getting feedback – Part 1

May 20, 2008 at 10:04 am | Posted in Professional Development | 1 Comment

As tough as it is to *give* someone negative feedback, surprisingly, it’s often as difficult to *get* it. Why is that? Here are five reasons that I think top the list.

1) Legal/HR issues. Nowadays you really have to document the process to the n’th degree, while always being aware of protected status issues and what is, or is not, on the table for discussion.

2) Confrontation. In a society like ours, you wouldn’t think this is an issue, but it is. Even those who seem very outwardly confrontational often are not. Still others seem full of aggression in email, but when talked to 1-on-1, you see a different side of them.

3) Effort. It takes time and effort on the part of the evaluator to pull together meaningful feedback.

4) Objective facts. Someone may feel as if you are doing a poor job, but can’t quite put their finger on exactly why, and folks are hesitant to say something as broad as “I just don’t think you’re doing a good job.”

5) Fear. Not, “this person might kill me” kind of fear, but rather fear of making the situation worse. This is particularly true if the person being addressed has a strong personality type.

With obstacles like that, it may be a rare situation indeed where you can get good, honest, useful feedback on the things you need to improve. Learning *how* to get that feedback can be as important as the feedback itself. And that’s what we’ll look at in our next post.

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giving feedback

May 16, 2008 at 5:20 pm | Posted in Professional Development | 2 Comments

Giving someone positive feedback is a great experience. Regardless of what they say, there just aren’t many people who don’t like to hear good feedback. Conversely, giving negative feedback can be an awful experience because, regardless of what they say, there just aren’t many who take it well. Yet, if we’re doing our job as leaders, then negative feedback is a must.

I got to thinking about why this is so hard to do in work, but so easy to do in coaching. In fact, I would estimate that as much as 90% of the feedback you give a player when coaching is “negative.” I’m talking real feedback here, not the “good job” stuff. Yet you typically don’t see a team of players with their heads hung low. Just the opposite. You see a driven group of players who step up to the challenge. Why?

First, negative feedback is almost always followed immediately by a chance to improve. When I yelled at a kid for missing a block, the next play was about 60 seconds away where he could redeem himself. Second, meaningful instruction usually comes out in the same breath as the criticism. Third, it’s the accepted culture that folks are going to be corrected — a LOT — with no exceptions. Most coaches tell their players, “when I quit yelling at you, then you need to worry” and they mean it; for that means that the coach has usually given up on the kid.

We have lots of barriers to those things in the corporate world, but it’s up to us to continue to find ways around them to foster an environment where negative feedback is common. But rather than being seen as negative correction, it is in reality, positive instruction.

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do you know where you stand?

May 15, 2008 at 11:36 pm | Posted in Professional Development | Leave a comment

We just went through a relatively small round of cost containment. Unfortunately, part of that process required a few reductions in headcount. Worlds like “a few” and “relatively small” are little comfort to those who were asked to leave. It’s never easy. At least, it shouldn’t be. I hope I never get comfortable with the process.

However, what I think we all need to get more comfortable with is honest evaluations of how we are doing. That works both ways: employees should seek to know how they are performing, and employers should be eager to tell them.

I’m not a big fan of the formalized review process because, like any “system” it can often be manipulated to skew data one way or another. The hardest evaluation is a real evaluation. A conversation of how someone is really doing. Are they reaching their potential. Are they slowing down the team. Yes, objective data points are required, but they are also overrated when it comes to people. Getting honest, person-to-person feedback should be the objective, and that takes willingness on both parts. In future posts, we’ll talk about some techniques for both sides of that equation.

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why acquire?

May 11, 2008 at 1:51 pm | Posted in Business | 1 Comment

I was cleaning out my office the other day and found a notebook from 2003. I spent some time walking down memory lane when I stumbled upon notes from a meeting that caused me to chuckle. On Mar 27, 2003, I wrote:

Why do companies spend so much money doing an acquisition with little revenue? Why not just take the money and invest a 10th of it into dev teams?

Five years later, I understand a lot more about the fundamentals of why acquisitions are important. There are many reasons that I’ll group together in future posts. But perhaps the most fundamental reason is because innovation inside an existing organization of any substantial size is really difficult. Perhaps nowhere is this documented better than in the 2003 book The Innovator’s Dilemma.

Several years ago I read that book and thought it was interesting. For the past three years, I’ve LIVED the reality of that book and have found its insights painfully accurate. We’ll spend some time in the next few posts flushing out this topic of organic vs acquired innovation.

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Leadership/Authority vs Responsibility/Authority

May 2, 2008 at 7:57 pm | Posted in Business, Professional Development | Leave a comment

In a previous post I talked about Authority vs Leadership. Recently I was in a situation where I was being asked to control something over which I did not have direct authority and my response to the situation was “I need the authority to do it!” Later that night I pondered whether I was violating my own principle. In the end, I don’t think I was and here’s why…

When it comes to leadership, we’re talking about people. Human beings with a whole truckload of baggage, hopes, dreams, and dynamics that you can’t quantify into formulas. However, in this particular case, I was being asked to take responsibility — not leadership — for something. In this case it was a budget decision. That is quite a different story because money is just a tool that cannot be influenced. Those numbers on my spreadsheet aren’t going to change even with my best pre-game speech. If I want to change them, I need the authority to do it.

One could argue that I can influence the owner of the budget, and to an extent that’s true. But in the case of responsibility for money, you need to fight for direct control or fight to have the responsibility placed on the true owner of the budget and you just become a data point to their decision.

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