Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Giving constructive feedback to your employees

I talked about giving feedback to my boss last time, so I want to write about a difficult conversation with one of my employee this time.  Most people think that it should be easier for a boss to give feedback to his or her employees.  Sure it is not hard to say the words since there is generally less fear of repurcussion.  However, to give feedback in a way that would influence the employees to change is not any easier.  I have an employee who is completely committed in making himself look good.  In doing so, he would undermine his colleagues, throw his peers and staff under the bus, not sharing credits with his peers and staff.  I knew that I needed to address his behaviors which I believe was rooted in a great deal of insecurity.  I honestly don't even think I like him because he has been such a headache to me, but I know that I have an obligation to help him as his supervisor.  So how do you give someone negative feedback that would still build them up and motivate them to change?  The fact that he works in the satellite office presents an added challenge as this conversation could not be in person unless I was willing to wait longer.

I ended up scheduling some time for us to talk.  I decided to use very specific examples and the one example I used was when he told my boss the project one of his peers was responsible for was in jeopardy.  I asked him why he did it and how he would feel if his peers did that to him with the most calm voice I could come up with.  After he admitted to the impropriety of his actions, instead of criticizing him, I appealed to his desire to feel important.  I said, "I need your help in setting up a good example for our staff and shape our organizational culture for collaboration and teamwork."  In the end, he was very receptive to my feedback and agreed to modify his behaviors.  I recognize that a person cannot change overnight.  I am also not naive in thinking that one conversation could effect significant changes.  As such, one key thing to remember when we have difficult conversations is not to expect instant changes, but to start a process of change.   

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Giving feedback to your boss

A friend of mine asked me this week how one could give constructive feedback to his/her boss.  That is indeed a tricky thing to do.  For the most part, bosses are in a position of power relative to their employees.  If the bosses do not like what they hear from us, our fear would be that we could suffer some consequences.  The reality is that the fear is legitmate.  Bosses do have the power and ability to retaliate.  We therefore should approach this kind of conversations with care.  You must know who you are dealing with and where you stand.  Depending on the level of openness and trust, you need to adapt the degree of frankness and amount of information to be shared. 

I actually gave my boss some feedback this week myself.  Fortunately, my boss is the kind of person who is open to feedback and has a high degree of awareness.  She also trusts me a great deal.  Even so, I did not just lay out all my feedback.  We have to remember and consider that human feelings are fragile.  Even the strongest and most open person has difficulty hearing negative feedback.  It is part of being human and our bosses are just regular human beings.  Therefore, the first thing I suggest is for you to think of him/her as a regular person who has regular human needs (i.e. affirmations, recognitions, etc.).  If you care about him/her as a person, the message would come out differently.  In my case, my boss and I spent some time discussing our employee survey results that highlighted some key leadership issues some of which directly related to my boss.  As we went through the feedback results, I acknowledged her strengths and I gave her examples of my own experience to help her understand the employees' viewpoints.  I also took ownership of things I could do better.  Additionally, I watched her reaction carefully to guage when she has heard enough.  The goal is to for her to receive the feedback, not for me to say everything on my mind.  Knowing when to stop is the key.  Another important thing to remember is that change takes time.  Do not expect people to change overnight.  Be patient, persistent, and gracious.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


After being in management in various industry sectors for over fifteen years, I have had numerous difficult conversations with employees, clients, bosses, and co-workers.  In fact, I negotiated my salary with the partner of the firm I worked for two years after I graduated from college.  In my eighteen years of career, I have had nine jobs, changed career twice.  I delivered bad news to clients in numerous occasions whether it was related to increased fees due to overbudget or deliverables not met.  Furthermore, I have had a great deal number of conversations with employees about their performance and year-end evaluation results.  All of these conversations had one thing in common.  They all involved me delivering news contrary to the other party's expectations or desires.  Of course, some of these conversations were more successful then others.  Nonetheless, over the year I have developed the ability to have these conversations without damaging the relationships and the ability to reach some common understanding for us to move forward.  Recently, I have come to the realization that such skill though highly valuable to all, is not common to all.  I suppose that it is only human to want to be liked and not be rejected.  Having these conversations really put us in situations where we are vulnerable to rejections.  After all, it is just easier to pretend that everything is fine.  Experience tells me that things are never fine if issues are not addressed.  Avoiding these conversations could result in resentment which ultimately will damage the relationships whether we like it or not.  It could also result in unproductivity since it would be unlikely employees would apply themselves at work if they are unhappy.

Coaching is the buzz word these days.  Some companies provide senior level people executive coaches nowaday.  A few companies have some forms of coaching program available to all employees.  Unfortunately, for too many people, that kind of support is not available at work.  I hope to use this blog to share some of my own experience in having difficult conversations on an ongoing basis.  Some will be success stories, some will not be.  Either way, I hope that we could learn together on this endeavor as I truly believe that if we master this skill, our potential to reach our goals will be unlimited.  If you have any specific scenario that you would like to share and get input, please feel free to post them as well and I will do my best to brainstorm ideas with you.  It is my hope that this blog will become a free coaching support network where we help each other.

Let the journey begins!