Monday, 15 December 2008

Positive Feedback - What a Great Message

Had just posted my comments about receiving difficult feedback positively, when I was pointed to this by a colleague, Dr John Kenworthy - thanks, John.

Just watch this - it is quite long - 15 minutes, but great story and you can all work out the message for yourself! You can get the gist in the first 5 minutes, but if you are like me, you will have to watch it right through!


Shoes, Pizzas, and Well Aimed Feedback!

In the week that President Bush had shoes thrown at him by an Iraqi journalist and a delivery man was saved by a pizza, I was prompted to reflect on the learning potential of feedback.

To explain, George Bush had shoes thrown at him in Baghdad, although he was agile enough to avoid both missiles. He then showed presence of mind and even statesmanship by defending the man's right to protest in a free society and pointing out to journalists that his assailant had succeeded in getting people talking about his protest.

The other story relates to how a Florida pizza delivery man was challenged by armed robbers in the city of Miramar, but got in first with his own weapon - a large pepperoni pizza. Eric Lopez Devictoria, flung the piping hot pizza at the gunman, then turned on his heels and ran, making a safe getaway, despite one shot being fired as he fled. Police later arrested three teenage suspects, who have been charged with armed robbery.

I came across these two stories as I was thinking about how some people still cower in their comfort zones, avoiding risk and change. If you want to develop, you need to step out of your areas of competence and confidence, and challenge your fears.
Children have few fears and often explore the world with wild abandon. As they mature they are taught and learn to respect and even fear experiencing some life situations and activities. While this is useful learning in some potentially dangerous situations, they can develop the unfortunate idea that to try anything new and failing is embarrassing and uncomfortable and should be avoided.

This learned fear of failure can become stronger as we grow older and severely limit our development. One way of learning is to invite, contemplate and act on feedback. If we don't ask for it, or worse still ignore it or even punish the giver, we lose that learning channel. As leaders we need to encourage feedback, even if delivered in awkward or rude ways. A mature learner will filter out the insult and listen to the kernel of truth in what has been said. In the same way that George Bush ducked the shoes, but respected the journalist's right to criticise him!

Remember that feedback is not the absolute truth, but someone else's perception.
To accept feedback constructively you need to:
  • LISTEN - and ask for clarification if necessary
  • ACCEPT IT OR REJECT IT - whichever you choose, try to identify the learning.
And finally, this week's bizarre fact - Please keep all raisins away from your dog... they are extremely toxic to dogs and can be deadly! (I never knew that!)

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Staff want more responsibility but Managers don’t trust them

Nearly half (43%) of employees would like more responsibility in their current role, but a fifth of managers do not trust their staff to deliver.

According to research of 2,452 employees by YouGov for Investors in People, 43% of managers think staff would be concerned about the extra workload of more responsibility but only 8% of employees thought it would have a negative impact on their performance and only 4% felt it would make them less motivated.
In fact if staff were not given more responsibility 59% say they would become demotivated and 58% would be frustrated.But 53% of staff have never asked their manager for more responsibility and 29% do not think there is an opportunity for them - with 15% believing their manager to be too controlling.Simon Jones, chief executive of Investors in People, said: "By taking everything on themselves, managers can leave almost two-thirds of their people feeling demotivated and two-fifths could end up looking for a new job. In other words, giving employees the right level of responsibility is vital to driving the productivity of organisations through their people."

This headline, which may come as a surprise to some, strongly reflects the opinions I often hear on management programmes. Whether this is fear of being let down, a fear of letting go, or fear of somebody doing a better job than them, this a familiar theme. Managers need to learn to delegate more and one of the keys to effective and confident delegation is learning to trust. Leaders may be slow to trust, but need to learn that leaders lead - and that often means being the first to do something and this is certainly true of showing trust! If you want trust, be trustworthy and trusting. Richard Branson has said that if you have high expectations of your people, they will live up to them.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Why Conflict Can Be Useful

When talking about barriers to effective teamwork, one issue that is often raised is conflict. Many of us dislike and avoid conflict, but of course a complete lack of conflict can be an even bigger problem for teams with people reluctant to rock the boat, not daring to think differently and so falling into the "groupthink" trap.

A recent article in the Financial Times addresses the issue thus:

The Challenge of Straight Talking
By Stefan Stern
Lawyers, bankers, accountants and consultants are all after the same thing. No, not cash. That goes without saying. What they dream about is achieving a special status with their clients: that of the Trusted Adviser.
It is lonely at the top, people say. You cannot count on colleagues to give you the unvarnished truth. Professional services firms can make good that shortfall in trust, and give you the brutal facts when others are unwilling or unable to do so.
Some bosses claim to have created a slightly less lonely environment for themselves. Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, has met business leaders who say that they have done just that. “They tell you that you’ve always got to have at least one close colleague who will tell you the truth,” Mr Dimon said at the Harvard Business School centennial conference last week. “Well, if you’ve only got one guy in 10 who will tell you the truth you should fire the other nine!”
Mr Dimon is right. There should be zero tolerance for mealy-mouthed, flannelling, equivocating co-workers. And yet the evidence suggests that there is not enough straight talk at work. Fearing disruptive conflict and bust-ups, we muddle through, bite our tongues, zip the lip.
Robert McHenry, chief executive of OPP, the Oxford-based business psychology consultancy, says that some organisations may be suppressing conflicts that should in fact be allowed to burst out.
“Clients sometimes tell us that their biggest problem is the lack of conflict in their organisations,” he says. “They say that autocratic senior leaders create a culture where people prefer to ‘keep their head down’ and not offer feedback or ideas; the anticipation of conflict inhibits performance.”
This does not mean there never are rows at work – far from it. In fact, conflicts are usually messier because they have not been brought to the surface soon enough. Indeed, we should probably brace ourselves for more not less conflict at work as the world slides into recession. “Der Dalles schlägt sich,” as they used to say in Vienna. “Those who are struggling beat each other up.”
OPP recently surveyed 5,000 employees in Europe and America to discover their attitudes to (and experience of) conflict at work. They found that, on average, each employee spends 2.1 hours a week – roughly one day a month – dealing with conflict in some way.
Managers struggle with this. Some receive training in the kind of communication and mediation skills that can help defuse tension. Others – 7 per cent, according to OPP – turn in desperation to the last resort of the 21st-century manager, the internet.
It’s not all bad news. According to another piece of new (and ongoing) research, a burst of internal aggro might offer the chance to improve your company’s fortunes. Early findings point to the vital role of successfully managed conflict in the development of effective corporate strategy.
In their work with international businesses, the London-based consultancy Cognosis has found that managers can be a little bit daunted by the concept of “challenge”. But those who manage conflict will win greater engagement from their staff and much more “buy-in” as far as strategy is concerned.
How can you use disagreement to your advantage? Conflict should be managed formally rather than in an ad hoc way, Cognosis has found. You don’t want to encourage “water-cooler whingeing”, or a complete free-for-all where barrack-room lawyers with the loudest voices dominate.
In open corporate cultures employees feel able to challenge senior managers. Indeed, their critical views will be actively and regularly sought. “One of the defining characteristics of strategically effective leaders is their commitment to challenge, and their ability to both challenge others and be challenged themselves in a positive and constructive way,” says Richard Brown, managing partner at Cognosis.
On the flight home from a recent trip to the US, I explored at length the musical entertainment options that my carrier had kindly provided. After some uplifting Bach and some satisfying Beatles, I have to admit that my finger hovered momentarily over – I am not proud about this – the “Easy Listening” channel. Reader, I pressed that button. But after one glorious burst of Petula Clark’s timeless “Downtown” –
When you’re alone
And life is making you lonely
You can always go downtown
– I realised that this channel had nothing else to offer me.
And then it struck me. I had made exactly the same mistake Mr Dimon had warned against a day or two earlier. I had opted for Easy Listening, when I should have stuck with the robust truthfulness of Lennon and McCartney or the challenging polyphonics of JS Bach. Tiredness was no excuse. The soft option was all wrong.
In the difficult months ahead managers are going to have to lead by example, and not flinch from conflict. “In bygone days,” the British politician Jo Grimond once said, “commanders were taught that when in doubt, they should march their troops towards the sound of gunfire.” Tin hats on, everyone. By the left, quick, march.