4 Manager Feedback Skills to Minimize Defensiveness and Increase Receptivity

“23% of employees strongly agree that their manager provides meaningful feedback to them.”

-Gallup

Most managers admit that providing inspiring and meaningful feedback that leads to employee commitment is hard. It does not have to be!

Part of the solution is avoiding communication traps that cause defensiveness or confusion. Another part is applying skills that increase receptivity to suggestions.

Avoid these common communication traps:

  • Being too direct and harsh
  • Being too vague and mushy
  • Being overly critical of faults
  • Failing to acknowledge strengths
  • Not establishing a personal relationship (feels transactional)
  • Feedback given is not actionable

“Only 17% of millennials report receiving meaningful feedback. Routine feedback is better than none, but meaningful feedback — the kind that helps individuals learn, grow, and do their jobs better — is how you improve productivity and performance.”

-Gallup

4 skills that minimize defensiveness and increase receptivity:

  1. Ask for permission
    • “Hi Latisha, can I share my thoughts on how we are collaborating on the current project?”
    • It signals that feedback is coming, making them better prepared to receive.
    • Why this works: Employee autonomy is a key motivational driver, gives them a feeling of choice and control.
  2. Provide specifics
    • “The last two updates you provided lacked key data.”
    • Why this works: Our brains crave certainty, ambiguity is the enemy.
  3.  Share impacts of the behavior.
    • “The missing data caused the project to get behind and frustrated me as I had to hunt the data down.”
    • Gives them context, helps to connect the dots.
    • Provides a big picture cause and effect.
    • Why this works: Injects emotion, helping to humanize the feedback.
  4.  Invite collaboration, ask questions
    • “How do you see the situation and what ideas do you have for moving forward?”
    • Builds a trusting, authentic partnership.
    • Empowers them to take responsibility.
    • Why this works: Inspires new commitments.

Start providing quality and consistent feedback by avoiding common feedback traps and applying the four skills above. Your team members will appreciate more meaningful conversations that support their growth, and you will have less stress!

Keep it simple. Keep it focused. Definitely keep it inspiring. –Steve

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Remote Management Skills for High Team Performance

Use the 3-C Framework

We see an incredible 42 percent of the U.S. labor force now working from home full-time…So, by sheer numbers, the U.S. is a working-from-home economy. Almost twice as many employees are working from home as at work.

May Wong, Stanford News

If you haven’t guessed by now, remote work is the new normal. What’s not new is that some teams are high performing and others languish in mediocrity.

Virtual work is not the barrier. The barrier is the “affinity distance”– the perception amongst team members of how mentally and emotionally connected they feel with each other.

So, why should managers pay attention to this soft and fuzzy notion?

Teams that have high virtual distance suffer a 90% drop in innovation effectiveness, more than 80% plunge in trust, and 60% decline in finishing projects on time and within budget, among other negative effects.

Keith Ferrazzi, Harvard Business Review

We know that high trust teams with a clear purpose, roles, and responsibilities, and shared accountability set the context for high performance. There’s actually nothing warm and fuzzy about creating these conditions.

Use the 3-C framework – get your team on track

Connection. The well-known Gallup Q12 survey statement “I have a best friend at work” correlates close interpersonal relationships with engagement and productivity.

Coaching Tip: Create remote buddy duos/trios. Require buddies to meet every week for 15-20 minute check-ins (that’s your management what). Let the buddies determine the how they want to meet and discuss. Rotate buddies monthly (the who changes, allowing for more diverse connections).

Communication. As goes communication, goes the team. Create a cadence of predictable and quality communication.

Coaching Tip: Apply the sturdy triad of communications:

  • Weekly team meetings. Keep it under 50 minutes.
  • Weekly one-on-ones. 20–30 minutes per employee.
  • Daily huddles. At beginning or end of day. Maximum of 10 minutes.

Collaboration. Require your teams to regularly co-develop solutions, action plans, and lines of accountability.

Coaching Tip: Proactively address these common pesky questions to effective team collaboration:

  • What are normal work hours?
    • For example, 9am to 5pm
  • What are common available blocks of time for collaborating?
    • For example, parents may only be available during school hours
  • What are healthy boundaries?
    • For example, are folks expected to answer emails and calls after agreed upon normal work hours?
  • What are designated channels of communications?
    • For example, is it appropriate to call a co-worker’s personal cellphone?
  • What are timeliness expectations for returning communications?
    • For example, emails must be responded to within 24 hours
  • What are the established processes for different scenarios?
    • For example, what decisions require the whole team (decision by committee) and what decisions can be made by individuals (executive action)?

To point out the obvious, there is nothing “soft” about building a high performing remote team. As the management adage goes – the soft skills are the hard skills. Managing remotely is difficult, especially for those of us doing it for the first time. However, by intentionally leveraging the 3-C Framework, your team will lower their “affinity distance,” grow closer, increase collaboration, and elevate performance.

Keep it simple. Keep it focused. Definitely keep it inspiring. –Steve

Check out my other blog posts!

Giving Tough Feedback Remotely

Six Coaching Skills

We’re trying something new here at Steve Rudolph Coaching: vlogs! Take a break from all of your reports and emails to watch my 5-minute video about giving tough feedback remotely. Learn all six skills you need to practice to improve as a remote manager-coach. After, check out all our other great resources.

Keep it simple. Keep it focused. Definitely keep it inspiring. –Steve

To Illustrate a Remote Worker

Managing Remote Conversations

3 Distinct Conversations to Drive Engagement, Accountability and Productivity

The remote work environment not only creates a vacuum of human connection but also fosters a blurry view of work performance. Managers, in partnership with their team members, must proactively pursue two prized output dimensions:

  • Increased engagement and collaboration
  • Increased accountability and results

Team disengagement and sub-par performance thrives in the backwaters of ambiguity and uncertainty.

“Clear is kind, unclear is unkind.”

-Brené Brown, Dare to Lead

Communication should provide three core needs for all employees to do their best work:

  1. Direction
  2. Clarity
  3. Support

3 Distinct Remote Manager Conversations to Elevate Team Engagement, Accountability and Performance

#1 Manager Conversations that Provide Direction

Key elements include:

  • Goals / objectives
  • Measurements / metrics
  • Outputs / results
  • Roles / responsibilities

Coaching Tip: These items are commonly known as expectations, or in stronger language, non-negotiables. Effective managers manage around clear expectations, not personalities.

#2 Feedback Conversations that Provide Clarity

  • Frequent – daily
  • Candid + Caring
  • 3:1 ratio of positive to developmental
  • Positive recognition outperforms low recognition cultures

Coaching Tip: High-performing managers create feedback-rich environments and grasp that smaller, sooner conversations are better than larger, later conversations.

#3 Coaching Conversations that Provide Support

  • Monthly (or more frequent) one-on-one meetings
  • Largely based on employee’s agenda
    • 80% focused on their development + 20% on business and performance outcomes
    • Employee does 80% of talking, manager does 20%
  • Accountability – Concludes with a SMART action plan

Coaching Tip: View a disciplined coaching process as a strategic, competitive advantage. High-performers want to work for a manager who will grow and develop them, and sponsor them for next-level leadership opportunities.

“The meaning of a word is the action it produces.”

-Ashley Montague

Managing a remote team can be a confusing, and often, stressful experience. But this new world of telework also presents an excellent opportunity to elevate your leadership communication skills!  Pierce the fog of remote work confusion by regularly engaging your team in these three distinct and powerful conversations.

Keep it simple. Keep it focused. Definitely keep it inspiring. –Steve

Remote Work from Dining Room

Special Issue: 5 Skills for Managing a Remote Team

Plus 5 Coaching Tips!

Managing Remotely Webinar Series

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically shifted work from the office to your employees’ living rooms. For many managers, the challenge of coaching a remote team is vexing. How do you ensure high productivity while maintaining a positive and collaborative culture?

Here are 5 Core Manager Skills to create an accountable, engaged, and healthy remote team:

Skill #1 – Elevate Engagement by Stepping Up Yours. The lack of daily in-person interactions creates an energy vacuum. Your team doesn’t need a cheerleader. But they do crave intentional leadership that provides clear direction, facilitates esprit de corps, and brings a positive outlook during uncertain times.

Coaching Tip: Communicate regular appreciation to your team for their energy, collaboration, and results during these challenging times.

Skill #2 – Be Vigilant About Tending to Your Culture. Passionate and unified cultures are strongly correlated with improving performance across a host of key business outcomes (Gallup). Complacency or business-as-usual is your enemy. Cultures, like gardens, are healthiest when receiving attentive care.

Coaching Tip: Begin your weekly team meeting asking each member to quickly share A) what success they had the past week, B) where they are struggling, and C) what help or input they need from the team.

Skill #3 – Establish Sacred Meeting Schedules. It’s vital to understand that “employees whose managers hold regular meetings with them are almost three times as likely to be engaged as employees whose managers do not hold regular meetings” (Harvard Business Review). Clear routines, like meetings, provide team members with structure that fosters certainty, lowers anxiety, and enables high productivity.

Coaching Tip: Three meeting examples that drive Kevin Kruse’s, CEO LeadX, team’s remote work.

  • Weekly One-on-Ones
  • Weekly Action Review (WAR)
  • End-of-Day Check In

Skill #4 – Clarify RRA (Roles, Responsibilities, Accountabilities). Gallup’s research found that high employee engagement was most strongly correlated with a positive response to the statement – I know what is expected of me at work. Further, the ultimate prize of effective collaboration is enhanced when each team member understands how everyone’s part fits into the big picture. Ambiguity is a remote manager’s worst enemy.

Coaching Tip: Post everyone’s RRA to a project management software or a Google document for high visibility.

Skill #5 – Focus on Growing Talent. Telework is an excellent opportunity to engage your team members in career or skill development conversations. The International Coaching Federation reports that “83% of employees indicated career support positively impacts their engagement.” The same study showed “85% of individuals agreed, or strongly agreed, there is nothing wrong with staying in the same job if they can try new things or develop new skills.”

Coaching Tip: Your weekly one-on-one meetings are the mechanism for providing effective feedback. These deeper conversations strengthen your relationships and send a sincere message that you care about each team member.

Managers who are intentional about prioritizing relationships, collaboration, and accountability will engage their teams in healthy and productive remote work!

Keep it simple. Keep it focused. Definitely keep it inspiring. –Steve

Managing Remotely Webinar Series

Two Women Meeting in front of Laptop

Managers – Focus on Routine Communication

Elevate Your Team’s Performance

“Nothing decays employee moral more than a leader who doesn’t know his or her own mind.”

Peter Drucker

A manager’s primary goal is to bring out the best in people and inspire positive, accountable action. A manager’s words reflect her clarity of thought, or not. Vague, muddled, contradictory communication crushes initiative and invites cynicism and confusion.

The antidote is purposeful, redundant over-communication that can end up sounding, well, routine, yet potent.

Examples of routine, yet focused, leadership communication:

“Number one, cash is king…number two, communicate…number three, buy or bury the competition.”

Jack Welch, Former CEO, General Electric

“We put customers at the center of everything we do. We listen intently to our customers’ needs.”

Mary Barra, CEO General Motors

“Fewer things done better.”

Jeff Weiner, CEO, LinkedIn

Engage your team in these three routine, yet potent, communication techniques:

#1 Unified Purpose – Conduct a rich conversation about your organization’s, or department’s, reason for existence. Or, answer your big “WHY.” Passion and alignment are predictable outcomes when clarity of purpose is identified and committed to. Contrarian leaders appreciate that this routine conversation is often, paradoxically, inspiring and motivating.

#2 Roles and Responsibilities – Nothing frustrates employees more than vagueness surrounding who is responsible for what and how performance is evaluated. Work ambiguity is a productivity killer. Often, one routine conversation to understand causes of misalignment and a forward path of action will result in big performance payoffs.

#3 Autonomy – Once lanes of authority are agreed upon, shift the conversation to empowerment. Autonomy is a primary driver of employee engagement, and is a highly prized condition for attracting and retaining a talented workforce.  Progressive managers are vigilant about inviting team members into routine conversations about how work can be organized to bring out each individual’s greatest contributions.

The quality of managers’ communication directly affects employee morale and performance. Commit to speaking with more clarity – be purposeful, be redundant, and be just a little more routine.

Keep it simple. Keep it focused. Definitely keep it inspiring. -Steve

Check out our newly redesigned resources page for more great manager-coaching tips!

Coaching Group Meeting

Be Tough on Expectations, Gentle on People

Two core capabilities for creating a high performance work environment that is psychologically safe

Inspiring and effective managers embody a paradoxical leadership style. They relentlessly drive business results while equally expressing care and concern for their people.

The following descriptors are commonly shared by many to describe the “best boss” they’ve ever had, while highlighting the seemingly contradictory dimensions of effective managers:

  • Tough yet fair
  • Demanding but caring
  • High expectations with focus on employee development

It’s important to note that striking this balance is often challenging for female leaders; through no fault of their own. These complexities are beyond the scope of this article but the following quote reveals one dimension why:

“When a man is tough, there is the underlying implicit belief that he is tough and fair and that that’s acceptable. But when a woman is tough, it seems as though there is no option that she is being fair because it’s unreasonable for any women to be tough.”

Soraya Chemaly

So how does a manager deal with this dichotomy? By developing and embodying the two core capabilities below.

#1 Communicate clear direction while inspiring people.

An early mentor of mine often said, “Steve, I expect perfection but will settle for excellence. I have confidence in you and our team that together we will deliver a distinct experience for our clients.”

Note the three key elements driving this statement: Clarity of expectations, ensuring I felt valued, and communicating core values (e.g. teamwork and collaboration).

Paradoxically, this boss created a productive and safe workplace by consistently holding us accountable, being candid with feedback, being very approachable, and being open to our ideas. She equally emphasized the task and the relationship.

Gifted leaders embrace what Jim Collins coined – genius of Yes/And thinking and reject the tyranny of the Either/Or.

#2 Manage less and coach more.

Good managers are clear and fearless in setting specific expectations, monitoring results, and providing quality feedback that fosters trust and engagement. Great leaders coach people to be their best.

Effective manager-coaches are skilled at:

  • Setting regular one-on-one meetings that are customized for each team member
  • Expressing authentic interest in other’s perspectives and aspirations
  • Asking great questions and are attentive listeners
  • Growing people by delegating stretch opportunities
  • Holding others accountable to specific actions and commitments

New managers will experience early success if they internalize that being firm and strong does not conflict with being caring and kind.

Tenured leaders need to appreciate that strong company performance is correlated with workplace psychological safety. A reminder that the soft skills are the hard skills to master. Building a collaborative, results focused culture is also smart for attracting and retaining top talent (a ubiquitous source of manager stress today). Being tough yet kind is simply good for business.

Keep it Simple. Keep it Focused. Definitely Keep it Inspiring! -Steve

As always, check out my other blog posts for even more great manager-coaching tips!

Flight Crew in Cockpit

Managers – Build a Culture Like an Aviation Flight Crew

4 Best Practices to Safely Land Your Business Plane in 2019

Analysis of many commercial flight disasters concludes that faulty communication between the flight crew and captain, not mechanical failure, led to tragedy.  In other words, first officers and flight engineers had critical information of concern but failed to communicate that information in a direct and effective manner. CRM (crew resource management), in part, aims to train flight crews to assertively and respectfully speak up when they possess critical data. Averting disaster is achieved at the intersection of quality communications, leadership, and decision-making.

Managers, like flight captains, need to create psychologically safe environments that encourage reps to share real time data and concerns. In a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world, a rich flow of relevant information enables collective sensemaking to occur.

“Business agility is creating a learning organization this is faster and better at learning about themselves and their customers.”

-Jason Bloomberg (Forbes)

Managers – Create a CRM-like work culture by implementing these 4 best practices

  1. Problems First, Solution Forward Meetings. You’ve hired smart people, right? One-on-ones and team meetings should leverage people’s intelligence by solving significant problems. Top of agenda should always be – What are you seeing? What are your challenges? Where are the opportunities? What aren’t we talking about that we should be? What solutions will move positive action forward?
  2. Establish Collaborative Learning as a Core Value. Humble leaders understand that none of us is as smart as all of us. Continuous learning, together, is espoused as a competitive business strategy, not a nice to have cultural element. Agile managers models and embodies a “we” oriented team culture.
  3. Teach and Coach Effective Communication Skills. This is a primary goal of CRM training. Team members learn how to respectively and effectively “speak up” to the chain of command. This isn’t easy for most team members. Leaders recognize that their formal authority often impedes candid feedback. Therefore, ongoing coaching and reinforcement feedback is a preferred management style.
  4. Develop a Tolerance for Failure.  Unlike commercial aviation, a failure in the business world rarely leads to tragedy. Effective managers who reframe failures into forward-learning events foster a team of agile learners.

A fast paced and complex marketplace demands that managers create a feedback-rich work environment where reality is being openly and accurately discussed. Flawed communication may not result in tragedy at work, unlike on an airplane, but it can be the deciding factor between success and failure. Managers who think like successful flight captains greatly increase their chances of landing the plane safely!

Keep it simple. Keep it focused. Definitely keep it inspiring.

Check out our other blog posts too!

Manager Skills

7 Manager Skills That Lead to Mastery and Deliver Results

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”                                                                   

-Aristotle

Assuming a person possesses key core traits – initiative, genuine care for others, drive for results, to name a few — then the craft of management is learnable. Mastery of management skills, like any discipline, is built upon mastering fundamentals.

Increase your likelihood of success in 2019 by implementing the following 7 Manager Skills until they become managerial habit. These competencies may also lower your stress and bring more fun into your work.

  1. Be an agile learner. Your current expertise, and your team’s, is insufficient to solve tomorrow’s problems or quickly pivot to seize opportunities. Your ability to be curious, ask questions, engage your team in divergent thinking, and enable organizational learning is today’s critical leadership competency.
  2. Create psychological safety. This culture dynamic makes people feel comfortable speaking up and being themselves. The business case is that team members move beyond superficial nice-talk and engage in honest dialogue that make everyone better. They don’t avoid conflict, they leverage healthy debate to produce improved business solutions. Open cultures create agile learners, the force behind problem solving and continuous improvement.
  3. Have a bias for informed action. A manager’s credibility is built by consistently making strategic decisions that move the business forward. They are proactive versus reactive but are always making it happen.
  4. Manage by expectations, not hope. According to Gallup“only about a half of employees strongly agree that they know what is expected of them at work.”  Most of us know the frustration of working for a boss who fails to set clear priorities, direction, and responsibilities. This management style also fails to inspire because employees can’t see past the daily grind to the company’s vision, mission, and core values. Management ambiguity degrades people’s motivation.
  5. Teach, coach, and grow others. Great managers invest in relationships. They are servant leaders. They simply bring out the best in others. They grow future leaders, not more followers. Be the boss that everyone wants to work for.
  6. Measure, hold accountable, and reward performance. High performers respect managers who demand high standards and build a culture of accountability. There are no shadows to hide in. Great managers reward the doers, without apology. Low performers naturally get weeded out, making room for better talent.
  7. Be upbeat and positive. This is not modeling Pollyanna behavior, that’s being inauthentic. Leaders’ moods are like a cold; everyone around the manager is susceptible to catching it, which in turn affects employee engagement. Management demands significant energy output so why not make it constructive?

Reflect and look ahead in this New Year. Have you developed your manager blue print for success? What are your top development goals that will inspire others, build a cohesive team, and put up big results?

Consider identifying at least two skills, implement them with regularity, solicit feedback from your team, and become the boss that nobody wants to quit.

Keep it simple. Keep it focused. Definitely keep it inspiring.

Disengaged and Frustrated

5 Steps for Engaging a Disconnected Employee

Engaging a disengaged team member can be one of the more vexing manager challenges. And, the associated symptoms can be costly:

Gallup pegs the cost of lost productivity due to absence, illness and stress-related work problems in excess of $350 billion per year nationwide.

-Forbes


Disengaged narratives run the gamut but here are a few common themes:

  • Management has allowed a steady A/B player to be left alone to do her job but the business has outgrown her. Compounding the issue is that management has failed to provide employee any real performance feedback and coaching, leaving employee with a false sense of ability.
  • Personal issues have distracted and drained a usually stellar team member’s passion, focus and accountability.
  • The team member was never a great fit from day one but management tolerated sub-par performance hoping they’d turn the corner.
  • A team member was passed over for a promotion, received a tough performance evaluation, or possible workload increase without additional compensation.

“You manage things; you lead people.”

                   -Grace Murray Hopper, U.S. Navy Rear Admiral

While the root causes for employee disengagement are varied, reflective managers must confront the brutal fact that they may be co-responsible for the current situation. In the spirit of self-development, a few diagnostic questions can help understand the problem:

  • Where did I disengage with this team member?
  • Where did I fail to develop a trusting and effective work relationship?
  • How have I contributed to this current dynamic?
  • How have I failed this employee?

“Management has always gotten what it models and tolerates.”

-Anonymous

Following candid self-reflection, here are 5 Steps for re-setting the relationship, gaining alignment on work expectations, and establishing milestones and measurements:

Step 1: Take part ownership, if necessary, of the situation and be direct with team member. It might sound like, “I apologize for not being more candid in the past, however, your current work contributions are below expectations.” The objective is to re-calibrate an effective work partnership, not be liked.

Step 2: Establish regular, structured and substantive one-on-one meetings. It’s common to hear managers say, “I stopped having one-on-ones with this employee because they ceased to be productive.” Well structured, focused one-on-ones is a trusted process for charting a new path forward with disengaged employees.

Step 3: Present facts and examples where the team member is falling short of performance expectations. Present a written list of non-negotiable work expectations. Establish clear consequences for not meeting the expectations and gain agreement from the team member. Building trust begins with making professional agreements.

Step 4: Set up the team member for success. You are not crafting an HR performance improvement plan (PIP), yet. You might have to if the team member doesn’t make forward, measured progress. First, establish clear, incremental steps for immediate action. In other words…

“If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.”

-Lord Kelvin

Step 5: Inspect what you expect. Monitoring, evaluating and providing regular feedback on progress are the heavy lifting of good management. Remember, your (or your predecessor’s) historical hands-off management style have enabled the employee to work in a silo. The antidote is an over correction – a very hands-on style that could last several months. These situations rarely develop overnight and neither will the solutions.

The source of many employee disengagement scenarios is often a disengaged manager. At some point the manager failed to commit to the 5 steps above. If you fell off the management horse, get up, dust yourself off, and recommit to engaging your people.

Keep it simple. Keep it focused. Definitely keep it inspiring.