HR Learner in Development

Posts Tagged ‘Feedback

Don't let this be you (giving or receiving end). Work towards better communication to improve productivity and value within the next year.

Going ahead into a new year gives rise to annual reflection and resolution.  For my blog, this means trying to stick to a more regimented schedule as many of you will notice, my posts are quite sporadic.  So I am taking up the Post a Week 2011 Campaign.  Call me out on it if you see me slipping!

In business, one of the most important reflections any boss or employee needs to make is that of efficiency, effectiveness, and productivity.  How can you as an individual make changes in the upcoming year to improve your performance and your business? Employers of course will look at their employees and determine how to better lead their people.  But what happens if expectations are not being met?  I implore  boss and employee alike to take a hard look at what can be improved and when it might be time to move on.

The choice to fire is of course a difficult one.  Most employers will say that it is one of the hardest things they have to do in their job and or career.  Many in fact avoid firing due to the stress of putting someone else out, or they make excuses that there are workarounds to the short comings of an unproductive employee.  Yet as a whole, the working environment may be better off without those problem employees.

Some of the signs that an employ may be better off working elsewhere include:

  1. Lethargic Work Behaviors
  2. Negative Attitude and/or Talk Back
  3. Policy Violation(s)
  4. Continued inability to perform

I’ll go into each to discuss the impact on the business, what a boss can do, and what an employee can do to correct the negative situation before things go too far.

1. Lethargic Work Behaviors – This could be systematic of a number of work related or non-work related (sleep deprivation, illness, etc) circumstances, but it clearly has an impact on productivity.  Lethargy or a slow, tired dredge through the work day can most seriously be a sign of a disengagement; the employees lack of interest in what they are doing and why.  Managers must have a serious discussion with individuals who present these behaviors.  Maybe the employee has lost sight or never truly knew where they fit within the organization or why their role is important.  Managers need to remind these people of where they create value.  On the other hand, if the employee knows exactly how he or she fits into the organization and is unmotivated by it, a change is needed.  Whether that change happens within the organization or outside of it depends on the need of both organization and the employee.  If a supervisor comes to you saying that they have notice lethargic behaviors, try to ask them how long they expect certain tasks to take; your boss may have unrealistic expectations of what your job entails.  Work with your boss to set a plan of overcoming the hurdles of your everyday tasks.  What can be done differently on your end?  What can be done differently by the manager to help you accomplish your job responsibilities?

2. Negative Attitude and/or Talk Back – While many don’t realize,  a negative attitude is cancerous to an organization.  This issue really needs to be addressed least the negative attitude of the problem employee spills into the mindset of other workers.  This could be anything from back talk with a manager or supervisor which calls question to that supervisor’s legitimacy, to bashing a product, to being generally uncooperative. For a manager to not address these issues makes it acceptable both for that individual to continue those behaviors, but also makes it acceptable for others to do the same.  This creates a negative work environment, and engagement suffers  significantly.  Managers, take the time to speak to the problem employee and let them know that these attitudes should be corrected.  If you know you are one of these problem employees, ask yourself why.   Do you not respect the people or the work you are doing?  If not, consider other options.  Don’t risk being called out.  If there are no other options for you, seriously consider the alternative of being out of a job because of your behavior.  Can you afford it?  Don’t take it for granted that you will always get away with your poor attitude.  If at all possible, try to turn it around.  If you can’t speak to your supervisor about it directly, try turning to HR to get some suggestions on turning yourself into an employee you and your organization can be proud of.

3.  Policy Violation – The seriousness of a policy violation varies, but on every account, these violations should be handled equally across the board for all employees.  Some policy violations certainly create an imperative to fire instantly, after the violation has been confirmed.  Some examples include discovering ineligibility, violation of a harassment policy and breach of contractual agreements.  Other policy violations may be less severe.  If an employee breaks a certain one of these lesser policies, it is the responsibility of the supervisor or manager to let that employee know what was done and to punish accordingly.  There are some cases where an employee legitimately is unaware of the policy, so the manager must make sure that everyone is on the same page going forward.   On the employee end of the matter, be sure to read the policy manual (if it exists).  There may be an organization policy, area policy, and/or department policy.  Be sure to follow each and every one.  If they conflict be sure to bring it up with your manager.  If you recognize that you have violated a policy, be aware and don’t do it again!  This is one of the easiest ways to lose out on promotion, credibility, or your job.  Work with your manager on rebuilding trust.

4. Continued Inability to Perform – Legally, an employer would be wise to fire in this instance only if they have gone through clear and detectable steps towards working with the employee to correct problem behaviors. That being said, progressive discipline is generally the best route in most situations (baring the instant fire situations previously mentioned within policy guidelines).  In order for progressive discipline to work, it must be done for all situations for all employees, favored or problematic.  Progressive discipline is often set forth by the organization itself, but if not, the general gist is simple.  An employee does something wrong, the manager discusses it with the employee and takes note of date, instance, and what was said on both sides.  Some form of punishment may be put in place.  If an employee continues to do something wrong, the manager again discusses the issue with the employee and escalates the punishment, also bringing it to the attention of an additional set of ears and eyes, usually in Human Resources.  Again, the manager writes down what happened, when the discussion took place and what was said.  Finally, if the behavior continues, the manager would most likely have the grounds to fire as soon as the instance was properly confirmed.  The manager should always consult with Human Resources before making these termination decisions.   The number of instances most depends on a policy set in place by the organization, but if not, should be consistent with the needs of the organization.  If you are on the employee end of this, take every effort to turn things around early.  If you feel like you are being singled out, bring it to Human Resources, or if all else fails, a lawyer.  No one should feel like they are being treated differently for anything relating to race, gender, national origin, disability, religion, or retaliation.  For more information, consult the EEOC (US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) website.

One final situation of note is the instance of the loyal, previously star performer who has been promoted to a role he or she is unable to perform.  Please keep in mind that these individuals are an asset to your organization, but if they are not meeting the basic requirements of their new role, should be scaled back.  Manager, this must be done tactfully.  Employees who have been promoted have probably gotten used to the fact that they are going to hold on to that role for a long period of time.  Remind your employee of the job responsibilities, and refer to the job description.  Employee, try to not take offense, you should have seen this coming.  Either find a way to work with your manager to improve the skills you lack for your new role, or graciously accept that this current role is not for you.  I know there are many companies who will then manage the individual out of the organization, but again, you may be surprised to find this employee shine in another role entirely.

Firing should be a last resort, but if done properly could prove to be in the best interest of the organization, the supervisor, the team, and even the individual being let go.  Here’s to 2011, a year of clearer communication, a greater sense of purpose, higher levels of respect, and overall improvement.

The importance of feedback can not be understated.  Occasional check ins  are necessary for getting on the same page about successes and areas of growth.  I don’t say ‘areas of growth’ as a mistake; the term weakness is avoided on purpose.

The danger of feedback lies in the negative.  The presence of too many negatives drives the appraised to disheartedness and defensiveness, anger and resentment, often resulting in less productive work, missed days, and disengagement, on the extreme end.  Even just a few negatives can bring a relatively positive conversation to the ground.  Done well, however, it can  be motivating.

Therefore it is vital for those giving the feedback to truely understand the art of it.  They need to understand it as a tool for re-establishing expectations and goals, a method of providing praise to successes and support to the challenges.  Framing, attitude, and timing are key.  They

Even done right, negatives are powerful.  If you delivery feedback:

  1. Know the job that you are evaluating well.  Proper preparations should be taken in reviewing a job description and other like documents. 
  2. Discuss positive performance first.  Statistically speaking, the person will remain in a self-affirming mood when going into some of the more touchy subjects.
  3. State observations, and focus on specific incidences of specific behaviors.  There is nothing worse than vague feedback – there is nowhere to go from there, and a feeling of confusion or even resentment can come out of it.
  4. Provide enough time for the employee to defend him or herself, or talk about his or her present concerns.  If need be, use similar techniques for interviews in this meeting.  Wait for answers, and rephrase questions or suggestions if the person is not responsive.
  5. Set goals together, that you both agree on, that would benefit the growth of the individual and the department by extension 
  6. Finally, don’t just let this be the last conversation.  If specific actionable goals were discussed, check back in to see how things are progressing.

If you are being appraised:

  1. Don’t take the appraisal personally.  The appraisal is intended to bring everyone back to the same page. 
  2. Don’t make snap judgements.  Allow the information to sink in a little.  It’s easy to get emotionally defensive of the work that you do, so it may take some reflection to acknowledge the truth in the feedback.
  3. If you have to, vent about it, but not to your boss or co-workers.  Venting to your boss is dangerous for you.  Bringing your negative emotions to your co-workers can possible poisin the work environment.  Present your thoughts to your non-work relations, and ask them to support you and give you suggestions as to better the situation.
  4. If you don’t understand where something is coming from, ask.  Get specifics, and get suggestions how to be more effective in what is being asked of you.
  5. Take a negative feedback session as a wake up call, and a call for growth.   Frankly, if it’s important enough, if  change does not occur your reputation and your job could be on the line so a serious look at these.  So what behaviors do you need to implement or abandon?  Do any of your workplace attitudes need readjusting? 
  6.  If there is someone who is excelling in an area where you are struggling, ask for suggestions. 

Workplace conflict can have catostrophic consequences. Avoiding them can be done by analysing your interpersonal communication techniques.

 

I am posting below a critical incident report I have written as part of my training in an Interpersonal Communication class that I thought might bring some insight to others.  While I have not done an employee relations case or investigation, I can’t help but think that these would be some of the steps I would use to assess the situation and suggest action items for the future to resolve a dispute.  

Incident Description 

Nancy, Steven, Paul and Sylvia work together.  Within team meetings, they collaborate and respect each other’s opinions.  After work, they often unwind at a bar, joke with one another, and enjoy each other’s company without the pressures of their jobs.  Nancy works with Sylvia at the front desk whereas Steven and Paul have private offices.  One day, Steven, the Director of the department, signed his name on Nancy’s calendar, but Nancy used white out to erase his name.  A few days later when she was away from her desk, Steven noticed what had happened and joked with Paul about it.  To tease Nancy, he again signed his name to her calendar for the current month, and the four months following.  When Nancy returned, Sylvia told her what had happened and she became noticeably upset.  When Sylvia commented about it, Nancy went so far as to call Steven a jerk, and suggested that he must be trying to get her to quit.  When Steven heard that she had gotten upset, he said to Sylvia, “She didn’t have to be so OCD about it.  The calendar isn’t even technically her’s.” 

Analysis 

Nancy is clearly territorial about her space.  She prefers supplies and personal items at her desk a certain way and if someone challenges that order, she reacts negatively.  This extends of course to her desk calendar.  When Steven challenged that space, Nancy’s security seemed to have been threatened.  Additionally, Steven violated her space not once but twice.  Nancy was expecting him to understand that she was not pleased with him writing on her calendar after the initial exchange, when she used white out to make the calendar ‘clean’ again.  A drawback of this non-verbal communication was that the degree to how much the act of signing her calendar affected her did not come across in her behavior.  It seems as though Steven did not take the context into consideration when he decided to recreate the act again.  

Another aspect of this exchange is the issue of rank.  Nancy has a lower position than Steven.  Her responsibilities are to provide support to the department and to Steven directly.  In the past, Steven has expressed his desire to be viewed as a ‘team member’ as he views the term ‘boss’ in a negative light.  His objective, it seems, is to create a working culture which has a lower power distance.  This is clear even in how he invites us to all participate in after work fun.  One expression in the department has always been “We hang; we cool.”  However, Steven is providing mixed messages, as his actions speak louder than his words.  

In this scenario, the presence of the high power distance reality becomes apparent.   Steven feels that it is in his power to sign his name on Nancy’s calendar.  As he understands the office, Nancy’s space serves him, and he should be able to manipulate that space as needed.  However, the negative emotions that ensued because of his behavior actually impacted Nancy’s productivity a great deal for a period of time.  

It seems that Nancy is more comfortable in a low power distance scenario seeing as she is uncomfortable with her boss taking over her space.   At the same time, this points to her desire for a high level of uncertainty avoidance.  Again, she appreciates order and neatness in her area, and if a pen is not where it is supposed to be, she knows someone else has moved it.  Steven, however, feels that this level of uncertainty in the work environment is ill-advised.  In discussing the event, Steven mentioned that Nancy should learn how to better adapt to change.  His reasoning for signing Nancy’s calendar for the second time was that he was trying to help her get more comfortable with the idea that not everything in her office space is untouchable.  

Finally, when he realized how much the second occurrence had affected her, Steven jumped to conclusions and used a stereotype for Nancy’s behavior.  Because she wanted a degree of order he was unused to seeing, he verbally categorized her as maybe having an obsessive compulsive disorder.  

Teachable Moments/Insights 

After speaking with Steven about the event a bit more, it becomes clear that the intentions behind Steven’s actions were good. While he did want to make her slightly uncomfortable, Steven was trying to provide Nancy with a growth opportunity to get past her strict assumptions of her work environment.  He in no means intended for Nancy to get upset about the matter and he did apologize in the end after discovering that it did hurt her.     

But who is right and who is wrong in this situation?  Should Steven have been more respectful of Nancy’s space, or should Nancy be more open to change?  Overall, the lesson Steven was trying to impart could have been done differently, with greater tact, if it were done more openly and without an element of power. 

Continuing in the duality vein, an additional insight is how quickly something can go from innocent fun, to an environment of tension and blame, especially when it comes to labeling someone.   Because Steven persisted in writing on Nancy’s calendar, she called him a jerk.  Because Nancy was so defensive of her area, Steven said she might have OCD.  While the statement came out slightly in jest, the mere fact that he could accuse her of having a psychological disorder based on this occurrence seemed unfounded.  However, as tensions normalized, the labeling disappeared.  It stands to reason that each were protecting their self-concepts.  They were each labeling the other as an attempt to save face.  However, the reality of the situation was more complex than Steven being a jerk or Nancy being OCD. 

Additionally, it stands to reason that Sylvia  will more readily side with Nancy because she spends more time with her and is on her same level.  While Paul was unable to comment about the situation. 

Action Plan 

Going forward, several measures should be taken to avoid further conflicts. 

For one, the goal of having an open working environment free of the pressures of rank needs to be reassessed.  While some areas of the work are freely on the same level, such as creating departmental objectives and brainstorming future initiatives, others are more exclusively rank specific.  To some degree, this is to be expected, but these roles have been blurred over time.  For the department to function at a greater level, it is important for a more succinct system to be in place for communicating what is and what is not culturally acceptable within the department in terms of power distribution. 

Additionally, Nancy assumed that Steven would know not to try marking her calendar again due to the fact that she had removed it in the first place.  However, he did not use the context of his surroundings to reach that conclusion.  Going forward, communication should be made verbally and explicitly.  Assuming that Steven will know based on a look or a change in the environment is not enough, but he will respond to a conversation. 

I would not suggest Steven press the issue of training Nancy on becoming more comfortable with change in her environment.  The territoriality that occurs in the office environment is only natural for one who has been on the job a few weeks, let alone three years, as Nancy has been.  Everyone has their own unique way of operating with their environment, and Nancy has found a way that is successful to her.  At this point, to threaten that continuity, or to encourage her to change, is more of a hindrance to her productivity than an opportunity for growth.   There is also seemingly no need for this change in environment as the department is not in danger of being relocated. 

While this team has been working together for over two years, they are still learning about the expectations, assumptions, learning styles, and communication styles of each of the members.  All in all, it would benefit this team to take some time in meetings to discuss where they each stand on certain matters such as Geert Hofstede’s cultural value dimensions, how they use non-verbal communication, and how their self-concepts and perceptions play into their roles within the department, among other issues.  This understanding of interpersonal communication would provide them with the tools necessary to function at a higher level as a team.

There is more than one way to attain your goals and actualize your dream career, and you don't have to do it alone.

As mentioned before, I am on the bottom rung of my career development.  Working myself up from assistantship is my current goal, and my long-term goals revolve around being a point person for learning and organizational development.  Career development is at the forefront for me right now, but I hope that I never lose my drive for self-improvement, or my status as an advocate for career growth.

Just today, my boss told me that he is pleased to see me taking an active role in my career development.  He went so far as to say that I have a better base right now than my current supervisor had coming in to his position.  At the same time, he gave me the impression that I should be moving on soon.  My internal struggle tends to be how long is too long, and how quickly is too quick?  These questions make up the subtle nuances of career development that I am not yet versed enough to understand.  In the meantime, I do have a few workable tips for career development for you:

1.  Ask for feedback – One of the most valuable ways of finding how much you are growing and how much you still need to improve is to ask those around you (not just your supervisors but your colleagues as well) to provide feedback.  Feedback can be a double edged sword.  Given correctly, it can really motivate the recipient to take an active role in improving performance and taking charge of results.  Done incorrectly, it can discourage.  My advice to you is to not shy away from a negative session.  While discouraging and disheartening, keep an open mind.  Was there truth to what was said?  Is there anything you can turn into a positive?  Always keep in mind, however, that negative feedback needs some time to breath.  Don’t be rash.  Take some time to mull over what was said.  Definitely don’t lash out at the giver of advice.  That can be very dangerous to your current position, and possible future prospects in the company and in the industry.

2.  Talk to your supervisors about your goals – There may be projects that they might be able to assign that will bring you closer to learning more about your areas of interest, or give you skills that will bring you closer to your goals.  Be aware, however, that not all supervisors appreciate this candor.  You need to assess your relationship with your supervisors in order to determine whether this is a feasible option for you.  For instance, as petty as it sounds, there are some supervisors who really don’t want their key team members to progress because they hope to utilize their skills, expertise, and man hours for as long as possible.  Others really want to see their junior employees to fly the coop and grow.

3.  Speak to those people in positions you wish to attain – Try to get advice from the people you idolize.  Perhaps you really want to serve in the role that they currently have in a few years, or even in a decade or so, after additional training.  Ask them how they got there, if they have any advice, and what skills are useful for the position.  Ask what it is about the position that they truely enjoy, and what it is that they have grown to accept as a part of the role they must play.  Ask them about the interplay between their role and how it plays in the greater scheme of the department, divsion, and organization.  You may learn that you would not enjoy being in that position as much as you initially expected, or you may learn about some means of getting there that you weren’t aware of before.  Either way, you will be making a contact out of someone who has been there.  This mentorship will benefit you, whether you decide that path is for you or not.  Please be aware that this relationship, like that of the supervisor, will also need to be handled tactfully.  Hopefully you are not gleaning advice from this mentor only to gain tips as to how to steal the job away from that person.  I am not here to judge, but be aware that your perpective mentor may not be as open to share with you if he or she thinks that his or her position is in danger.   Try to find someone who can be open about what it is they do, even if that means branching outside of your own department or company.

4.  Take classes – If your company offers any professional development courses internally, try to sign up for them.  If your company offers tuition reimbursement, take advantage of it.  Don’t think of these things as perks, but as a part of your take home salary.

5.  Step outside of your comfort zone – Whether that means speaking to your supervisor about possible learning opportunities for you, or volunteering for a work committee, expanding your horizons is not only a great way to learn more about other people and other opportunities, but it is one of the best ways to learn about yourself.  Learning what you are capable of and what your areas of growth could be are key in personal and professional development.

6.  Keep an eye on where you’ve come from – It is all too easy to improve one area only to let another area suffer.  Keep a rein on where your strength areas are, and where your growth areas are.  You don’t want them to flip around.  Don’t fool yourself into thinking those strengths are safe.  Be especially careful of times of stress; these often bring out the worst of the worst, and the worst of the best.

7.  Finally, keep your goals in sight – Know what you are aiming for, and evaluate what is attainable.  Having lofty goals can often be completely demotivating, so make sure you can have manageable goals with set milestones or steps.  If there is a milestone you are struggling to achieve, perhaps you need to reassess your goals.  However, as mentioned before, don’t forget to utilize your contacts and your network – social, professional, or global – in order to obtain some additional assistance or advice to overcome some hurdles you may be struggling with.