“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):
I recently took part in a workshop involving a group of senior managers working through their feedback from an external culture survey and audit. The day started with the group’s leader reminding them of the process they had been through, what had happened since the survey itself took place and how the scores had been compiled. All good so far.
It then moved on to one of their number going through the details of the response rates, the scoring and how their benchmarking within a comparison group had taken place and finally lead up to them being rated within the comparison group.
I must confess a wry smile as the group spent at least 10 minutes focused on how better management of the process and increasing the response rate could improve their score and reflect an improvement on the position they had achieved. The manager leading this session did well to discuss the options but kept them coming back to rather than trying to game manage the process would they not be better placed to consider the result they had achieved and what that ACTUALLY meant for their organisation.
It was at this point that he revealed a piece of information that had immediate and profound significance to me but the impact didn’t appear to hit home with the group for some time. The piece of information was that the final score achieved was based on two elements: the first was the survey results and the second a third party assessment of tools and processes that impact the culture and people of the organisation.
Why should this have profound significance you may ask? (Go on then…..ask). Well it turned out that they had received significant commendation for the audit of tools and process. The overall score had been moderated down by the results of the survey. Yes….that’s right. The tools are great but it’s in the adoption and application of the tools that the opportunity for improvement exists!
There it was – in black and white…externally validated and bench-marked…no one could look at HR, OD, Comms or similar and challenge the toolkit, this was actual data that showed the focus needed to be not on reinventing, refitting or changing the wheel but actually was just about managing and leading the organisation using the fabulous toolkit provided.
It was about 40 minutes later that someone vocalised this penny drop and an uncomfortable silence enveloped the room…followed by a display of challenge, support and a commitment to improve that wasn’t about finger pointing, fad chasing or rolling out initiatives it was just about a group of very capable managers and leaders taking ownership.
5 hours later we went to the pub 🙂
Engagement needs the basics doing well as well as the new/cool/faddy/fashionable
Engagement is not a quick ‘reach around’ to make people feel happy at work
A line manager is the most able person to engage with an individual
Engagement requires being constructive not just positive
Engagement requires commitment not just process
If your engagement problem is all about ‘top management’ then you haven’t done enough with the rest of the organisation
If your engagement problem is all about your HR team then you must be avoiding mirrors
and most of all
Engagement is not easy, anyone who says it is (in 140 characters or more) has never tried to do it and is just talking about it