Monthly Archives: January 2013

The one with the well intentioned gut punch

“Feedback is the key to giving employees a sense of where they’re going, but many organizations are remarkably bad at giving it.” That quote is from Hay Group’s ‘Engage Employees and Boost Performance’ and from my perspective it’s one of the elements of Employee Engagement that gets most overlooked.

Let’s face it giving positive feedback is easy. It’s more recognition than performance management and taking the time to tell someone they’ve done something well is usually rewarding for both parties.

Giving constructive feedback is much harder and I can recall times in my career that my nervousness around giving the feedback has lead to me delivering only half the message and in such a way that the other person wouldn’t have been clear as to what I was really saying. Basically, I was trying to avoid any form of emotional reaction and therefore couched the message so successfully that there was likely no message at all.

A few years ago I attended a facilitation skills workshop and one of the models introduced to me was Heron’s model for intervention. One of the interventions it describes is the ‘Confronting’ intervention and one of the course leaders described it as something that will impact the person in the gut and not the brain.

Now the problem with impacting someone in the proverbial gut is their reaction is far less likely to be rational and reasoned and is far more likely to be driven by their emotions. The downside of this is managing the impact, the potential upside is really helping someone understand performance issues that the standard, repeated constructive conversations have failed to do.

Having experimented with this on several occasions it has worked well and not so well. In reflecting I realise that the ones that have gone well usually include a lot of thought prior to the conversation including understanding potential reactions, a clear contracting part of the conversation (helps if they know what’s coming) and being very mindful of the language I used. The other thing I’ve learnt is that sometimes a reaction is inevitable given the nature of the conversation but to be comfortable to let it happen and follow it up has often had the best results (but not always!)

The challenge in discussing something like this is any example would involve divulging someone’s private information or sharing a superficial example that really didn’t illustrate it. This was bouncing around my head on the tube the other day when I realised there’s a great example (which ends with a profanity – be warned):


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The one with the divine discontent

So we’ve almost made it through January and the first (and maybe only) #snowgate2013 has been and thawed. Reading Twitter, talking to friends and colleagues and observing the marketing drives of brands various makes it insanely obvious that the new year brings a rash of resolutions, goals and aspirations for the new calender year.

Whilst catching up with my timeline yesterday morning and reveling in the milder temperatures,  I read a tweet from the Exec Editor at Retail Week, George MacDonald, who reminded me of some lovely prose courtesy of Kenneth Grahame from his “Wind in the Willows”. Mole has been hard at it with some spring cleaning and Grahame observes,

“Spring was in the air… Penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing”

I think it’s easy to long for better weather and longer days in doing so sometimes I realise I am wishing my life away but the words that made me stop and re-read them were ‘divine discontent’. It’s a phrase I first heard from a previous boss and it’s one I often think of in realising that actually I never quite reach the point of being delighted with what I/We deliver and always wanting to take it ‘out of the window’ and tinker with it a bit more before the business gets to play with it. Whether I do or not is usually influenced by pragmatism, availability of time and a decision on the value of a 1 or 2% improvement in something.

Like a lot of businesses we are reaching the end of our business planning cycle for 2013/14 and that usually surfaces a lot of ‘divine discontent’ thinking as you sit down and ascribe £s to particular pieces of work and question the value to the organisation and what impact a given effort is ACTUALLY having.

With the challenges, often rightly made, to the value of the human resources function and the continual drive to any business to do everything better and cheaper in the future than it has in the past I have often realised how well I’ve been served (without realising it) by the observation Moley makes in his lowly home because even if it isn’t broken maybe an improvement now will stop it every reaching broken. Improve before there’s a requirement to fix maybe?


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The one with the single version of the truth

If like me you studied biology in school you will likely remember the Kreb’s cycle. It’s a rather nifty process through which the body converts sugars into more accessible forms of energy. At the age of 15/16 I could likely have drawn the Krebs cycle blindfolded and tell you how many molecules of ATP were formed at the end. I can’t anymore.

Fast forward a few years and I was University studying Biochemistry and on getting into a discussion about the Krebs cycle during a tutorial all that I held to be true was dispelled with one comment from a Professor who shared the truth that what we had been taught at school was “a simplified version to enable you to pass your A-Level”. I was crushed and soothed my angst with some glucose diluted in strong continental lager. The more we continued with our studies the worse it became in that there were very few absolutes but many theories, speculations, conjectures and a myriad of things still unknown.

Once I joined the world of work life reverted to a ‘school Krebs cycle’ kind of mode. Opinions of others in the organisation were generally based on those of my boss. Firstly, because I didn’t really have much to benchmark them against, secondly, because I didn’t really trust my own judgement and thirdly because most serious interactions with others outside our team were generally initiated by my boss. Life was easy.

Then I started working in recruitment and my opinion was suddenly part of my trade. But (and there had to be a but) what made it easier was I wasn’t actually providing judgement, I was providing a viewpoint in response to requests for data (interview questions) and then allowing other people (initially clients and latterly line managers) make decisions. Life was slightly more complex but still relatively easy.

As my career has progressed I realise (and mostly with reflection) that my ability to form a view point on other people is probably one of the key elements of my role and here’s where life gets so much more difficult. There is not right and wrong there is only the subjective reality (or as some like to refer to it opinion). I have written before about the confidence required to express your own opinion here and the vagaries of the winners and losers internally here but a conversation last week has made me think more about this and I realise a few things:

1. It’s important to control for emotion in the formation of your opinion

2. Context is of course important but in forming your own judgement experiment with different contexts – it may help you frame a situation/person differently

3. When listening to other people express their judgements realise that they are of course being subjective. Try and articulate (to yourself) the factors that will have driven the formation of that opinion

4. Remember that everyone has good days and bad days…and so do you!

5. Act within your own personal values and the values of the organisation in how you enact your opinion

6. Be prepared to accept new data and allow that to impact your judgement (there are very few hills to die on)

7. Realise that at times your opinion may be a lone voice – that doesn’t make it wrong but it may make expressing it a courageous act

8. Understand that your opinion has value and so do other people’s. Treat theirs with respect and expect them to do the same

9. I know this is a values point but it’s worth expressing – don’t be a conniving political snake (technical term) in how you express your opinion

10. If you want to know someone elses opinion of you, ask them but be prepared for some home truths

Despite the fact that life is rarely easy and the transition to many versions of the truth has left it’s scars I think effectively managing your opinion, it’s impact and that of others is what makes what we do worth it. Otherwise it’s just a holiday spreadsheet….



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