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Are you delivering feedback as well as you could be?

If you asked 1000 managers what they considered to be the most difficult part of their job, “delivering job-performance feedback” is certain to be one of the top three responses.

Why is it so hard to tell our employees that they’re doing something that’s not working, and needs to change?

Fear of others’ reactions, saying the wrong thing or being labelled a “bully” are common reasons why managers are reluctant to give feedback. Such fears combined with differences in personality and work styles, perspectives and cultural backgrounds can lead to uncomfortable and unproductive feedback situations. In fact, in an extensive literature review Denisi and Kluger (2000) found that in more than one-third of cases, performance feedback actually resulted in decreased performance across the 131 studies analysed.

Despite these challenges, helping employees improve job performance on an ongoing basis is a key responsibility of successful managers. When feedback is delivered well, the benefits are significant not only for the employee, but for the manager and the organisation. So, it’s important to get it right. The following tips will help you deliver feedback more effectively in the workplace.

1. Get the focus right

The feedback you deliver at work should focus on:

a) Job performance and actions. This concerns competency, that is, whether or not the person is capably performing specific tasks assigned.
b) Observable work behaviours. This concerns the way in which tasks are performed, for example, whether the person arrives on time, works cooperatively or speaks courteously and respectfully to others.

Feedback that falls outside these categories, such as statements about someone’s attitude or personal characteristics, can lead to negative outcomes for both parties.

2. Follow a few simple feedback tips

Tip 1 - Create the right environment. Feedback is best delivered in person and in a private setting.

Tip 2 - Provide constructive feedback. Feedback conversations should benefit the recipient, not allow you to vent your frustrations. If you can't think of a constructive purpose for giving feedback, don't give it. Make sure there is a dialogue and not a monologue. Ensure the recipient leaves the conversation knowing exactly what action to take next.

Tip 3 - Deliver feedback in a timely way. Give feedback as soon after the event as possible. This prevents bottling up of bad feelings about the person’s performance. It also flags the issue or problem at the time it occurs, when the details are fresh in everyone’s minds.

Tip 4 - Talk about feedback in specific terms. Be factual in your discussion and cite specific examples or instances. For example: “I noticed there were several calculation errors in last month’s report”. Focus on the action and the impact.

Tip 5 - Focus on description rather than judgement. Describing behaviour is a way of reporting what has occurred, while judging behaviour is an evaluation of what has occurred in terms of "right or wrong", or "good or bad". By avoiding evaluative language, you reduce the need for the individual to respond defensively.

Tip 6 - Offer suggestions for improvement. If the objective of your feedback discussion is to improve performance, then come equipped with specific suggestions on what the person can do to affect that change. Engage them in coming up with solutions that they can buy into, by asking questions and seeking their thoughts and ideas. If you don’t get buy-in, change will not happen.

3. Follow the steps to effectively deliver the feedback

Step 1 – Be clear about the purpose of your feedback. Indicate what you'd like to cover and why it's important. This focused statement keeps the other person from having to guess what you want to talk about. For example: "I have a concern about…" or "I feel I need to let you know…"

Step 2 – Describe specifically what you have observed. Say when and where it happened, who was involved, and what the results were. Stick to what you personally observed and don't try to speak for others. Avoid talking vaguely about what the person "always" or "usually" does. For example: "Yesterday afternoon, when you were speaking with Sally, I noticed that you kept raising your voice."

Step 3 – Describe your reactions. Give examples of how you and others are affected. When you describe your reactions or the consequences of the observed behaviours, the other person can better appreciate the impact their actions are having on others and on the organisation or team as a whole. For example: "Sally looked embarrassed and I felt uncomfortable about seeing the episode. Shouting at our people is not acceptable behaviour in this department."

Step 4 – Give the other person an opportunity to respond. Indicate that you are waiting for an answer. Remain silent to allow them to answer. For example: "What is your view of this situation?" "What is your reaction to this?" “Tell me, what are your thoughts?"

Step 5 – Offer specific suggestions. Whenever possible make your suggestions helpful. Offering suggestions shows that you have thought past your evaluations and moved to how to improve the situation. Even if people are working up to expected standards, they often benefit from ideas that could help them to perform better. For example: "Jill, rather than telling Ed that you're not interested in all the details, you might try asking him specific questions about the information you are most interested in.”

Step 6 – Summarise and express your support. Review the major points you discussed. Summarise the action items, not the negative points of the other person's behaviour. This summary is an opportunity to show your support for the other person - a way to conclude a possibly negative feedback situation on a positive note. For example: "At least we understand each other better since we've talked. I'll do what I can to make sure your priorities are factored into the schedule, and I'll expect you to come straight to me if the schedule is a problem.”

While it may seem like an added, challenging responsibility to a manager’s already "full plate", managers who provide ongoing and effective feedback against established goals and objectives are actually making their job easier. So, it’s worth investing the time and effort to get it right.

If you or your team are grappling with giving effective feedback or you'd like a fresh perspective about how to help your team move forward, contact Best Practice Consulting today at http://www.bestpracticeconsulting.com.au/contact-us. One of our experienced consultants will be happy to talk to you about practical strategies to increase staff capabilities, maximise staff effectiveness and help your organisation reach its goals.

The anatomy of a great team

We’ve all heard of ‘high performing teams’. But what does a high performing team actually look like? Do they really make a difference? And if they do, how do you ‘make’ one?

A high performing team can be defined as a group of people with specific roles and complementary talents and skills, who are committed to a common purpose and who collaborate to produce superior results. 

This might sound idealistic, but high performing teams are not as rare as you might think. Most of us have actually led or been a member of a high performing team at one time or another in our careers. Think back. If you’ve ever been part of a project team or functional unit where team members all got along, had the right skills and all worked hard to pull together the project and achieve top results for the organisation, then you’ve experienced a high performing team.

What’s so good about high performing teams?

The link between teams and positive organisational performance is undeniable. And there’s plenty of evidence to support it.  

For instance, Cohen and Ledford (1994), examined more than eighty self-managing teams at an American telecommunications company and found that self- managing teams had significantly better job performance and higher employee job satisfaction than traditional working groups or departments.

Batt (2004) showed that self- managed teams were associated with significantly higher levels of satisfaction for workers and were effective in improving objective performance measures.

In a wider European study, Benders et al. (2001) also found a positive effect of teams for reducing employee absenteeism rates and improving organisational performance.

Furthermore, a review of survey based research on teamwork and performance over the last decade concluded that the great majority of studies had found teams had positive effects on operational measures of organisational performance (Delarue et al.2008).

A central argument for linking teamwork to higher productivity is that it gives employees a sense of empowerment, by increasing the control they can exercise over their immediate work environment (Goodman et al. 1988; Harley 1999). Ultimately, workers with higher control over their jobs are likely to feel more committed to their organisations and more satisfied with their jobs. As a result, they will be more willing to deploy discretionary effort, thereby enhancing organisational performance (Cohen et al. 1996; Dunphy and Bryant 1996; Pil and MacDuffie 1996).

The benefits are clear, but how do you ‘make’ a high performing team?

Creating a high performing team does take some work. For some leaders and managers, it can be a particularly difficult task; they may be very organised, technically competent, and masters at navigating their way through complex organisational politics, but they may not be very good people managers and not very effective at building a team. But, this doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

In our experience, there are four important things for leaders and managers to consider if they want to create a great team.

1. Foster a teamwork culture

In every case that has been studied at the Europe-based Centre for Organisational Research, teams that 'click' always have a leader who creates an environment and establishes values that are conducive to high performance. Dubrin, Dalgleish and Miller (2011) believe there are a number of ways leaders can do this.

  • Develop a norm of teamwork. Promote the attitude among your employees that working together effectively is an expected standard of conduct.   
  • Display a consensus leadership style. Whenever you can, demonstrate to employees that you value their input on important decisions. Consensus decision-making also leads to an exchange of ideas within the group including supporting and refining eachother’s suggestions which is proven to achieve better outcomes.
  • Be a positive teamwork model. Practice what you preach! Seek out opportunities to work as a team member with your employees and with other team leaders. Interact extensively with your fellow team members and when appropriate, be as candid as you can about ideas and attitudes relevant to the group’s work. A leader’s self-disclosure fosters teamwork because it leads to shared perceptions and concerns.
2. Understand what a team is, and what it isn’t.

If you are in charge of a work group, it’s worth remembering that teams are definitely forms of work groups, but not all work groups are teams. The table below will help you to distinguish between a work group and a team.

Work Groups

Teams

Individual accountability

Individual and mutual accountability

Come together to share information and perspectives

Frequently come together for discussion, decision making, problem solving, and planning.

Focus on individual goals

Focus on team goals

Produce individual work products

Produce collective work products

Define individual roles, responsibilities, and tasks

Define individual roles, responsibilities, and tasks to help team do its work; often share and rotate them

Concern with one's own outcome and challenges

Concern with outcomes of everyone and challenges the team faces

Purpose, goals, approach to work shaped by manager

Purpose, goals, approach to work shaped by team leader with team members

Source: http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/differences-between-work-groups-and-teams.html

3. Understand the ‘life cycle’ of teams

Teams that have not worked together before usually go through several stages of team development. Bruce Tuckman’s enduring four-stage model (forming, storming, norming and performing) is a great starting point for understanding the development life cycle of teams.

The four original developmental stages are:

  • Forming:  Team members get to know each other and try to comprehend their task. This stage is characterised by lack of clarity and unclear roles and responsibilities. The team leader must take an active role setting the team's purpose, boundaries and structure.
  • Conforming: Team members fall into an easy consensus in order to feel as though they are really working together.
  • Storming:  The boundaries set by the leader are tested as team members jockey for key positions or promote their own agendas.  Frustrations may emerge over differences that have been surpressed. Factions often form and there may be power struggles. The team leader needs to adjudicate disputes and deal with challenges, reinforcing the team’s boundaries and structure.  Clear and effective communication is crucial during this stage.
  • Performing:  The good team dynamics start to pay off as the team produces high volumes of quality work.  There is a focus on over-achieving goals, and the team is able to function without instruction from the leader, who now takes on more of an ‘overseeing’ role.

Understanding these stages is useful because it will help you to identify where your team is, where it needs to be and most importantly, what you need to do as a leader or manager to support them.

Your role as leader needs to change as the team develops. For example, the leader’s need for conflict resolution skills increases as the team develops towards the performing stage. Once the team reaches the performing stage, the leader assumes the role of ‘boundary spanner’ ensuring that team members can get on with tasks without external interference. It’s also worth bearing in mind that the arrival of a new team member or a team restructure can cause an established team to revert back to the ‘forming’ stage, if only briefly.  

Tuckman’s original model has been expanded over time.  Other proposed team stages you might recognise in teams you lead include:

  • Norming (comes after storming):  This is where confidence and trust within the team starts to emerge, with the team working more cohesively as an integrated unit.  The team roles and expectations of each other are bedded down, while the team leader is able to take on a less directive role.
  •  Reforming (comes after norming): The team checks the new norms and behavioural patterns and reorients itself to the new standards in practice and corrects any problems. The maturity of the team dynamic is able to resolve problems that arise.
  •  Mourning (comes after performing):  This is the break-up of the group, usually when the task is completed successfully.   Team members move on, after being closely bound for a period of time.   This can be an emotional time, with some team members experiencing feelings of loss. When group members are involved in new projects, they may try to recreate the old project in a new form, saying things like ‘we always did it this way in my old project team/company’.
4.  Know your role as a leader of high-performing teams

So, you’ve established the right culture, understand what a true team is and have a good feel for the stages of teams. Now what?

 Sometimes a leader’s inspiring personality alone can foster teamwork. But more often than not, leaders need to encourage teamwork by proactively demonstrating certain attitudes and behaviours and acting in certain ways. 

 The most significant behaviors and actions consistently demonstrated by leaders of high performing teams are:

  •  Defining clear goals or a vision of the future for the team that aligns with overall organisational aims;
  • Creating blueprints for action to achieve those goals and clarifying priorities on a regular basis;
  • Using language to build trust, encourage forward thinking and create energy within the team;
  • Getting the right people involved;
  • Emphasising pride in being outstanding. Helping the group to realise why it should be proud of its accomplishments builds team spirit.
  • Establish urgency and relevance. The more urgent and relevant the rationale for the team, the more likely it is that the team will achieve its potential.
  • Promote self-awareness in the team, including an understanding that people contribute and work differently. Increased self-awareness amongst team members can result in a greater understanding of their own behaviours and the impact of that on others.  There are many tools available to help with this process including the Executive Leadershop Profile (ELP), DiSC, Team Management Profile (TMP) and Hogan assessments.
  • Keeping channels of communication open. Knowledge and information should be shared on all levels; and
  •  Empowering the team to make decisions and self-managing. This encourages members to take ownership of the work and fosters a deeper sense of commitment to achieving project goals. Just remember, for empowerment to work, team members must have the appropriate skills, job knowledge and motivation and be ready accept greater responsibility.

Other things leaders can consider to improve team performance include:

  • Team recognition or rewards. Giving rewards for group accomplishment reinforces teamwork because people receive rewards for what they have achieved collaboratively. Examples could include certificates or recognition at the broader organisational level in newsletters or all-staff messages.
  • Initiate rituals and ceremonies. This enhances team spirit and encourages team members to bond. For example, send the team on a retreat to further develop their mission or goals or organise a team dinner when milestones are reached. 

So there you have it. The anatomy, as we see it, of a high performing team and some advice on how you can create one. We wish you luck on your journey as a leader of great teams and achieving your organisational goals!

If you are grappling with the effectiveness of your team, or you'd like a fresh perspective about how your team is placed to move forward, contact Best Practice Consulting today on http://www.bestpracticeconsulting.com.au/contact-us. One of our experienced organisational consultants will be happy to talk to you about practical strategies to increase staff capabilities, maximise staff effectiveness and help your organisation reach its goals.  

The Secret to Employee Engagement

Are your staff giving 100% to the organisation? Do they feel valued and appreciated? Do they show-up each day with passion and purpose?

If you answered "no" to any of these questions – your organisation has an employee engagement problem. But don't worry - you are not alone. The Hewitt Best Employer Survey results suggest that engaging staff is a big challenge for most Australian organisations. According to their most recent survey – the national average for employee engagement is only 54%.

So why is employee engagement a problem? In Australia unemployment is running at historical lows, we are experiencing an unprecedented skills shortage in various sectors and many organisations have failed to create workplace environments which truly engage staff. These factors have resulted in a highly mobile workforce, which is costly to the organisation in terms of productivity and profit.

The secret to employee engagement is capturing the hearts and minds of your employees. The difficult part is discovering what truly inspires staff to perform above and beyond. Once you discover how to engage your staff the benefits include: a happy and healthy work environment, a more productive team and a more profitable business.

Here are ten tips on creating and sustaining employee engagement.

1. Let go of the negative thoughts you have about your employees. Each person in the team has unique knowledge, skills and something valuable to contribute. Rather than focussing on the weaknesses of a staff member it is important to focus on their strengths and place staff in positions where their strengths are best utilised.

2. Be nice to your staff. Noticing and acknowledging the contribution of your employees and treating them well will have a profound impact. However, staff usually forget compliments quickly, so it essential to give these out regularly and in an authentic way. Also be aware that people like to be noticed in different ways. Some prefer a quiet praise. Others prefer open acknowledgment in front of their peers.

3. Get to know your staff. Show an interest in your people and genuinely get to know them. Understanding the stress factors and motivational drivers for each staff member can be extremely useful in managing them. This will make you more approachable making you the first person they come to when there is a problem. In addition, introducing some light hearted activities into the workplace can change the tone and mood of the organisation.

4. Use clear and regular communication. Staff like to know 'what is going on and why', especially when changes are planned. Regular feedback to staff helps reduce damaging corridor gossip that can be an undercurrent of misinformation. In addition, it is essential to clearly communicate your expectations of staff so that they can be productive and meet targets.

5. Hold performance reviews. Staff are always keen to receive formal feedback on their progress. Using a twice yearly – 360 degree review process (i.e. feedback from superiors, peers, support staff and some clients) is ideal. The process is also a great way of formally acknowledging the contribution of staff. When staff do not receive feedback and do not see any future with the organisation, they quickly start to look for greener fields.

6. Equipping your staff with the right tools. Following a performance review, training needs should be identified and appropriate courses need to be selected for staff to undertake. Ongoing training programs show staff that the organisation is interested in and responsive to their needs for improvement. You also equip staff with the skills and tools to perform at their best.

7. Offer career progression. An important driver in keeping staff engaged is to offer a career development program for each staff member. Opportunities need to be identified for appropriate staff and they need to be groomed for positions via training and mentoring.

8. Provide inspiring leadership and give individual autonomy. When new employees join an organisation, leaders need to impart the values and aspirations of the business. Staff look to management for leadership and direction, but this does not mean they need to be monitored every step of the way. No one enjoys being micro-managed! Instead inspire excellence in your staff and allow them the freedom and autonomy to deliver on tasks.

9. Remuneration and incentives. So that salaries are fair they should be monitored on an ongoing basis to keep track of changes in the market for different job roles and experience levels. Employers should also adjust salaries yearly for those staff not changing their roles and responsibilities, to ensure staff don't fall behind. Many workplaces have also introduced incentive payments that are linked both to the person's individual performance and the overall performance of the organisation. The process for calculating incentive payments needs to be transparent and clearly communicated to staff. Incentives are an important recognition tool and a way of sharing the organisations success with staff due to their efforts.

10. Flexible working arrangements. Lifestyle and work-life balance are becoming important for today's workforce and employers need to adapt and offer greater flexibility. Some workplaces offer flexible working arrangements or have wellbeing and lifestyle programs in place, such as gym membership and cinema admission for their staff. These programs demonstrate the caring nature of the organisation.

Our experience with clients is that those organisations that have processes in place to manage the above tips are more successful because their staff are engaged and committed. Not surprisingly, their staff work harder, perform that extra 10%, accomplish more, are more loyal and speak positively about the organisation.

If you are worried your organisation suffers from an employee engagement problem or you'd like some perspective about what's really taking place in your organisation, contact us. The quicker you take action – the quicker one of our business coaches and consultants can help you develop practical solutions to improve your staff engagement and commitment.

Eliminating a culture of blame

"Is your organisation emotionally charged because it suffers from a culture of blame? Do you feel like you have lost control of your staff? Discover today one of the best tools for effective staff management!"

"A great workplace culture is integral to the success of your organisation". Yes that's right – that touchy feely area that many of us don't really understand might be the mystery ingredient you are missing to build a truly great organisation.

In this article we will look at the number one problem in most organisations today – that is a "culture of blame" and what you can do to change this culture so that your organisation can focus on the important areas that contribute to success.

So why does a culture of blame run rampant through some organisations?

Sometimes it results from bullying leaders who create a culture of fear. Sometimes it results from a "good news" culture which is created when the leader is only interested in hearing good news. In such organisations staff tend to shy away from passing on bad news because it is common practice to "shoot the messenger".

How does a culture of blame impact an organisation?

1. Blame has an emotional context. Cultures of blames usually operate with emotions of fear, anger and resentment which create dysfunctional relationships and poor staff morale.

2. Blame shifts energy and focus. As a result of fear-based emotions linked to blame, staff shift their energies from the interest of the group towards self-preservation.

3. Blame creates biases. As mental energies shift to defending one's own position, biases are introduced that alter the accurate perception and assessment of situations.

4. Blame inhibits creativity. When blame is prevalent, fear exists and individuals tend not to take risks or to think creatively, favouring instead the avoidance of blame.

5. Blame is expensive. Blame has very real costs to an organisation via poor quality, service failures and lost customers. In addition, poor staff morale and high staff turnover add increasing costs to the business via recruitment and training. Finally, the lost opportunity costs of low innovation, inability to create better products, quality and service will lead to a substantial negative impact on the revenue streams of the organisation.

Playing above or below the line – a model for managing cultures of blame

What is playing below the line? In an organisation whenever you find people deflecting attention from the real issue either by pointing the finger and/or looking to blame others – then we have someone playing below the line. Blame, excuses and denial become the norm and this in turn negatively affects workplace culture.

Below the line behaviours: blame, excuses and denial.

What is playing above the line? This involves staff in an organisation accepting responsibility for their actions and behaviours. Once all people in your organisation (especially leaders) start living and breathing the principles of ownership, accountability and responsibility a positive culture is created.

Above the line behaviours: ownership, accountability and responsibility.

Playing above the line is not easy, but it is very rewarding and empowering. This is because we grow-up (start displaying adult behaviour) and we get to experience the power of our choices and our actions, and we are no longer "think and feel" we are helpless victims.

Here is an example to illustrate the difference between playing above or below the line. An employee arrives at work and says "I am late because I got caught in a traffic jam". Now the traffic jam could have been due to an accident that no one could have predicted. Below the line language would be: "I am sorry I have kept you waiting. I got caught in this terrible traffic jam...." and go on and on with the story justifying your lateness. Above the line language would be: "I am late and I apologise for keeping you waiting". Here the individual demonstrates ownership and takes responsibility for being late and its impact. The reasons for lateness are not important.

Ways of eliminating a culture of blame

The elimination of blame from the culture of an organisation can be a complex and slow process, but here are a few practical tips that might help.

  1. Share your mission with the team and clearly define the role each person plays in achieving the big picture.
  2. Have a values, behaviours and process focus instead of blaming people.
  3. Use effective communication techniques which consider other perspectives and check assumptions before reacting.
  4. Use the playing above or below the line model and make sure everyone in the organisation (especially leaders) are accountable.

When leaders focus on values, behaviours, processes, sharing purpose and communicating effectively - blame based behaviours gradually lessen over time. Most importantly, trust among team members is enhanced and staff can begin focusing on improving organisational processes and achieving outcomes.

To get the best results for your organisation, you have to get the best out of your people and your human resource management processes will greatly assist in maximising the benefits to your organisation.

If you are worried your organisation suffers from a culture of blame or you would like some perspective about the culture that is really taking place in your organisation, call us. The quicker you take action – the quicker one of our business coaches or consultants can help develop practical solutions to improve your staff management and workplace culture.

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