Management Success Tip #184: How to Communicate Criticism So It Gets Heard!

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It would be a lovely world if employees did everything they were supposed to do, exactly the way you wanted it and in the time frame you desired. Your managerial tasks would be reduced to making glowing reports to the higher-ups, and handing out congratulations.

Unfortunately, there are times—probably more than you’d like—where you must set employees straight, get them back on track (or sometimes on the track in the first place), and point out the flaws, problems and failures in their work. The easiest option is to say your criticism like it is, and have done with it.

However, as Sheila Heen, a lecturer at Harvard Law School and co-author of “Thanks for the Feedback” so accurately states, showing people how they stack up is the “emotionally loudest” type of feedback. No matter how softly spoken, gently worded, or accurate your criticism is, it tends to overpower any appreciation or coaching, especially among younger workers.

This is no doubt one of the reasons for the success of Dr. Gottman’s famous “5:1” ratio in relationships: it takes five positive comments to balance out one negative comment.

Two helpful guidelines:

  1. Yes, follow Dr. Gottman’s ratio and do your best to offer five positive comments to counteract your one negative comment. Not necessarily in the same conversation, that would be beyond phony, but as a general rule of good communication. Be deliberate in finding positive things to say about your employee’s work, since the negative things are all to easy to come up with.
  2. Be specific with your criticism. “Your work is sloppy” is useless. It is hurtful and doesn’t give your employee any direction. To a legal assistant, for example, “Your work is sloppy” is better relayed as follows: “Please be sure to include legal references in footnotes at the end of every page. Please check your punctuation and spelling before handing over a brief for my review.”

Positivity works best when mixed with a small dose of judicious criticism.

Management Success Tip #183: Wanna Be a Truly Awesome, Stellar, Super-Star of a Manager? Loooove Your Work!

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You know what makes a great manager? A truly awesome, stellar, super-star of a manager? One who looooves his/her work. A manager who is eager to get to work, dives into projects with gusto, and who is inspired by deadlines and quotas rather than defeated or demoralized by them. One who looooves his/her employees, clients, customers. Who knows them inside and out, knows what resonates with them and does his/her very best for and by them, every day.

I fly a lot for work, and thus have been subjected to umpteen routine flight attendant announcements before takeoff: you know, all the safety instructions about seat belts and oxygen masks and the rest. Sometimes a flight attendant will smile during the announcement, and that certainly helps, but most of the time you can tell the attendant is bored, just dishing out a script, with little if any interest in how it is being received, other than clarity of information.

But sometimes, you get a flight attendant, who really knows his/her “clients,” who understands the inconveniences of economy travel, and who must have a supervisor who supports and motivates his/her employees to loooove their job. This is a quick youtube example of just such a flight attendant.

The more you loooove your work, the more you make it easy for your employees to loooove their jobs, the more successful you—and your company—will be.

Look how it’s worked for Southwest airlines! They have been the most successful domestic airline for years, turning a profit when other airlines were going down the tubes. They really are all about the “LUV.”

Not a bad example to follow!

Management Success Tip #178: Turn Your Boring Meeting Notes into a Powerful Action Plan

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If there’s anything you find more annoying than meetings, it’s having to take meeting notes. Why have to repeat everything that was said? It seems a monumental waste of time.

Indeed, if that’s how you look at it, meeting notes are a waste of time.

But, if instead, you think of meeting notes as a powerful way to get things done . . . well, that changes everything!

Think of meeting notes not as an historical rendering of what happened, but rather as a succinct series of bullet points which captures the key points, lays out the specific commitments for each topic discussed, and reminds all concerned of who’s responsible for what and by when.

In other words, an action plan! Where is it writ that meeting notes should be useless? On the contrary, make your meeting notes strong, solid and purposeful. Make sure your notes define in clear, actionable terms, who is to do what, where, how, when and with whom.

Which is how you can insure that the critical follow-up occurs. Because, as you well know, nothing happens without follow-up. If your meeting notes form the action plan, follow-up becomes a piece of cake.

Management Success Tip #173: Don’t Force Your Square Peg Employee into a Round Hole Job!

#173 Square peg round holeYou know the expression “square peg in a round hole”?  It’s usually used when we’re describing someone who just doesn’t fit in with something: like a very relaxed, mellow, easy-going fellow who’s joined the Armed Forces. Not likely to succeed! Unless somehow he forces his laid-back personality into the tight structure required by the military.

Well, all too often, managers can inadvertently “square peg round hole” an employee. By that I mean that at one time or another, the employee’s skill set and job matched up, but that over time, either the employee or the job changed, such that it isn’t a match any more.

Rather than determinedly try to seminar, coach, teach, partner-up and in general force your square peg employee into that round hole job, consider a different approach.

Take a moment, and evaluate your employee’s current strengths. What he/she brings to the workplace that is of great value. Now, how can you re-configure your employee’s responsibilities so that he/she is operating from those strengths? Because only when an employee is able to operate from their strengths a majority of the time, will they feel effective. And it’s only when we feel effective that we can actually be effective.

It’s in the best interests of your company and your employees, for them to be using their best skills.

Yes, it may take some juggling of responsibilities: perhaps the employee you’re working with can assume some responsibilities previously assigned to a different position, and vice versa. But the payoff in terms of increased productivity and improved performance will be worth it.

Should you allow your employee to only operate from their strengths? No. It’s healthy and stimulating to be challenged out of our comfort zone. We all need some impetus to reach and grow. However, spending too much time and effort out of one’s comfort zone eventually erodes self-confidence and with it, ability.

There’s a balance here, and a wise manager respects that. Evaluate your employee’s strengths, and proceed from there.

Management Success Tip #167: What’s “Meaningful Work” Anyway? Find Out by Asking!

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People expect more from work now than a paycheck and decent working conditions. Especially the younger generations (read 40 on down) want purpose, a sense that their work is meaningful. It is what makes them happy. Studies have shown that workers are motivated most powerfully by making progress at something that is personally meaningful.

But what is that? What is personally meaningful to one employee may not be personally meaningful to another.

Don’t guess. You’re hardly the man behind the curtain: ask!

What Monique Valcour calls the “coaching” function of management: “. . . restrain your impulse to provide the answers. Your path is not your employeeʼs path. Open-ended questions, not answers, are the tools of coaching. You succeed as a coach by helping your team members articulate their goals and challenges and find their own answers. This is how people clarify their priorities and devise strategies that resonate with what they care about most and that they will be committed to putting into action.”

It may feel odd to you to ask open-ended questions of your employees: “What do you want for yourself this year?” “How do you see yourself developing your talents?” rather than “Do this, do that.” And “Tell me more” as a follow-up may really upset your usual managerial apple-cart. But the little bit of time and effort it may take to work with your employees in this manner will pay off big dividends in terms of their motivation and commitment.

Management Success Tip #165: Work From Home Programs: One Size Does Not Fit All

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There is an extensive body of case studies on individual firms that have adopted WFH (Work From Home) programs, and they tend to show large positive impacts, both in terms of increased productivity and decreased absenteeism.

Despite the clear evidence from such studies, WFH programs scare many managers half to death: What if you end up with a bunch of slackers? Or, if you don’t end up with slackers, what if you end up with work that doesn’t get completed, or done well enough? Or a majority of slackers with a few dedicated workers carrying the load of the whole department? Workers who will soon get burnt out, dispirited, and quit! What if the mice really do play when the cat’s away?

These worries kill most WFH programs before they ever get started. However, there is a way to find out if these dire prognostications are fact, or if all those studies have some truth to them . . . start small.

By that I mean, run an in-house experiment. Offer to those employees who are interested a two or four week trial of working from home. Preferably not during your company’s crunch time! That’s it. No big deal, just a couple of weeks or a month at most. Accumulate data on what gets done. Or doesn’t.

Review the work results at the end of the trial–preferably with everyone involved as well as the requisite higher-ups. Also review with your WFH employees what they thought of the plan. Did they like it? Not like it? Why? Why not? What could make it work better? You might discover that a more flexible “some days WFH, some days at the office” is the best solution for your company.

Once you’ve thoroughly debriefed both the plan itself and your employees’ reactions, if you’re pleased with the results–go for a longer trial period. If not, dump it. No harm, no foul.

You’ll never know if your fears are founded or unfounded unless you give WFH a try. Go for it! You have little to lose and much to gain.

Management Success Tip #159: How to Be Nice And Tough AND Successful!

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Mr/Ms Tough Guy/Gal? Mr/Ms Nice Guy/Gal? Which should you be? Our society values “tough” above almost everything else – at least according to the media – yet today’s business uber-stars, from Richard Branson to Barrie Bergman claim that you don’t have to choose: tough and nice aren’t incompatible.

But how does that work? In real life, yours for example. In the real workplace. The one you work at, day in day out.

According to Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval, co-authors of “The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World with Kindness,” two of the primary techniques are to listen to others, and to quit arguing your point.

Everyone has something of value to contribute. It may be a contribution of more or less worth, given the situation, but everyone deserves a respectful listen.

That’s where nice meets tough appropriately. The nice part is where you listen, genuinely, with respect, to your employee’s input. Where you listen for the value in what your employee has to say. And that you give his or her contribution the same consideration you give everyone else’s. The tough part is where you decide how to use the input, given all the other issues that must be considered.

Secondly, don’t argue your point. There’s a world of difference between stating your position, and arguing it. I conduct focus groups for attorneys (among other things) – it’s a great way pre-trial of uncovering issues, developing themes, and so forth. It fascinates me how some attorneys feel the need to argue with the mock jurors about the “verdict” they rendered, rather than respect the information gleaned from the group, and consider its value when shaping their case.

So it is with you. Listen, don’t argue. Take into account what you heard, and you will reap the enormous benefit of being both nice AND tough – all to your greater success.