Feedback has become the new/newest buzz word to replace rigid performance appraisal sessions with employees but for many employees the word feedback is a “cuss word”. Why is this? the word itself simply means giving someone information in real-time about their performance, whether good, bad or indifferent. Yet many employees hate when they receive an email titled feedback, or they are asked to participate in 360 degree feedback sessions on their managers, peers or subordinates. Body language also changes dramatically when you open a conversation by saying “I thought I would give you some feedback”. Immediately postures become defensive, a coldness enters the meeting, arms are folded, chairs are moved back further away as if to put distance between what is coming and the individual.
Fear becomes a living thing in the meeting room and in extreme cases individuals have shut down or even started to cry as they started to work through all the possible negative things that they may done or caused to happen in the last couple of days or weeks. Sometimes the fear is so potent that they have stopped listening immediately you mention the word feedback and are so busy working out in their mind what they have done wrong that they fail to actually hear what is being said.
It could be that such reactions are due to individuals having experienced a lot of negative feedback in the past which has coloured their perceptions. Or it could be that genuinely we are a culture in the UK that thrives so much on innuendo and being savvy to navigating politics in the workplace; using words to say one thing while meaning another that we have not adequately trained our people from a young age to see feedback as a positive thing regardless of whether is telling us how to improve or how to be even better.
I grew up in a culture where people spoke their minds, nothing was hidden, so it felt useless to fear the unknown because truly was anything ever unknown? I grew up in a village where everyone regardless of whether they were related to me or not took great accountability for parenting me. If my dress was creased, I would be told this several times while walking to school and given advice on how to achieve the perfectly ironed dress. The more forward in the village may even take me into their home and show me how to iron a dress properly.
No subject was off-limits, from personal hygiene, to school work, to spiritual wellbeing, morals etc you name it and someone without prompting would be on hand to offer you advice on how to be better or avoid a pitfall whether you wished to have the advice or not. This was the ultimate feedback culture in which I grew and which has shaped me.
So I had some thoughts about how we can change the fear that people feel when they either need to give or receive feedback:
- put yourself in the person’s shoes and do onto others as you would have them do to you. If you are coming from a place of wanting to help someone to improve or to keep doing something that they are doing well, because this is what you would wish for yourself, you are able to approach the conversation in a very different light.
- think about the damage or the limits you are placing on that person by not speaking up. Why would you not offer praise where praise is due? equally if your colleague had a stumble, surely you would not want them to stumble again or worse fall? think about the reason why you give information.
- my personal favourite it when you think about giving or receiving feedback and the fear creeps in, ask it firmly “what is the worse that can happen?” in reality often we let our fear makes things into a lot worse than they really are. Open up yourself and listen, you may be surprised at the results.
So have you provided or received feedback recently? share your views here, I would be happy to hear how you approach it!
Remember FEAR can also mean Face Everything and Rise!
With the Gender pay gap reporting deadline looming for many organisations in the UK, I got to thinking today with International Women’s Day around the corner about the importance of gender fairness in organisations and society as a whole. British society is formed in such a way that there are inherent gender norms, stereotypes and bias aimed at women. Having spent most of my adult life in England, I can attest to my observations of this fact.
Let’s break it down into bite size chunks for you:
- Most organisations operate a 9-5 working day, this is inherently biased predominantly against women who have young children.
- The government puts laws in place ostensibly to protect women but by their very definition it emphasises the fact that society is unconsciously and consciously operating with a gender bias against women.
- There are laws to protect women when they are pregnant and on maternity leave; there are laws that guarantee women a minimum amount of time off for maternity leave. Conversely the law for men is pathetic in the extreme. Why is this? Because men are seen as breadwinners and not carers of children, this is woman’s role.
- There are also laws to prevent unfavourable treatment of part time workers the majority of who again are women!
- Career average pension schemes which replaced many final salary scheme also disadvantage women because women are more likely to take time off work to have children or care for dependants and are also more likely to work part time to take care of their childcare or other caring responsibilities
- Something as simple as station car parks discriminate against working women. At my local station over 250 car park spaces are provided. The ones that are parking at anytime are around 50 and the rest are by season ticket before 9 a.m. or you face a penalty. Women are more likely than men to be affected by this system
- Schools also seem to be set up on the premise that one parent (usually the mother) does not work. School hours are from 9:15- 3:15 in most areas, which means that more women than men will need to pay for or use some out of school hours childcare, yet as the gender pay gap will show in 2017 in the majority of organisations in the UK, pay is in favour of men rather than women.
This is why I am feminist and why I support and believe that organisations should support and put in place gender hubs in their organisations if they do not already have one. It is not just about talking the talk about gender, the time for this is past! Organisations need to wake up and realise that by perpetuating gender norms, gender stereotypes and gender bias they are weakening their productivity and disengaging a significant proportion of their workforce. Women are a force to be reckoned with and we should not be discounted in the value add that we bring to organisations. Gone are the days when we were their to make the tea or type the letters. We are powerful acquisitions of self taught inherent knowledge. Which other gender (without surgical interventions) could grow an entire human being, whilst holding down a job, managing a home, supporting a partner, being an effective team player and all round “Jill” of all trades?
I often feel like paraphrasing Rainbow Johnson from the American TV Series Blackish. Rainbow is a doctor and takes every opportunity to remind her husband that she is a doctor and she saves lives. Whenever men or women seek to question my value add or put down my opinion or contribution because I am a woman, I often want to say and remind them that I am woman and I create life!
Organisations that fail to address their gender pay issues will find themselves paying a high cost for this failure and losing in some cases the most valuable talent that they have.
To quote Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie “If we do something over and over again, it becomes normal. If we see the same thing over and over again, it becomes normal…if we keep seeing only men as heads of corporations, it starts to seem ‘natural’ that only men should be heads of corporation.” because something becomes habit forming and appears normal does not mean that it is and where ever we come across issues of gender unfairness or bias we should stamp it out.
By the way if you have not read her book “We Should all be Feminists” do so!
So someone asked me last week why companies are not paying compensation to women for the gender pay gap in line with equal pay regulations. Well I hate to be the one to tell you this, but having a gender pay gap does not equate to equal pay issues in most organisations. “Equal pay deals with the pay differences between men and women who carry out the same jobs, similar jobs or work of equal value. It is unlawful to pay people unequally because they are a man or a woman. The gender pay gap on the other hand shows the difference in the average pay between all men and women in a workforce. If a workforce has a particularly high gender pay gap, this can indicate there may a number of issues to deal with, and the individual calculations may help to identify what those issues are.”
As you can see the way in which the gender pay gap is calculated does not take account of work of equal value, similar jobs or even the same job. Its purely formulaic in how its calculated. This does not mean that we cannot glean valuable information from what it shows and use the data to drive change where issues of unfairness or bias are detected. There are many ways in which organisations can work to address their gender pay gap. Things that have gained traction in the last couple of years are:
- Championing blind recruitment campaigns to eradicate or reduce any unconscious or conscious gender biases at the attraction stage of the recruitment campaigns
- Organisations are also offering commitments to recruit more women to senior roles in the organisation or in some cases setting targets to achieve 50/50 split in terms of representation across all layers of the organisation
- Apprenticeship levies are also be utilised to offer more training and opportunities to under represented groups in organisations
- Management training and leadership development programmes are also being developed and aimed and equipping more women for senior roles in organisations
- Flexible working practices are also gaining in momentum and many organisations are looking at ways that they can attract and retain more women into the workforce following periods of maternity leave.
- Championing gender equality and neutrality in HR policies and procedures and ensure where there are practices no matter how ingrained that perpetuate gender bias that these are addressed and stamped out.
If you also do not have a gender equality policy, consider putting one in place and champion this at the most senior level in the organisation.
So today while lying in bed recovering from a virus, I got to thinking about the psychological contract. Well in all honesty my initial thought was about the relationship contract that Sheldon established with his girlfriend in the comedy show The Big Bang Theory and how such a simple thing managed to convince an otherwise rational and highly intelligent woman that she was in fact in a relationship for many years even though what they had was stretching the definition of what a relationship should be. So my mind wandered from that particularly interesting model to the thought of the relationships that we form or enter into in our professional lives and how the relationship contract is very like the psychological contract that David Guest posited.
For those of you new to the concept of the psychological contract, this is defined by Guest et al as the perceptions of the two parties, employee and employer of what their mutual obligations are towards each other. Hmm sounds like a contract of employment doesn’t it? Well not quite, it took me some time to understand this concept and truthfully it something that is best understood by being experience. You cannot truly understand what the psychological contract is unless you have experienced it, similar to how you can never truly understand the role of a parent and all it entails unless you have children. You can read about it, babysit your friends kids all you like but you can never truly understand what it means unless you yourself have kids.
So part of any psychological contract is mutual trust and respect. As the employee I trust that my employer will do what they say, deliver what they promise and let me know if there is anything that I need to know do my job properly or anything that could affect my job. I expect my employer to be honest and upstanding in their dealings with me, to create a safe environment for me to work or mitigate the risk where possible and to invest in me. Any good employer will expect the same from their employee. They will expect their employee to trust in their vision, model their values so that they are a credit in public to the company; that they will do for the business what they say they will do, that they will let the company know anything that could interfere with that commitment that they will continue to develop their skills so they remain credible and relevant to the company.
Similar to any other type of relationship when you feel or know that the beliefs that you had have been broken you lose faith. Some quickly move on to another relationship; others try therapy; some live in denial, others move on to try other things and some stay to fight and change things back to the way they were. What this serves to remind us is like any other relationship, our professional one needs attention and work. Without this it will fail. This basic principle underlies many theories of why disengagement happens in the workplace. Relationships personal or professional are not difficult, they just need work.
I have had the great privilege of working with Save The Children on an interim basis for the last three weeks and had the great privilege of reading the anecdotes from Gareth Owen, Humanitarian Director, Global Programmes, some of which with his kind permission I have shared below. I hope you will be as inspired as I was by these lessons/reflections.
Lesson 1: You have to fight really hard for what you believe in
Mainstreaming your cause is not a popularity contest. You have to fight really hard for a very long time and be ready to be extremely unpopular for what you believe in. The fight will be multifaceted and feel almost endless, with progress achieved almost imperceptibly at first, accelerating later as momentum builds.
The fight will be mostly internal: to be heard; for space on the agenda; to do what you instincts are screaming is the right thing; to overcome obstacles and bureaucracy; to shift stubborn ideology; to simply keep your spirits up. Sometimes the fight will be loud and obvious, with tears and pain in the white hot heat of battle. Sometimes it will be more subtle to change the organisational DNA by stealth, to shift the organisational mechanics, to quietly unlock a huge potential leap forward, like unleashing your cause’s atom bomb. The ultimate question is: how much fight do you have in you?
It is right that we should fight hard for our cause, but we should fight less with each other and save our strength for the huge fights that wait for us on the external frontlines the world over. This is about finding ways to lead the fight together as one. However, beware: if all you have done is fight, then eventually that is all you know. But I’d rather give my all as a fighter than be known to lack the stomach for it. It is a mindset thing, what do you want to see and feel when you look in the mirror at the start of each day? It’s okay to be scared, to fear the dread consequences of losing, but you must never take flight or give up the fight. Never stop fighting. To stop is to give in to despair. When all seems lost, hope remains.
This takes enormous courage and stamina. The gremlins of doubt will chatter constantly in your ear and you will experience exhaustion. This is an exercise in personal and collective resilience, so the trick is to pick your serious battles carefully, learn to fight with skill and impact and acknowledge that even then you won’t ever win them all. The inevitable defeats and set backs will hurt deeply along the journey, so learn to let go and just move on to the next piece of the fight if it hasn’t all gone your way. Don’t store it all up as a catalogue of injustices or you’ll drive yourself mad with the infuriation when you realise that no one else appears to care as much as you do. They may just show it differently and in your anger you risk losing all perspective and getting seriously bent out of shape. This is very damaging physically, mentally and emotionally and will render you a spent force in quick time if you let it. Self–awareness and coping strategies are critical.
Lesson 3: Practice Authentically Selfless Leadership
You absolutely must, at all costs, live your core values as a leader when mainstreaming your cause. This is about walking the talk, about being vulnerable and disclosing the truth about your own feelings in a self-caring, self-respectful way so as to give permission to others to also behave as the best and most productive version of themselves as much and as often as humanly possible. It is about being kind without being weak; showing strength of character; the application of considerable wisdom; communicating with inspiration and a tremendously galvanising sense of purpose.
It is about maintaining positivity in adversity so as to seek new opportunities to keep moving forward in new and uncertain directions. It is about remaining humble, forgiving and above all tolerating the foibles of others, the realities and compromises of complex enterprise and the myriad challenges of collective endeavour. It is about the power of trusting your gut instinct and acceptance of failure as the only true measure of having properly tried hard enough.
Lesson 4: Care passionately about people
Staff are like customers – they are always right, even when they are absolutely wrong. Leadership is a service industry and if you don’t care passionately about people they will quickly sense it. This is about being a ‘giver’ not a ‘taker’ and ultimately about exhibiting kindness in your dealings with others. But this is not about suffocating people with excesses of love, it is about being honest enough to speak the plain truth to the best of your ability, to treat people as adults and avoid mollycoddling staff like children, with patronising or paternalistic behaviour.
True kindness is borne out of a genuine respect for others. You honour that respect best by being willing to confront the difficult truth where necessary. This is a philosophy centred on creating the most enabling environment in which others can have the best chance of succeeding. You become a true a leader in service of others by placing yourself last and by measuring how well you are facilitating and encouraging all those others around you to succeed – it is always about others and never about yourself. You have to invest heavily in this as it does not come easy.
Trust is a fickle beast, hard won and easily lost. Not everything will be in your control so you have to be accepting of trust as a fluctuating currency, with wider organisational forces impacting on your own sphere of influence all the time. You will never be able to keep everyone happy and the most ‘squeaky wheels’ should neither be ignored, nor should they be taken as representative of the prevailing body of opinion.
Seek to judge yourselves on how well you handle the harder management tasks, not the easier options; be curious; listen much more than you talk, coach and mentor rather than instruct; be accessible; above all else be straight with people all the time, especially if it is not what they want to hear. Above all, always believe in people far more than they believe in themselves.
Lesson 6: Always Call It as You See It, But With Compassion
The longer you are in an organisation, the more iconic your personal history, both good and bad will become. A narrative will build up around you, especially if you are in a high profile role, but you should not concern yourself with it too much. The only thing that really matters is whether you can honestly say to yourself that you have always sought to do the right thing. People will instinctively know whether this is true about you and will trust that you can be relied upon in this way if it is.
Do not be political, slippery or Machiavellian; do not play power games or seek to weave a tangled web of deception. It is all too tiring and will unravel on you. Hold a consistently fair line and communicate it with authority. Speak truth to power in the right way so that your message is heard; avoid berating senior Executives for organisational failures and unnecessary compromises as you perceive them – there will always be more to it than you know. Be accepting that human fallibility applies to all at whatever level but speak passionately about the cause at every opportunity. Objectively measure any compromises made against their consequences for the cause in your choice of words and you will always be on safe ground. Bring people back to that at the start and at the end of every encounter and above all else, never under any circumstances allow yourself to be coerced, merely for expediency’s sake, into changing an opinion that you genuinely hold to be true. Stand your ground at all times and allow others to manage the consequences of your honestly held beliefs, accepting the situation and towing the party line as necessary, and with good grace, when your opinion does not hold sway.
Being open is more important than being agreeable or conformist. In fact, do not give in to the temptation to be too agreeable, especially around more senior colleagues, and don’t conform just to respect the hierarchy. Being subordinate and ‘on side’ by default is helpful, but only to a point: essential when supporting the organisation through difficult moments, but useless for creative strategic thinking. The most useful, but often most difficult, people to work with are the ‘disagreeable givers’, whose hearts are in the right place but who prefer to be the grit in the oyster. Their giving nature means they always have your own and the organisation’s best interests at heart, but they are not afraid to be critical and highly challenging. It is their way of helping to sharpen the cutting edge of your ideas. Done well, this gives real life, verve and substance to your originality. So deliberately seek out the gruff, awkward, un-glossy, shabbier, rumpled and abstract types to test the strength and quality of your ideas against their kindly intended scepticism. Beware the ‘frenemies’ and the ‘agreeable takers’. The former are too unreliable and ambivalent towards your efforts and the latter are not on your side at all. Fortunately they are quite easy to spot: they will be dressed the same as the boss. They will borrow your watch to tell you the time and will steal all your good ideas as to present their own if they think it makes them look good. But if taking the best from you is their real intent, then simply give them something you want them to have – it’s another canny way of propagating your own agenda through their blind ambition.
Lesson 9: Know thy self
Don’t take it personally: practice the art of self-reflection and seek an internal locus of identity from which to derive the necessary confidence. This means embarking on a deep conversation with your inner being to ascertain what really matters to you – your core values. Hold on to these as they are your touchstones. They will endure and you can nourish and develop them over time. In this way the external changing world around you will become less significant to your identity, less threatening and will generate less anxiety. You will view inevitable change in a positive and creative way and ultimately feel more at peace. I never believed this was possible until I really tried with the help of a great coach. In learning this I found myself feeling less in conflict with the organisation I had devoted a third of my life to working for. As if by magic, my influence on the organisation suddenly grew exponentially.
Very special thanks to Gareth for allowing me to share his work. Are you not inspired? I know I am and was 🙂
I want him gone today!
As an HR professional I have often heard this phrase many times in my career. It is often met with my trade mark gimlet eye stare followed by the calming technique of finding out exactly why my otherwise normally rational manager would start the conversation with that phrase. What is also quite common is that HR will be blamed for said individual not exiting the building stage right that very day even though we had little input into the situation that led to the phrase “I want him gone today!.”
In my experience little management of the individual would have taken place which makes any formal procedure/process quite difficult to justify or put in place without breaking the organisation’s own policies or several employment right legislations! Often in situations like this we have to advise taking a step back, assessing exactly what is happening and then deciding on the best course of action. It is not always easy for managers who are focused on outcomes and the bottom line to hear that advice, especially if to their mind the situation is untenable and the only option is for the employee to leave immediately so that they can get on with the job at hand.
Now don’t get me wrong there are instances where you can act swiftly and immediately to exit an employee but this is all dependent on the circumstances. Not all situations can warrant such actions and equally such actions in most cases can be very difficult to either justify or defend if called on to do so. These snap decisions are often made and uttered in frustration at something that has happened or a mistake that has been made. The most common scenario where this phrase is normally uttered is during an employee’s probation period or prolonged/frequent periods of absence. Often even though there is a probation policy in place, there would have been nothing put in place to either support, train or inform the employee of what the role requires and the company’s expectations. Absences though time consuming to manage and costly to a business also have to be managed carefully to ensure there are not disability or pregnancy related as we could fall foul of the Equality Act provisions.
Replacing staff even those who are causing issues can be a timely and costly exercise. Taking the time to get to the root cause of the issue may be a better solution in some cases. It’s a fact of life that even the best employee will have an off day, even a rising star will sometimes fail to shine and everyone at some stage especially when engages in highly stressful roles will have burnouts. Rather than react negatively when errors happen, take a step back and think, look at it from another angle before firing off that email to HR with the phrase “I want him/her gone now!” if for nothing else than in the interest of preventing such an email to be subject to a subject data access request!
- Handle the situation! Do not avoid having the difficult discussion!
- Provide clear instructions on what is expected of the individual
- Break targets down in small bite size chunks that are SMART (specific, measureable, achievable, realistic and time bound)
- Have regular catch up sessions with the employee and give constructive feedback. If something was done well say so and if something needs improvement say so!
- Provide training for any areas of weakness identified. Remember that training can take many different formats.
- Assign the employee a mentor/coach as appropriate
- Give time to see results. If no results at the end of the timeframe invoke a more formal approach.
- If despite the above there is no sustained improvement, seek suitable alternatives if appropriate or invoke dismissal procedures.