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 #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 #176: Volunteering: A Surprising Way to Recruit and Keep Those Sensational Hires

VolunteeringYou’d think that time spent by your employees in anything other than either doing their work, or attending classes and seminars to do their work better, would be a total waste. If anything, water-cooler time has to be tops on your “most annoying” list.

And yet . . . sometimes employees doing something entirely unrelated to their work, but doing it together, has surprising benefits for the company.

For example, giving your employees an opportunity to volunteer, by actively organizing, supporting and giving them the time to volunteer, has great benefits in attracting and keeping great employees.

Xactly Corporation, is a pure-play, SaaS company that provides cloud-based enterprise software and services, among which tools to allow for sales performance management, sales effectiveness, sales compensation, and employee engagement. The company created a volunteering program called “Xactly One,” in which small groups of employees, including leaders, are organized to volunteer at a local school or food kitchen–on company time! Their success in recruiting and retaining excellent employees is evidenced in the following: Fortune named Xactly among the 50 Best Small and Medium- size companies to work for in 2014. Xactly Corp. was also named one of the Top 10 Coolest Companies to Work For in the San Francisco Bay Area.

People who share a common purpose or mission, tend to be more engaged, individually and collectively. Let purposeful volunteering be yet another way to find and retain the very best employees.

Management Success Tip #166: Want Engaged Employees? Listen and Learn!

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If you really want to insult someone, simply turn your back to them as they are talking to you. Be aware though, you may end up getting pulled rudely back around and even hit for such an act of disrespect.

What you may not realize, is that when you’re texting or answering your phone when an employee is talking to you, you’re engaging in the same disrespectful behavior. You are psychologically turning your back on them. More subtly, if you’re not giving your employee your full attention with your eyes as well as your ears, you are also “turning your back.”

Nothing is more important than not only listening to your employees, but also making it clear to them, by your attention and body language, that you are hearing them. “Employees are almost always telling their bosses how they feel, what they want or what they are doing, but sometimes this falls on deaf ears,” says Piera Palazzolo. “Make sure you listen and hear what your employees are saying to you. This will make you more attentive and caring as a manager, and will also help you know what your team is doing and how you can help them accomplish their goals.”

Isn’t that what you want? To know how your team is doing, and how you can best assist them in accomplishing their goals? When you do that, you end up with engaged, motivated employees who truly care about the company and strive for work-excellence.

Be a better-than-good manager. Join the ranks of the best. Listen and learn!

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 #162: Get the Best From Team Conflict: Bring Out Your Inner Referee!

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Conflict is challenging for most people. Yet the ability to hold different opinions and argue for them is one of the best ways to ferret out those ideas that will benefit your company, and which lack sufficient potential.

As David Burkus states: “If you team always agrees, that might suggest that people are self-censoring their ideas, or worse, not generating any new ideas at all. Research suggests that teams that forgo traditional brainstorming rules and debate over ideas as they’re presented end up with more and better ideas. As a leader, it may seem like your job is to break up fights, but don’t be afraid to act as a referee instead — allowing the fight over ideas to unfold, but making sure it stays fair and doesn’t get personal.”

There you have it! Let opposing ideas come forth, encourage the many voices on your team, and bring out your inner referee as needed. As long as a fight is fair, that no one feels you are taking sides, that you are weighing the pros and cons judiciously, and encouraging your team to do the same, not only will dynamite ideas emerge, but your team will have the satisfaction of a thorough discussion.

Yes, adopting the referee role is more demanding than simply imposing your will, but the results are well worth the effort, both in team satisfaction and solid, business-worthy ideas.

Management Success Tip #157: Appear Confident During Crises without Channeling Your Inner Action Hero

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If managing employees was easy, business would practically run itself. Not! Management is usually about putting out fires with brief respites in between, which is why, as one of your colleagues says “They pay us the big bucks.” Yeah, right. You wish!

Meanwhile, sometimes the hardest thing to do while in the midst of putting out another of said fires, is to do so with confidence. Yes, you know what you’re doing – for the most part – but how well it will work, over the long haul as well as the short, etc., isn’t all that certain.

And yet, according to Georgina Stewart of Lead Change Group: “If you are not confident in yourself, the plan that you have formed or the actions that you are taking – how can you expect others to be confident in your ability? At the very least we ask that you appear calm, collected and confident at all times as causing others to panic on top of the situation you are already in will simply cause more stress and will burden you further.”

No, you don’t have to channel your inner Action-Hero, you just need to appear calm, collected and confident so as not to sow further panic in the ranks. And that is largely a matter of body language.

Stand straight, walk tall. Wipe the frown off your forehead, and as best you can, keep a neutral expression on your face. Think before you speak, and speak deliberately.

Here’s the thing: even as you adjust your body language for the benefit of your employees, science tells us that adopting such postures will help you feel more confident, and that, in and of itself, is worth the effort.