a punch to the brain.

Don [00:18:34] So, what’s happening is that the very act of being openly critical is actually shutting down the person’s part of the person’s ability to respond and a desire to create meaningful change.

Don [00:18:45] The most typical reaction is defensive negativity. That’s not a positive business practice. Now you can have constructive feedback. But the constructive criticism is not nearly as effective as its proponents and users believe it is. What we’re doing is we’re sugarcoating overtly negative feedback and calling it constructive. That’s not how it lands on the human brain.

Kelly [00:19:08] As we come to the end of the episode there is some positive news.

Kelly [00:19:11] One of the questions we ask in our engagement survey, the E3A, is whether employees discuss their progress at least once a month with their supervisor. That question averages a 3.02 out of 4.0. Now that’s just across the threshold. We do our measurements by above 3.0 is essentially a positive score, below 3.0 is essentially a negative score. Our employees average a 3.02 on that. So we are having managers have these conversations on a fairly regular basis. But clearly, there’s continued room for improvement there.

Don [00:19:42] Well one of the things that we look for, so our clients take the survey year over year. And what’s wonderful is that’s a very tactical thing to change. You just tell managers you need to have this meeting once a month today.

Don [00:19:55] Exactly and it’s wonderful to see how that score goes up as managers get more intentional about doing that. And you can see the managers that have done it because their scores on that question go up significantly and the managers that haven’t.

Don [00:20:10] I just did a debrief with one of our client companies earlier this week and it was the CEO who had a really low score on that. He didn’t tell anybody. And his score was up significantly. And I asked him what happened.

Don [00:20:23] He said, well I saw that score and I knew I could fix it. And it’s just nice to see when it’s reflected.

Kelly [00:20:29] Absolutely. What’s the best way to follow up from a scheduled feedback conversation?

Don [00:20:32] Have little micro conversations in between the monthly meetings. You can fit it in when you are working the rounds or you’re having a conversation with them. Just bring it up. Hey, how you doing on that? Just a kind of a micro check-in is really good. It lets the employee know that it’s still top of mind for you. That’s really really important.

Don [00:20:53] There are a few other things. Can I just end with some just tips here on feedback that managers can put to work?

Don [00:20:59] It needs to be specific. It’s an opportunity for growth and advancement. It creates more mutual understanding between the manager and then we’ll see about next steps. It needs to feel safe. The conversation has to feel safe where the employee can be frank open and honest, respectful for all parties connected to core values. Lots of active listening and managers should consider putting together an action plan that lays out specific things the employees working on.

Don [00:21:26] And then you get to talk about that every month and when they get that one thing done, take it off the plan and then add something new, so the employee sees regular, steady progression.

Don [00:21:36] That’s the wonderful impact of great feedback.

Kelly [00:21:40] That’s it for today. I’m your host, Kelly Burns and thank you for listening.

Kelly [00:21:44] Tune in to next week’s episode on how to give feedback on a specific situation.

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