Category Archives: Leadership

3 Tips for Responding to Critical Feedback

I have written previously about how to give critical feedback effectively, and how to ask for it. The other part of the equation is what to do once you receive critical feedback. It can be emotionally difficult, even if you asked for it, so it’s worth it to take some time to figure out how to process feedback thoroughly and make the most use of it.

1) Reflect on Whether It’s True

When we get feedback, most of us tend to immediately decide whether we agree with it or not. This impulse is totally natural, and it comes from a good place — having a strong identity. However, sometimes the feedback that can have the most impact is feedback that doesn’t fit with our view of ourselves. Feedback that takes you out of your own idea about what you’re “good” and “bad” at is the type of feedback that leads to real growth. If we wanted to rely on our own views, we wouldn’t have bothered to ask for feedback in the first place, right? So even though it’s hard, pause when you get the feedback, and resist making a snap judgment about whether you agree. Let yourself think about it and really reflect on it without judgment or anger. You may end up in the same place, and that’s ok, the process will still have been worth it.

2) Get Multiple Views

Since we do all have a very clear vision of ourselves, it’s easy to think that our view is the only view. However, it’s important to separate intentions from impact. By intentions I mean how you meant something to sound and how you thought you were coming across.  Often in the face of critical feedback, it’s easy to defend yourself by clarifying what your intentions were. While intentions are important, sticking to this point will blind you to the real area for improvement: understanding how you were actually perceived. Therefore, the greatest value in the feedback is that it will help you understand how others perceive you. Since one person’s view may not be the majority view, it’s a good idea to ask other people.  Don’t just go for quantity. Instead, think about who you trust, who knows you well, and who is skilled or experienced in the attribute in question. Then ask for their opinions, and keep an open mind for what you might hear. By doing this and asking for their honest views, you will get a much more accurate picture of yourself. Feedback is, after all, just a collection of opinions, so the best way to get an accurate picture is to ask more people.  While this can be uncomfortable, it is a very powerful thing, because it will allow you to make changes to your behavior that you wouldn’t have made otherwise.

3) Get Specific

I covered this in my post about how to give critical feedback effectively, but in case the person you are working with doesn’t follow that guidance, the burden shifts to you to get the specifics you need. Asking for specifics can sound awfully similar to asking for proof, and you don’t want these questions to come across as defensive (another example of the importance between intent and impact). Therefore, a good way to start is by making it clear that you are asking for specifics because you really want to understand the feedback. Ask questions like, “What could I have done differently? When should I have done something that I didn’t do? What was my approach missing?” You want to ask whatever you need to in order to understand the feedback around not just this situation, but whatever the underlying principle is. Only by understanding the principle will you truly be able to carry the lesson forward into your future work.

Tell me: What’s the best piece of feedback you’ve ever gotten?

 

How to: Get a Raise

A raise: everyone wants one, but how to get it? And more importantly, how to ask for a raise without jeopardizing your relationship with your manager. No one wants to come across as money hungry, but the reality is that taking initiative about your career and salary will have a major impact on your lifetime earning.

1) Ask for It
The most common reason that people don’t get the salary they want is because they don’t ask for it.  While the unique value you offer to your company is clear to you, it may not always in be in the forefront of your manager’s mind. They likely have other direct reports and other responsibilities to worry about. Many people assume that their hard work will be noticed and rewarded, so they feel that asking for a raise will be unnecessary or have a negative impact on how they are perceived. However, if done calmly and logically, negotiating for a raise could actually improve your manager’s opinion of you. Wouldn’t you want to work with someone who was eager to challenge themselves and confident in their strengths? I know I would.

2) Time it Right

Timing is very important when it comes to increasing your salary. Most people wait until the end of the review period to bring this up, which is a big mistake. By then, you don’t have any more time to prove you are deserving of a higher salary.  If there was something specific your manager was hoping to see from you and hasn’t, you won’t have time to correct this. Additionally, there is a lot of review and oversight that goes into setting yearly compensation. Your manager has most likely gone through rounds of reviews with her superiors and gotten approval from HR. If you wait until your review is about to be delivered, chances are your raise (or lack thereof) has already been determined.  So, to give yourself time to prove you are deserving of a higher salary, bring up your goals at the beginning of the review period. Be honest about what you you want to achieve in terms of responsibility and salary increases. It’s also a good idea to ask them to be specific about what they want to see from you in order to increase your salary.   For example, “I would like to be making $80,00 by this time next year. What do you think my biggest development areas are?  Which projects could I work on to build these skills and demonstrate that I can operate at a higher level?” By asking up front, you will ensure you are on the same page about what’s required to move into a bigger role and earn a higher salary. That way, you can spend your time working on what is most important, and by the time your next review period rolls around, you should have a very strong case for getting a raise.

3) Track Your Accomplishments

Once you have had a conversation with your boss and discussed your goals, don’t go silent. Keep the conversation open throughout the review period. Make sure you are checking in with your boss at least once a month to assess your progress. This will help you avoid getting out of sync with them by decision time. It is also incredibly important that you advocate for yourself. No one else is paying as much attention to your accomplishments as you are, so be sure to keep a running list of examples where you were successful. By staying in charge of your own development this way, you will have a tangible record at the end of the year. This is so much more powerful than relying on someone else’s memory and interpretation of events.

 

Dealing with a Difficult Boss: The Too-Distant Manager

While at first it may seem wonderful to have a boss who doesn’t keep close tabs on you, be careful not to be lulled into the trap of thinking that no news is good news. A boss who is too distant will not be able to give you the proper attention to guide your professional development. Additionally, they will not be close enough to accurately assess your job performance. This can have serious consequences at review time.  These three strategies will help you stay connected with your manager without requiring a large time commitment from either you or your boss.

1) Set Up a Regular Structure

Meeting with direct reports at regular intervals is a best practice, but despite this I know all too many people who do not have such meetings in place with their managers. Rather than waiting for your manager to request a meeting with you, take the initiative and ask to have a check-in meeting regularly. Even meeting once a month will do wonders for staying connected and ensuring you can update them on your work. Requesting this meeting will also show your boss that you are being proactive about your development. While they may not be of the mind to set this up themselves, most managers will appreciate the initiative and will gladly take the time to meet with their employees.

 

2) Be specific About What You Need

Once you have a regular cadence of meetings on the calendar, the next step is to make sure that you use your limited time with your boss wisely. While it may be helpful to just get “Face time” and build a relationship with your boss in these meetings, you can gain much more if you approach them with a solid agenda and strategy. Not only will this ensure that you get the guidance you need from them, but it will make it easier on your boss if you are very clear about where you need them to get involved. An example of what you could present to them is this:  “Here’s what I’m dealing with, here’s my plan to approach it, here are the risks, this is what I want your guidance/perspective on.”  This approach is preferable because you are giving them transparency into challenges you are facing, but you are coming with a plan and not asking them to solve your problems for you. Giving your boss insight into your plan will help them get to know you and your abilities. Be specific about where you want them to engage (or that you don’t need their help at this juncture). Once you have set up this background information in an organized way, a collaborative problem-solving conversation will flow naturally. Your boss will know what you are working on (and where you are adding value) and they will be very clear on what you need from them.

3) Get in Sync on Goals and Expectations

One of the biggest risks of having a boss who doesn’t manage closely is that you will be operating under different ideas about what success means in your role. It is in your best interest to talk to your boss directly about what his/her expectations are for your performance.  In this meeting, get as specific as possible. What are the metrics or benchmarks that will be used to evaluate your performance? What milestones would you need to hit in order to be considered for a raise or promotion? What are the key development areas that you need to focus on in order to move forward in your career? Don’t assume that your boss has a clear picture of these, be prepared to bring your view and have an open discussion. After the meeting, it is best to send a follow up email re-stating the expectations you have both agreed to. While this may seem like overkill, it is never a bad idea to have confirmation that you are on the same page. If you follow these steps, you should know exactly where you stand come review time.

Dealing with a Difficult Boss: The Micromanager

The term “managing up” gets used frequently in discussions of what it takes to be successful in the corporate world. One of the most important aspects of managing up is an ability to deal with less than perfect management. Learning how to navigate and improve these situations can alleviate a lot of stress and frustration. Today I am going to focus on strategies for dealing with a boss who is micromanaging.

Micromanaging is one of the most common complaints people have about managers. Why is it so prevalent? In my experience, it is because the behavior that is rewarded in junior roles (e.g. attention to detail) are often not as important once you reach a leadership role. For example, being detail oriented is critical to being a good analyst. As a manager with ten direct reports, however, this attention to details will cause a manager to miss the big picture and make decisions too slowly. Whether you are managing and you are afraid you might be falling into this trap, or you are an employee who is frustrated that your boss seems to be all over you, read on for strategies to overcome micromanagement.

1) Take the Emotions out of the Equation

I am not advocating that you ignore your (or your manager’s) emotions. In fact, I think that ignoring emotions at work is usually a recipe for disaster because they tend to boil over eventually.  What I mean by taking emotions out of the equation is this: don’t assume you know why they are managing you this way, and don’t take it personally. Most people who feel they are being micromanaged think, “my boss must think I am really incompetent.” While this is an understandable reaction, it is based on an assumption. Interpreting your boss’s actions as a personal insult or judgment escalates an annoying behavior into a personal attack on competence and character. Most micromanagers don’t realize they are doing it and don’t know how to stop; it is rarely a direct result of something an employee is doing wrong. So, if you find yourself  frustrated with your manager, take a step back from your emotions and assumptions and focus on how you can change the dynamic.

2) Schedule a Two-Way Feedback Session

This might sound scary, and your level of comfort with this will depend on your relationship with your boss and your company’s culture. That said, it pays to force yourself to do the difficult things, so focus on your goal and push yourself to take this step.  If you request a feedback session with your boss to discuss your relationship, make sure that you make it clear you also want them to give you feedback. Creating an open conversation will take the pressure off and make your boss feel less attacked. In this conversation, be direct with your boss that you feel they are managing you very closely. Rather than exploring your feedback at length, focus on problem solving with them. For example, ask, “What can I do to give you comfort about how I’m approaching this project?” By shifting quickly into strategizing with them as your partner, you take the emphasis off the criticism and focus on improving your relationship in the future.

3) Be Proactive and Transparent

The most common reaction to being micromanaged is to retreat further and try to avoid contact with your manager at all costs.  Although this is an understandable reaction given how frustrating it can be to be micromanaged, this behavior will only make your boss more likely to  stay too close to what you are doing. Instead of waiting for them to request updates, be proactive about keeping them informed. This will help ease their anxiety about not knowing how you are handling something. It also allows you to direct their attention to the level of conversation you should be having with your boss. For example, rather than copying your boss on every email you send out, ask them to spend an hour strategizing with you about a difficult customer or project. Once you’ve given them transparency into how you are handling  it, give them regular updates on how it is progressing. By keeping them informed you are alleviating their concerns and directing their attention to your overall approach, thereby keeping their focus off unimportant details.

 

 

 

A Guide to Performance Planning: Part 3

Today’s post is a continuation of two earlier posts on performance planning. If you have not read those yet, I suggest starting here for Part 1 and here for Part 2.

So, now that you’ve done your planning and had the conversation with your employee, you’re in the clear, right? Not so fast. As I mentioned earlier, the reason you are investing in a performance plan is because it is in everyone’s best interest for your employee to succeed. To maximize the probability this will happen, you both still have a lot of work to do. Today I’m going to address some best practices for managing an employee on a performance plan.

There are many different ways to structure a plan, and while I have my views on that, I’m going to focus here on best practices for approaching the follow through, rather than the format of the plan itself.

1) Document It

In many corporate settings, managers are required to document performance plans. Even if it is not required at your organization, I recommend you document performance plans. The first reason for this is to increase the effectiveness of communication between you and your employee.  You may think you have agreement in a meeting only to learn much later that your employee misunderstood you.  Having them review and sign off on their understanding of the document is a great way to guard against miscommunications.  Documenting it also ensures that everyone agrees on the expectations and the ways in which progress will be evaluated. Additionally, having a living document  is  an easy way to track progress and make the plan transparent.  No matter what format you choose, make sure it is written down and shared with all relevant parties.

2) Make it a Collaboration

While you as the manager are ultimately responsible for creating the plan and evaluating your employee, you should still approach performance planning as a partnership. After all, your employee is the one who has to actually change their behavior, so you need to make sure they understand the plan and that they believe it is attainable. Involving your employee in the creation of the plan has some other benefits too. Firstly, having them partner with you to create it gives them a sense of control over the process. This, in turn, will increase their motivation to follow the plan. Secondly, they likely understand the daily details of their role better than you do. Therefore, their input on what is reasonable and attainable is key to making sure your plan is realistic.

3) Check in regularly

One of the most common reasons why performance plans fail to result in actual behavioral shifts is that they become static documents that are abandoned soon after the initial feedback conversation. The plan should be a living document, used to track progress and document examples. That said, the plan itself cannot substitute for continued open conversations between the manager and the employee. Set regularly scheduled meetings, review the plan, and agree on progress or setbacks in an open and direct dialogue. This ensures that you are getting on the same page regularly, so that you won’t be surprised by a major disagreement at the end of the assessment time frame.

4) Get outside opinions

While you and the employee are the main owners of the plan, it is very helpful to get outside opinions on how much progress is being made. Just as you checked in with relevant co-workers to gather the initial feedback, you should continue to follow up with those people to get their views on the progress being made. This ensures objectivity, and it helps you to get a more accurate picture of your employee’s performance. Perhaps there are some aspects of the plan where they are excelling while they are still hitting major roadblocks in other areas. You might miss this if you don’t regularly get feedback from people who interact with your employee on different aspects of their role.

A Guide to Performance Planning: Part 1

One of the challenges my clients frequently present to me is how to handle an employee who is under-performing. It is undoubtedly one of the hardest management skills to master, and of course it is also one of the most important. Since I spent the majority of my career focusing on how to transform poorly-performing teams, I have learned the hard way what works and what does not. Of course, there is no one way to handle this situation, and customization for each employee is a key aspect of success.

I’m dividing this guide into 3 parts. Today’s post will focus on your preparation for the conversation with an employee who is not performing well. Parts 2 and 3 (to follow over the next week) will review the conversation itself and the follow through after the conversation, respectively.

1) PREPARATION

The first key to having a good conversation around performance is preparation. I cannot state this enough. If you go into a performance discussion without having done your due diligence, it will not go well. But what exactly do I mean by “preparation”? It is vital that you understand both your employee AND what they do on a daily basis. Think you’re familiar with the technology they use but haven’t spent time looking at it in a while? Ask to shadow them for an hour or two or have them walk you through it. Not sure how they go about leading meetings? Attend one. Don’t assume that you know how they are acting based on what they tell you or your assumption from the results they are producing. Take the time to get to know them and their work.

2) HAVE EXAMPLES

Nine times out of ten, if you give someone critical feedback, their response is going to be, “Can you give me an example of that?” You want to be prepared for this, so make sure you have two-three examples of the relevant behavior. They should be recent, so that it is fresh in both of your minds. You should also have something concrete, not just an impression. For example, if your employee is struggling with client interactions, bring a negative customer review as an example. By bringing examples, you can illustrate your points and have a productive conversation about the other person’s development areas, rather than a debate about whether the development areas exist.

3) TRIANGULATE

You are probably confident in your assessment that this employee is not performing up to your standard. Even if you are, ask other people for their views. Even the best managers have blind spots and biased perspectives. You owe it to yourself and to your employee to ask people from different vantage points what they see. Make sure to ask people with both different perspectives (e.g. peers, other managers, customers, etc) and people with different personality types. That should help to give you a more comprehensive view and put a check and balance on any biases or assumptions you are unconsciously making.

Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 of the Performance Planning Guide to learn more about what to do in your initial conversation and how to follow through afterwards.

 

How To: Deliver Critical Feedback Effectively

Whether you’re an employee who isn’t getting enough input from your boss, or a leader who is struggling with how to deliver a tough message, feedback is a universal and unavoidable challenge. As a leader, it is critically important to be able to deliver feedback well.  One of the reasons critical feedback is so dreaded is that many managers think they only need to give it to employees who are struggling.  In fact, feedback is equally, if not more important, as a tool to help your top performers improve and take on more responsibility.  Quality constructive criticism can help a great employee become a star, and enables your star performer to have an even bigger impact on your team.

Although it may be uncomfortable in the moment, your employees and teammates will certainly appreciate your honesty in the long run. Keep these things in mind to deliver feedback most effectively.

1) Put things in Context

I like to use a 2-part formula for giving constructive feedback and performance assessments: The state of things + What does that mean.

Consider the differences between these two statements:

a) “You have been struggling with how to approach projects that are ambiguous.”

b) “You have been struggling with how to approach projects that are more ambiguous, but overall your progress is in line with what we expected based on your seniority.”

See how powerful that second phrase is? The employee would likely walk away with a totally different view on how they were doing. Whether it’s good or bad (the “what does it mean” might be that someone is performing below expectations), it is vital to give employees a sense of where their behavior falls against your expectations for them. Don’t assume they know where you think they stand or that they will be able to extrapolate it from your observation — be explicit.

2) Beware the Compliment Sandwich

I often hear people say that that the compliment sandwich is the most effective way to give feedback. This makes me cringe. It’s not! Don’t just take my word for it, research supports that it’s not an effective way to convey areas for improvement. When you put constructive criticism between two positives, the person you’re talking to mainly only hears the positives. They definitely won’t walk away with a clear sense of how that piece of feedback fits in with their overall performance. They will most likely brush it off altogether. Alternatively, it often has the effect of devaluing the positives. If you want to deliver positive feedback, do it separately. It should not be used as a warm-up for areas for improvement.

3) Partner to Create Next Steps 

There are few things as un-motivating as getting a bunch of critical feedback and feeling like you have no idea how to approach making the necessary changes. An excellent leader will not only deliver the feedback, but they will end the conversation by outlining some concrete steps to improve. It is also most effective if you give examples of what could have gone better. An effective way to combine the two is to discuss how a past example situation could have been improved, and to strategize together about how to handle a similar situation in the future. Motivated people want to improve- help them shift into action as soon as possible by being direct and specific about what they can do differently.

I feel so passionately about the importance of delivering quality, actionable feedback that I could easily develop a list of 20 things to keep in mind. However, if you follow these three guidelines, you are much more likely to have a productive conversation with your employee and lay the foundation for personal growth and improvement.

Tough Question: What is your management style?

Today I’m addressing another one of the most-dreaded interview questions: How would you describe your management style? In my view, open-ended questions are often the hardest to answer.  It’s hard to know what information to include and what to leave out, as well as whether you should be detailed or high level.  Even if you have significant management experience, this can be a tough question to answer well.  If you are applying for your first real management role, it is even more important to ace this question so you give your interviewer confidence that you will make a good leader. So, let’s go over some strategies to make this potentially difficult question easier to tackle.

1) Think about what qualities defined the most effective leaders you have seen in action. 

It’s so much easier to think about what makes a good leader when you take yourself out of the equation. That’s why I think it helps to start by thinking about past leaders you have worked for or at least seen in action. What qualities helped to make them stand out? Were they particularly good at coaching, setting a vision, or staying in touch with their employees? Write down the top 3-5 attributes that made them effective, and think about how you could apply these to your own experience. This is particularly valuable if you have not officially managed someone else before. Whether you think about it consciously or not, you are likely going to start by emulating leaders you have worked with before. Over time, your style will become more your own, but modeling is a great place to start as you gain more leadership experience.

2) Know the major styles of leadership

This takes a bit more research, but a little effort will go a long way towards being prepared for your interview. It helps to have a basic framework for types of leaders to apply some structure to an otherwise ambiguous question. While by no means the only definition of management types, these are widely accepted and a good place to start*:

  • Commanding/coercive- dictatorship, “do what I say.” Often used in hierarchical organization (e.g. the military) or in times of crisis where there is no time for discussion or dissension.
  • Visionary- explains a vision and paints a picture of what is possible in the future to motivate people.
  • Affiliative- Focuses on diffusing conflict and creating harmony.
  • Democratic- Engages heavily with the entire team to get their input, makes decisions collectively
  • Pacesetting- Builds challenging, exciting goals for employees.
  • Coaching- Invests heavily in getting to know employees and developing their strengths and weaknesses.

Of course, certain leadership styles are more appropriate for different cultures and for different circumstances. One person is not one style all the time, and these are not hard and fast definitions. However, knowing this framework is a helpful way to categorize your style and organize your response to a tough question.

*More information on the leadership types can be found here: http://www.educational-business-articles.com/six-leadership-styles.html