Feedback is Great Motivation

If you went around your office and asked each person, “Are you doing a good job?” what would be the answer?  Would most people respond by saying either “I don’t know” or “I think so”?  And if their answer was, “Yes, I think so,” and your follow-up question was, “How do you know?” would you hear lines such as, “I haven’t been chewed out by my boss lately” or “No news is good news”?

Such answers reveal that most people receive little feedback on their performance until they make a mistake. This is a sad state of affairs. People need feedback on their performance to feel motivated to move toward their goals.  Managers know what they want their people to do but many times don’t bother to tell them because they assume people know. This leads to the most commonly used management style in business, often referred to as seagull management. When someone makes a mistake, seagull managers fly in, make a lot of noise, dump on everyone, and fly out. Since this is the predominant style of management in organizations, it is no wonder that motivating people is a major organizational problem today!

Can you imagine training for the Olympics with no one telling you how fast you ran or how high you jumped?  The idea seems ludicrous, yet many people operate in a vacuum in organizations, not knowing how well they are doing on their jobs. This can lead to what we call decommitment—a change in an employee’s motivation or confidence—which can be one of the biggest challenges managers face.

To avoid this situation as a manager, stop and think about how you would answer the following questions:  Are your department and organizational goals clear?  Do you talk to your people about performance expectations?  Does every person know what a good job looks like? Is anything getting in the way of performance?  Are you giving each person regular feedback on his or her performance and behavior?

I often repeat the words of my former colleague Rick Tate, who said, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”  Letting your people know where they stand and how they are doing can help nurture genuine relationships and create job satisfaction all around.

Keep Your To-Do List in Perspective

This is the time of year when a lot of people get stressed. You know—running around, making sure they have every present bought and everything done for holiday and new years parties and all that. The holidays can turn into a burden rather than a blessing. This is supposed to be the season of joy and love, not of trouble and hassle. Stress is a major problem this time of year because people have so many “to do” lists. They forget why they’re doing it and get too much into the doing. Too often this time of year we’re human doings rather than human beings. I just want you to check yourself, as I need to check myself as I run around and try to get things done at the end of the year, that I’m a human being, not a human doing.  It doesn’t mean that you can’t get things done and crossed off your list—just don’t make “list accomplishment” the goal of this holiday season.

Make LOVE the goal of the season. Reach out to everyone you talk to and wish them the greatest holiday—the greatest Christmas—the greatest New Year. Just tell them you care about them. Maybe you couldn’t find right present for someone. Perhaps you should sit down and write that person a note about how much you care about them and let them know you’ll send them something after the holidays. Sometimes during this time of year, I like to go through my phone directory and call people I haven’t talked to in a while, and just tell them I care about them. That, to me, is a joyful thing to do this time of year. So what can you do to make this a joyous time, rather than a hassled time?

Have a wonderful Christmas day. Life is a very special occasion if you keep your “to do” list in perspective.

Saying “No”

One of the most difficult things I have had to do over the years is to learn to say no.  As a people-oriented person, it is very difficult for me to say no to anyone—I don’t want to hurt their feelings or make them feel unimportant.  As a result, ever since I was a teenager I have been overloaded with things I have agreed to do. I have always made too many commitments.

Saying no is simple, but not simply done by most people.  I have tried all kinds of ways to say no in my life.  When I was a professor at the University of Massachusetts, for example, I became so overwhelmed with things I had agreed to do that I sent out a letter to a number of people saying, “I am dying—dying from good opportunities.  If I don’t do something about it, I will not be long for this world.”  Then my letter went on to say that I had to drop a number of things I had agreed to do, just for survival.  I apologized to each reader because I had to drop something I had planned to do with that person.  The letter helped me out of the crisis in the short run, but was not something that made me proud.

To be effective in the long run in relieving overload, I’ve determined that you have to have a systematic approach and philosophy on saying no.  I recommend three steps:

1)  Be clear about what you are doing, and what your priorities are. If you are purposeful about how you are currently managing your work and time, it is easier to say no to new activities that are seemingly less important. We have a saying in one of our programs that goes, “A person who does not have goals is used by someone who does.”

To be proactive about saying no, you need to be very clear about your own goals. What are you trying to accomplish during a given period of time?  How can you focus your energy on things that will move you toward those goals?  This doesn’t mean you have to be rigid and inflexible if a new assignment or opportunity comes along, it just means your goals become your reality check. Within those goals, set priorities and stick to them. Then you will be better able to discern whether something is consistent with your job or area of expertise, which will make it easier to determine if you should take it on.

All good performance starts with clear goals.  Without them you will quickly be a victim, because you will have no framework to make decisions about where you should or shouldn’t focus your energy.  I become much better at saying no when I am more clear about my focus and what my goals are.

2)  Be clear and realistic about the consequences of doing one more thing. This is for yourself as well as the person who wants you to do something new.  I’ve found the best approach is to be honest and direct.  For example, say, “If I do this, I won’t be able to do the other things I’ve committed to.”  Or, if for no other reason than past history, you can say, “With what I’ve got going on right now, if I take on this additional task I feel certain that I won’t do as good a job as I’d like, and we will both be disappointed.”

In recent years when a new opportunity has come my way that I know I’m not able to do, I often compliment the idea (if I feel it has merit) and then simply say:  “I don’t choose to get involved.”  I’m amazed how, when I use this powerful approach, people very seldom say, “Well, why can’t you do it?”  They just accept it and say, “Thank you.”

3)  Offer alternatives and solutions. Suggest someone else who you feel could do the job or who may be available sooner to work on the task.  If the request is from your manager, suggest a project or priority you are working on that could be dropped, delayed, or given to someone else, or ask your manager to do the same.

The degree of flexibility between these three approaches is, of course, a function of exactly what the task is, who is asking you to take it on, and the time frame involved.  A request from your manager is going to involve more consideration and discussion than a request from an associate or someone you don’t know. Still, these basic approaches work.

Research done by Charles Garfield, author of the Peak Performance trilogy, clearly shows that peak performers only focus on a few key things.  And the late, great leadership expert Peter Drucker asserted that the people who truly get things done are “monomaniacs on a mission”—people who focus intensely on one thing at a time.  The more you take on, the greater the chance that you will lose effectiveness in not only getting that particular task done, but in all aspects of your life.  Keep in mind that when you say no to someone, you are not saying no to them, only to their proposition. And never forget the old expression: “Nobody can take advantage of you without your permission.”

Resolving Conflict A Matter of Asking the Right Questions

Whenever two people quarrel, inevitably they focus on who is right and who is wrong.  Playing the “I’m right, you’re not” game is a sure way for people to push away from each other even further. If there is a history of disagreements, this mindset will cause even the slightest spat to become a rehash of past conflicts.

Knowing how to handle conflict is an important skill for anyone.  I find that three very simple questions can help minimize conflict.

1. “What would make the other person’s position right?”

The first question is from Mary Parker Follett, a professor of organizational behavior in the early 20th century.  She was one of the first people to point out that conflict was often the result of rational, well-intentioned people who simply saw the world differently and thus focused on different problems.

To best resolve a disagreement, Follett advocated not to dwell on who was right, but rather to try to better understand why the other person sees the situation as he or she does.  That is, ask yourself, “For the other person to be correct, what views would that person have to hold about the situation of life in general?”  This simple technique can help you see beyond the problem at hand and focus on a more general understanding of the situation.

For instance, I once got upset when I felt that someone in my company did not treat a customer well.  But by asking, “How could this person allow this to happen?” I learned that the other person simply didn’t realized the importance I have always placed on customer service.  As a result, we achieved clarity about this issue.

After you have a good understanding of how the other person sees things, you can more objectively discuss with him or her the basis for the specific perception.  It is easier to discuss how the person arrived at the perception and what might change his or her viewpoint than it is to force someone else to change a position he or she is locked on.

2. “What do we have in common?”

This question comes from Peter Drucker, one of the foremost management thinkers of our day.  He believed that sometimes the best approach to deal with conflict is simply to try to make it more bearable for those involved.  Instead of criticizing each other when you disagree, Drucker advocated finding what you have in common with the other person.  Finding a common ground can then typically be parlayed into other areas of agreement.  Although the conflict may not ever be fully resolved, focusing on areas of agreement will help minimize the conflict and make it more manageable.

To take a simple example, suppose a man who works with you is constantly late for meetings, and this bothers you.  You may interpret his behavior as unprofessional and disrespectful and you are apt to get increasingly annoyed. The other person, however, is likely not to see it the same way.  He may instead feel that being on time in life is simply not that important in the overall scheme of things.  He may feel instead, for example, that it is more important to get the job done. He may be willing to work long and hard—maybe even staying overtime—to complete any given assignment.  Both of you place a different value on timeliness for different reasons which are valid to each of you individually.

Instead of focusing on being “right” when the colleague is late, it would be much more productive for you to explore how you both see the subject of timeliness and what you each might do to minimize the potential conflict that results when he is late. You might get the person to agree to call you if he expects to be late, or you may need to emphasize in advance to him when it is crucial for you to have him be on time. These agreed upon “rules” will help to minimize potential friction in the future between you both.

3. “If we were to agree in the future, what would it look like?”

I learned this last technique from my wife, Margie, who convinced me that looking ahead to the future and imagining a harmonious relationship makes it easier to get to that point.

As an example, let’s say you are discussing the future direction of your company with your management team and there is disagreement. Instead of getting caught up in escalating emotions about some aspect of the company’s vision that you feel strongly about, just slow down and imagine what your company would ideally be like in five or ten years. This technique allows people to focus together on a positive future vision that can serve as an anchor in your interactions today.  Again, areas of disagreement tend to become secondary.

Resolving conflict is not always an easy thing to do. Yet, if you take a moment to use these techniques, you may find your anger and frustration slipping away as you take a giant step toward achieving more harmonious working relationships.

How Do You Replace A Key Manager?

The first thing you need to decide when you lose a key manager is whether you need to hire a “winner” or a “potential winner” to replace this person.  Winners are individuals who have demonstrated that they can do the exact job you need done.  They are hard to find and they cost money, but they are relatively easy to supervise.  All they need to know is what the goals are.

If the last manager was a winner and you worked well with that person, you might need to search extensively to get the same type of individual.  If you can’t afford or don’t think you can find—or take the time to find—a winner, your next alternative is to hire a potential winner.  Potential winners are individuals who have promise, but have not demonstrated the ability do the specific job you need done.  They are less expensive to hire but they require time and training to develop the skills for the job at hand.  Do you have that kind of time?  Can you afford to train someone to take the last person’s place?

As you interview an individual, how do you tell whether you have a winner?  Let me suggest a process you might use.  When you interview job applicants, attempt to find out as much about them and their background as you can.  As they explain their past, probe with appropriate questions along the way to learn how they have arrived at their current position in life. After you get a sense of the person’s personal and professional background, share with him or her the key responsibility areas in the position you have open.  Be as detailed as you can regarding your concerns and expectations. This process will give you an initial sense of the quality of person you are dealing with.

After this phase of interviewing, you will be able to narrow down the field to the best potential candidates for the job.

During the second interview, give the person a pad and pencil and have him or her prepare a strategy to follow if he or she were to get the job—that is, what would be done first, followed by what would be done within the next three, six and nine months.  Give the applicant an hour to complete this task. Tell him or her that you will want to read the prepared statement as well as listen to an oral presentation.  This will give you not only a sense of the person’s ability to think and plan, but it will also indicate his or her level of initiative, organization, and creativity as well as ability to communicate and present ideas verbally and in writing.

After you have heard the presentation, talk about it. Ask what kind of supervision he or she would need from you in each of the key responsibility areas of the position: Close supervision (known in Situational Leadership® II as a Directing leadership style); both direction and support along with participation in decision making (a Coaching leadership style); support, encouragement and listening (a Supporting leadership style); or could you leave the person alone with minimal supervision (a Delegating leadership style)?

Suggest that the amount of direction the person will need will depend on his or her level of competence in the areas of responsibility, and that the amount of support and involvement you will provide will depend on his or her level of confidence in performing each task or goal.  For example, for you to effectively use a Delegating leadership style, the person would need to be highly competent and confident at the task at hand.  Whereas, if the person is an “enthusiastic beginner” (SLII® language), more direction will be needed.  Suggest that the person look at each of the responsibilities separately and be ready to talk with you in terms of what kind of supervision might be necessary.

While your new candidate is working on analyzing his or her own development level and the appropriate leadership style needed to be effectively supervised in each responsibility area, you would do the same in relation to what you have learned about the person. After you each have analyzed appropriate supervisory approaches on various tasks or goals, you would come together and talk about the kind of supervision that person would probably need.

What is fascinating about this exercise is that you are essentially contracting for a leadership style with the person before he or she has been hired.  This way, you can find out whether this person is a winner who can be generally supervised or a potential winner who will require a greater degree of direct supervision and control.

Hiring a replacement for a key position is not a simple task—it’s something that must be done with great care.  The ideas I’ve presented here have helped me many times to make the best hiring decision—I hope they help you, too!