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Top tips for delivering upward feedback

Giving your boss feedback, commonly called upward feedback, can be a tricky process to master. However, if offered correctly and thoughtfully, your insight can not only help your boss, but also improve your working relationship. Here are some tips to consider.

The relationship comes first. The ability to give and receive upward feedback is dependent on the relationship and level of trust between you and your boss. Before giving feedback, you need to gauge whether your boss will be open to what you have to say. If you know that your boss is unreceptive to feedback, is likely to react negatively, or if you have a rocky relationship, it’s better not to say anything. However, if your boss is open-minded and you have a good relationship, you owe them the straight talk. As with any feedback, your intentions must be good and your desire to help your boss is paramount.

Ask first. If you’re unsure if your boss is open to candid feedback, ask them. Feedback can result in learning, and everyone should be open to learning, no matter his or her position. Hopefully your boss will say yes, and that will make giving the feedback a little easier. If you get the feeling your manager isn’t wild about receiving upward feedback, look for anonymous ways to share your thoughts, such as a 360-feedback process.

Make your feedback timely. Ideally, you want to give feedback as soon as you can and in an appropriate setting after something has happened. After that, details can get fuzzy. If you can’t get together to talk soon after the situation, write down what happened - in detail - so that when you are able to meet, you can quickly recall events accurately.

Be specific. For feedback to be effective and have an impact, make sure it’s specific. For example, “When you brief me on a project, it would be more helpful to give me the goals and desired outcomes instead of a list of tasks you want me to complete. I can figure those things out on my own,” is better than saying, “I don’t like how you give project briefs.” The second isn’t actionable and doesn’t give your manager insight on how to change or improve.

Choose your delivery method carefully. Although email or instant messenger is tempting, it’s best to talk face to face when giving feedback. It might be awkward and more difficult than just typing up your suggestions and hitting send, but having a real conversation will ensure the message you want to deliver is the one received. Body language often says more than spoken words; if you go into the meeting with a smile and relaxed manner, you can start things off with the right tone. And if you see your manager getting tense, you can adjust your tone and clarify your words so that the conversation stays meaningful. 

When your boss bites back. No matter how thoughtfully you’ve prepared and delivered your feedback, your boss may get upset or be defensive about the feedback you’ve given. If you were asked for the feedback, you should hold your ground and explain that you were doing what was asked of you. Sometimes reframing the feedback can help. Often feedback is more easily received if you frame it in terms of what your boss cares about. 

When in doubt, hold your tongue. If you’re not sure if your boss wants to hear feedback or if the subject of the feedback is a sensitive one, it’s almost always better to not speak up. There is no reason to risk your working relationship or your job, unless you feel your boss’s behaviour is putting the organisation or your unit in jeopardy. Instead, look for opportunities to give anonymous feedback, such as a 360-degree feedback process.

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How self-aware is your team?

How self-aware is your team?
Do you have individuals or teams that could work more effectively together? Do you want access to tools that can deliver self-awareness, flexibility, capability and performance?

By creating a working environment where trust is high, communication is open and diversity is embraced, you can foster the development of a high-performing team that is resilient under pressure, is motivated and is able to sustain continuous achievement. Best Practice Consulting's self-awareness tools can help you achieve this. 

One of our most popular self-awareness tools is DiSC.

DiSC is a behavioural profiling tool that is designed to help understand how a person is most likely to behave in a particular situation or environment.

DiSC is an acronym for the four primary dimensions of behaviour.
1. Dominance: direct, results-oriented, strong-willed and forceful.
2. Influence: outgoing, enthusiastic, optimistic and lively.
3. Steadiness: even-tempered, accommodating, patient and humble.
4. Conscientiousness: analytical, reserved, precise and systematic.

By using DiSC effectively in the workplace, you can: 

Understand and appreciate strengths and challenges within teams to help build productive teams.
Identify the motivations and needs of team members.
Improve communication skills by identifying and adapting to different preferred styles.
Reduce personal and organisational conflict and stress.
Improve personal diversity, awareness and recognition.

Best Practice Consulting has a successful track record in assisting organisations to effectively review their operations and improve their organisational effectiveness and performance. To ensure your organisation meets the above outcomes Best Practice Consulting recommends DiSC.
 
To find out more about this and other self-awareness assessment tools and how they can be used to maximise individual or team effectiveness and success, contact us at http://www.bestpracticeconsulting.com.au/contact-us

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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 team can deliver training to increase staff capabilities, maximise staff effectiveness and help your organisation reach its goals. 

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The benefits of a creative workplace

It’s no secret that organisational leaders in the 21st century need to cope with and respond to increasingly complex organisational issues.

Sometimes, these issues and problems can be solved by applying a standard formula or set of actions: rigorously analysing the circumstances and drivers, applying logic to determine a course of action or following what’s been done before. Other times, particularly when the issue is something the organisation hasn’t faced before, genuine innovation is needed to solve problems and satisfy stakeholders.

In most organisational settings, leaders are expected to be able to think creatively and come up with innovative solutions to work-based problems. And they often do. But fostering and harnessing the creative abilities of a whole team is likely to produce an even richer selection of creative ideas and solutions to work tasks and problems. This is because diverse group members collectively possess knowledge and a variety of perspectives not found in just one person.

Specific benefits of creativity in the workplace include:

  • Better teamwork and team bonding;
  • Increased workplace engagement and interaction;
  • Improved ability to attract and retain quality employees;
  • Increased staff morale, fun and happiness; and
  • Increased workplace problem solving and productivity.

But in busy workplaces where time is limited, how can a leader establish a climate conducive to creative thinking and problem solving?  

For more than two decades, Teresa Amabile (1998) and her associates investigated the link between the work environment and creativity. She identified six leadership and management practices that foster creativity in the workplace. These findings are consistent with the observations of many other researchers and creativity consultants. The six practices are:  

Intellectual challenge

Match people with the right problem-solving experiences, that is, experiences that challenge or stretch them intellectually. This enhances creativity because it supports expertise and intrinsic motivation. But, the amount of stretch is critical; too little challenge leads to boredom, but too much challenge leads to feelings of being overwhelmed.

Freedom to choose method

Employees tend to be the most creative when they are granted the freedom to choose which method is best for attaining a particular work goal. In other words, leaders and managers can set the goals, but it should be up to the team members to decide how to achieve them. Stable goals are also important because it is difficult to work creatively towards a moving target.

Supplying the right resources

Time and money are important resources for enhancing creativity. Deciding how much time and money to give to a team or project is a tough judgement call that can either support or stifle creativity. Under some circumstances, setting a time deadline will trigger creative thinking because it represents a favourable challenge. False deadlines or impossibly tight ones can create distrust and burnout. To be creative, groups also need to be adequately funded. But it should be noted that creative activities can be achieved at little to no cost with very few supplies, depending on the activities chosen (see below for some ideas).

Effective design of work groups

Work groups are the most likely to be creative when they are mutually supportive, and when they have a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives. Cross-fertilisation occurs and the various points of view often combine to achieve creative solutions to problems. Homogenous teams might argue less but they are often less creative. Getting the mix of team members ‘right’ does require experience and intuition on the leader’s part.

Supervisory encouragement

The most influential step a leader can take to bring about creative problem solving is to develop a ‘safe’ atmosphere that encourages people to think freely.

This includes making it okay for people to challenge assumptions and disagree with the leader.  If people don’t feel safe, they will only parrot their leader’s ideas.

Praising creative work is important because, for most people to sustain their passion, they must feel that their work matters to the organisation. Whenever possible, a leader should notice and publicly affirm creative thinking.  Creative ideas should also be evaluated quickly rather than put through a painfully slow review process.

Organisational support

The entire organisation as well as the immediate leader or manager should support creative effort if creativity is to be enhanced on a large scale. Organisational leaders should encourage information sharing and collaboration, which lead to the development of expertise needed for creativity and to more opportunities for intrinsic motivation. Executives who combat excessive politics can help creative people focus on work instead of fighting political battles. In a highly political environment, an employee would be hesitant to suggest a creative idea that was a political blunder.

Adapted from Dubrin, Dalgleish and Miller (2011)

Other tips and actions to foster creative thinking at the individual level and organisation-wide:

  • Encourage a mindset of continuous learning.  If you aren’t constantly refilling the creative pool, it will eventually run dry. Encourage staff to seek new information, new knowledge and new ways to do things, constantly. Support team members to attend conferences or other learning and development events.  Model habits of curiosity, observation, listening, reading and recording in the workplace.
  • Seek multiple options. Don’t be satisfied with one solution. Once the team has a good idea, encourage them to look for another, and then another. Give yourself and the team the opportunity to choose the best from several options.
  • Suspend judgment. To encourage new ideas, don’t evaluate them too  early. Relax your guard and let the ideas flow.
  • Lunchtime brainstorms. Encourage weekly, fortnightly or monthly lunchtime meetings of a small group of staff to engage in creative thinking and share ideas for how those ideas could be applied to the organisation.
  • Engage fresh eyes. Provide opportunities for employees who do not normally interact with one another to meet. Invite people from other departments or areas to your brainstorming sessions, and ask them how they would solve your problems.
  • Take breaks. The human brain uses more energy than any other part of the body and so needs constant replenishment. Rest is one of the key components to increasing personal energy, productivity and creative thinking. Many people do not take advantage of their breaks (lunch or other) during the day and, as such, are not giving their mind a true break from the stresses of the day. Encourage staff to use break time to walk around the building, sit outside or chat to colleagues about non-work related topics.
  • Get the culture right. Research suggests that the most effective group environment for creativity is one in which there is fun, humour, spontaneity, and playfulness. However, creating such a climate in a workplace setting isn’t easy. But, leaders can support this by fostering a permissive atmosphere in which individuality and humour are acceptable and mutual respect, trust, and commitment are the norm.

Some final words on workplace creativity

The general consensus in the research is that the more one engages in creative thinking, the better one becomes at it. Ideas produce even more ideas. But inspiration is only a small part of creative thinking. Commitment and application are also essential ingredients.

Once you and your team know the idea you want to work on, be prepared to work at it, and to work at it some more, to fine-tune it.

In addition, to be worthwhile and effective, a creative idea must also be appropriate, useful and actionable. It must somehow influence or improve the way things get done in the organisation. 

And finally, as Harvard Business School Professor, Teresa Amabile, notes: “The final stage of getting creativity to work is deciding how to put an idea into practice.” 

Ultimately, you can come up with a brilliant creative idea, but if you haven't thought about how to implement it, it will die without seeing the light of day.

If you have questions or want to talk further click here to get in touch with us today.

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